Developer: Gearbox Software
Release Date: October 6, 2005
Brothers in Arms: Road to Hill 30 really broadsided the standard FPS mold when it was released last March with its refreshing mix of action and tactical combat. While the basis of the game was indeed that of a first-person shooter set in some of the more harrowing battles of World War II, much of the gameplay was that of tactically commanding your squad to set up flanking maneuvers and suppressing fire. However, despite the game's high degree of enjoyment, there were many aspects that could have undergone some refinement; mainly that of the battlefields themselves, the AI, and the depth of the tactical department.
Brothers in Arms: Earned in Blood is set in the same timeframe as BoA:RtH30 but through a different pair of eyes. In the original title, you experienced the game through the eyes of Sgt. Baker, but BoA:EiB puts you square in the boots of Pvt. Hartsock. Hartsock, called "Red" by his fellow soldiers, was a member of Baker's squad until all hell broke loose above the glider and the squad fragmented into just as many pieces as the aircraft that carried them. Hartsock finds himself a natural leader and thusly, once again as the player, you have the ability to command a squad of men in a tactical environment.
The battlefields themselves in BoA:EiB are much more urban-based now as opposed to the open fields that largely dominated the original title. Instead of taking cover behind fallen logs in a meadow, you find yourself more often taking cover behind stone fences flanked by closely knit buildings in a small French town. There are often many ways to complete any objective or idea you have, each of which obviously has its own pros and cons. In the previous title, the player often had to go down one or two set paths, so it can be said that Gearbox really does listen to their fans.
Additionally, due to the more open nature of the environments, tactics are much more important now. The areas themselves have a higher degree of complexity and are oftentimes filled with various things behind which both your squad and the enemy squad can take cover. The enemy AI is much smarter now and operates less in two-man groups and more like a cohesive force. If the enemy figures out that their force has an advantage, they will press the attack to the point of even assaulting you in melee combat. Enemies will change what cover they are behind, depending on what your known position is, and will try to flank you just as often as you are them. Suffice it to say, combat in BoA:EiB is much more realistic and enjoyable.
The multiplayer components have been upped considerably. The title now supports Xbox Live so players can experience squad-based combat against gamers all over the world. Another welcome addition to the game is the cooperative mode that takes place in a good amount of specific maps. While you can't play through the campaign game itself cooperatively, the inclusion of the mode at all is cause for celebration.
The graphics and sound engine remains largely the same as the original title, although the presentation has been much more refined. The environments are much more detailed and diverse, making the game not only look more realistic but also increasing the amount of tactical considerations as mentioned above. The cinematics of the game are polished to a higher extent, and the glider scene as viewed through Hartsock's eyes is a nice touch and brings the game's focus into perspective.
All in all, Brothers in Arms: Earned in Blood takes the excellent baseline that the original title established and runs with it, adding a few new gameplay elements while focusing on refining what has already been set forth. It's literally as if Gearbox went into as many arbitrary forums as they could, read complaints on the original title, and studiously took notes. If you liked the original title, pay close attention to Brothers in Arms: Earned in Blood as it nears its ship date because it looks to exceed the quality of the already very enjoyable original in nearly every way.
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