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Xbox Review - 'Brothers in Arms: Road to Hill 30'

by Corey Owen on March 21, 2005 @ 12:56 a.m. PST

Set during the famous airdrop before the invasion at Normandy, Sgt. Matt Baker and his squad of 101st Airborne paratroopers were scattered over the French countryside. As the story unfolds, the player (Baker) must choose between the success of his mission and the lives of his men – his brothers in arms.

Genre: Action
Publisher: Ubisoft
Developer: Gearbox
Release Date: March 1, 2005

Buy 'BROTHERS IN ARMS: Road to Hill 30':
Xbox | PC | PlayStation 2

Every year, bunches of first person shooters are released, and 99% of them are mediocre at best. This is especially true about historical war shooters because they require the least amount of imagination. The story is often done for you, the weapons are already made, the vehicles and locations are known, so what’s left? Oh yeah, the gameplay! This is a fact that Gearbox and Ubisoft took and ran with. Not only will you not find a better WWII shooter, you will be hard-pressed to find a better FPS.

You take on the role of Sgt. Matt Baker, a paratrooper who unwilling becomes squad leader when the proverbial you-know-what hits the fan in the skies above France. You're flying the unfriendly skies with flak erupting all around you, waiting on the green light to signal your jump when your plane is hit and you are thrown from the aircraft. You land God-knows-where, deep in German-infested territory without your firearm, so now what do you do? What sets this scenario apart from other WWII shooters is that the entire game is based on actual events.

Now I know what you’re thinking: there are tons of movies based on true events that in the end have little or nothing to do with the actual occurrences. Brothers in Arms is quite different in this respect, and they back it up with the unlockables at the end of every level, where you will see real documents and photos of the events and locations from WWII France.

The most important aspect of authenticity, though, is that of the AI. Initially, you start out just fighting to survive on your own, which is when you will encounter the enemy AI for the first time. You'll notice that they use incredible tactics to avoid your fire and stay hidden behind any number of environmental obstacles, peeking out every once in a while to unload on your position. If you do something stupid like run out in the open, you will be gunned down almost immediately, especially if there is a machine gun set up in the area. When you get your first squad, you will experience the finest teammate AI in a game to date. When you direct them to an area, they don’t run to it blindly and then stand there; instead, they duck and use cover to get there, and once they arrive at the destination, they will find the closest cover in the area to which you have directed them. It makes for a really unique gameplay experience because instead of leaving your squad behind and doing all of the work yourself, you actually want and need to bring them along to help you in the fight.

The best part of the game is also the most simple: there is no targeting reticule. This simple gameplay mechanic provides an incredible amount of depth, and while there is the option to turn it on, but trust me, you wouldn't want to do that. Another of the game's greatest features is the damage system. Playing the game on normal difficulty, you will find that a few shots is all it takes to send you to the grave. The number of shots is even fewer if you turn up the difficulty a notch, and if you are good enough to beat the game on this setting, you are rewarded with the "authentic" difficulty option, which is definitely not for the average gamer.

When you think you have perfected your skills, you can take the game online, where Brothers in Arms offers a unique objective-based multiplayer experience. The matches pit the Americans against the Germans in a race against the clock to complete certain tasks. Most of these include finding some object and delivering it to a location. When the map starts, you have the option of choosing to either lead the fire team or the assault team, as does your opponent. Gameplay is identical to single player, with a few minor exceptions. When you die, you can select one of your remaining squadmates to control, automatically promoting them to squad leader; if your whole squad dies, you will then have to call in reinforcements. You only have a limited number of reinforcements, though, so don’t think you can be careless.

You are also able to play two-on-two, with each player controlling his own squad, and this is where the game really shines. Having two human-controlled squads adds the greatest necessity for strategy and planning. I can’t say that it’s quite as revolutionary as Splinter Cell PT’s multiplayer, but it’s close. Level design is one of the key elements that makes the multiplayer portion really stand out; there are multiple paths and tons of objects to take cover behind, so no two games play out the same. The multiplayer mode alone is worth the price of admission.

The visuals complement the action nicely throughout the game. The character models are not as high in polygon count as many AAA games, but they make up for it in texture quality and environmental architecture. The developers did a great job of making a group of men who are wearing the same uniform look so different, as the characters are all impeccably detailed and teeming with life. Heck, even their weapons look convincing.

The environments are the true stars of the game. The fields are full of lush grass and foliage, and this isn’t just for adding to the scenery; you will need to use the hedgerows, haystacks, bushes and whatever else you can for cover. To this end, the level design is outstanding, but whether I should credit this to the level design team or the Powers That Be for creating the land which they modeled, I do not know.

By far, the best graphical aspect of the game is the animation; I am somewhat of a connoisseur of animation, and as such, this title had me enthralled. During the cut scenes, there are subtle nuances that bring the characters to life and give each one his own distinctive personality, which is as important to the overall story as the dialogue itself. When a German is running across the field and you gun him down, the death animation is so real that it's haunting. Hit them with a grenade and their bodies go flying, not comically, but just how you would expect them to. When you flank their position, they panic and you can see it in their actions. These animations and rag doll physics combine to make a truly lifelike experience.

The final area where the game shines is the audio because there isn’t a moment in the game where you don’t feel like you aren’t in the middle of a war. Bullets whiz by your head from all directions and mortar shells echo in the background. Tanks rumble by, and machine gun fire rains down from unseen locales. If you don’t have a 5.1 system yet, this game will make you wish you did. The voice acting is some of the best I have seen in a game, and all of the dialogue is delivered with such emotion that you really get into the tension of the scene and forget you are looking at polygons and textures. It is one of the first games that made me feel tears welling up in my eyes, and it's simply refreshing to see a game try to elicit emotions other than fear and excitement.

Brothers in Arms is a fantastic game that no one should pass up. It offers an incredible story in a medium that is still struggling to elicit a wide range of emotions from its audience, and the authenticity and attention to detail cannot be rivaled by another other game. The characters are memorable and engaging, thanks to the graphical detail and audio excellence. Couple the great single player with the innovative and fun multiplayer experience, and you have a recipe for a fantastic game. The title also features tons of unlockables that can be earned by defeating the levels on different difficulty settings, which adds even more replayabliltiy. The only complaint I have is with the long load time between levels and after dying. While the extra 20-30 seconds isn't an eternity, it can really detract from the overall game experience. If the developers had fixed this one nuisance, they would have had the perfect game, but as it stands, it’s very close.

Score: 9.4/10

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