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Brothers In Arms DS

Platform(s): Nintendo DS
Genre: Action
Publisher: Ubisoft
Developer: Gearbox


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NDS Review - 'Brothers In Arms DS'

by Tom Baker on Sept. 10, 2007 @ 4:10 a.m. PDT

Brothers In Arms DS brings all the action and strategy of the series to a handheld, utilizing the DS Touch Screen to control the squad.

Genre: Action
Publisher: Ubisoft
Developer: Gameloft
Release Date: June 19, 2007


Edwin Starr sang that war was good for absolutely nothing, which means that he's obviously not a fan of oil, men in uniform or computer games. For as long as there have been machines to play games, there have been games about World War II, which has expectedly produced a shockingly generic line of games, each with less variation and innovation than the last. Brothers in Arms DS does not provide a great deal more innovation, but it does offer a highly polished and playable game experience that won't leave you crying out for a medic.

The game sees you following the 101st Airborne Division through well-known battles such as the D-Day landings, the Battle of the Bulge and Allied forces in the Tunisia campaign. To anyone who has played a WW2 shooter recently, these locations will be of no big surprise, but to see them rendered in such an atmospheric and dynamic manner on a handheld console is rare. As you progress through these locations, you'll be confronted with legions of the Third Reich's best, including an absurd amount of tanks and other vehicles with which to compete.

You guide your character in the third-person point of view, which differs from previous Brothers in Arms games, where the player has been restricted to the first-person perspective. If anything, this change in viewpoint allows the gamer to get a greater appreciation of the scale of combat, especially since it's contained to such a small screen. This is not the only deviation from the Brothers in Arms tradition, as the DS edition removes the team-based control system that allows you to issue orders to members of your squad. This is a puzzling move, since that ability was one of the things that set apart previous Brothers in Arms offerings from the pack. The DS touch-screen is the perfect apparatus for a tactical system, so to remove the only tactical aspect from the game makes little sense, and the entire experience seems the lesser for it.

There is, however, enough to keep any gamer occupied in the campaign and multiplayer modes, and with a distinct lack of shooters gracing the DS (aside from the Metroid titles), Brothers in Arms DS is a solid attempt at a barely explored genre and even captures some of the atmosphere present in its console brethren.

Throughout the missions, you'll constantly be reminded of the limitations of basing a game on one of the most media-adapted wars in history. If you've ever played a WW2 title before, you'll be all too familiar with the "blow up the turret" or "secure the bridge" objectives, which appear almost religiously in every scenario of Brothers in Arms DS. These are all well represented and are a credit to the DS as a system, but as a game, these objectives seem stilted and overdone. It's not that I am suggesting that producers fabricate history in order to make games more interesting, but what Brothers in Arms DS has in graphics and sheer playability, it lacks in overall originality. This is where the absence of the traditional team-based strategy system is most apparent, but certain new features, such as the ability to drive tanks and assault vehicles in certain sections, add much-needed variety to the standard gameplay.

The game also incorporates a statistics system, where the number of headshots, number of deaths, and time taken to complete the objectives are all taken into account to give you a "fame rating" if you successfully complete a mission. This is a nice idea but ultimately redundant, as the points don't unlock any extra levels, cheats or awards. The number of points isn't even stored, so trying to beat an old high score isn't an option, either.

The gameplay of Brothers in Arms DS is based on the over-the-shoulder viewpoint, but it handles very much like a standard FPS, with the stylus controlling the crosshair movement. Even though there have been few attempts at games of this type on the DS, the controls feel instantly familiar; aiming and movement is facilitated by the touch-screen, which also serves as the method of switching weapons and controls the release of grenades. The fortunate side effect of making a game with a tried-and-true formula is a simple and near-perfect control system.

The gameplay switches seamlessly from the on-foot infantry sections to the vehicle portions, and the controls never feel cumbersome or complex, allowing you to feel at one with the action as you strafe, shoot and run crouched through trenches as enemy fire whizzes overhead. The gameplay complements the action well and genuinely creates an atmosphere of tension as you and your brothers in arms accomplish an objective. The ability to hide behind cover is a welcome addition and makes shootouts feel more realistic, encouraging the gamer to think more about the situation instead of simply running and gunning. A more accurate grenade system which allows you to see over obstacles and plot exactly where the devastating blast will land is another novel addition to gameplay.

Unfortunately, the gameplay is let down by an annoyingly unresponsive stylus, although this does not affect the aiming too much. More precise maneuvers, such as the controlling of a grenade's distance, can be woefully inaccurate, often making it land inches from your feet unless you apply Herculean strength to the touch-screen. The cover system may add a nice touch of tactical influence on the way you play the game, but most objects provide little to no cover, and you'll find yourself being shot at from all directions with no way out. The simplicity of activating the working cover — standing in front of a wall or bunker will cause your character to assume a protective stance — allows the game to flow more easily, and it partially makes up for the seemingly magic homing bullets of the enemy soldiers.

Graphically, Brothers in Arms DS breaks new ground for the DS, delivering gritty realistic settings and real-time cut scenes which affect the game environment. As you run through the war-ravaged streets of Normandy, shells will explode on either side of you, and downed Allied planes will swoop mere feet above your head before crash-landing in nearby fields. The layout of Brothers in Arms DS shatters the presumption that the DS is only capable of cutesy "kid-friendly" titles, and even with games such as Metroid dominating the DS shooter market, it's encouraging to see Gameloft developing a serious gaming experience. There is also little lapse in the frame rates, as the title handled the rich and dynamic environments well, recreating the historically accurate battles across the scorching desert cities of Tunisia and the frozen landscape of the Battle of the Bulge.

One of the major draw points of previous Brothers in Arms titles has been the genuine bond of affection that you, as a gamer, feel toward the survival of your character and those in your unit. Even though the developers have left out the characters' emotional monologues before and after campaigns, the character models are realistically recreated to the point where it will pain you to see your allies cut down in battle. Everything in the title feels as though it should be on a much more powerful console, and although the rough edges and pixelation indicative of any DS attempt at more ambitious graphics are initially noticeable, you'll soon be impressed by the stylish action and well-animated cut scene events, which you can literally carry around in your pocket.

The audio is as well worn as the concept of a war game itself; you'll be treated to the clichéd calls for assistance by fellow soldiers, the rattle of machine gun fire and the boom of artillery turrets. Disappointingly, the tiny DS speakers cannot properly capture the atmosphere that the graphical prowess of the game deserves, but Brothers in Arms DS does what it can, and the gameplay is more than enough to keep you playing. The music is typical of Hollywood action films, which perfectly suits the game's aesthetics. The title is all about heroism, and the sounds are essential to instill this idea in the gamer, and in this respect, it succeeds with flying colors.

Despite the main campaigns being frustratingly short, Brothers in Arms DS also has a limited multiplayer mode, where you can challenge friends to deathmatch or team deathmatch across a range of well-balanced and fast-paced maps. Even though this is entertaining, the main story is simply not long enough, and the necessity of multiple cards to play multiplayer is a tad annoying, seeing as other games managed the same experience on single-card play.

For all its cliché and for all the repetitive nostalgia you'll gain from replaying a WW2 game, Brothers in Arms DS manages to draw you in yet again. My personal opinions about the overproduction of WW2 titles aside, Brothers in Arms DS is utterly playable and an incredibly ambitious graphical step for the DS. It's slick, action-packed and surprisingly atmospheric for such a small screen, although its problems are very noticeable, and getting shot through supposed "cover" can get extremely irritating. The game's length also means that any lasting appeal it may have will be in the equally limited multiplayer mode, but if you can find friends with this game, it promises to be highly entertaining. Brothers in Arms DS does not push the envelope of game content but is a solid representation of the genre. If you're looking for a portable action shooter, you can't go wrong with this title, and fans of the genre are certain to enjoy it. If you've played a WW2 game adaptation before, you won't find too much innovation here, but the presentation will have you re-enlisting in no time.

Score: 7.9/10

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