Review: Brothers in Arms: Hell’s Highway (PC)
Developer: Gearbox Software
Engine: Unreal Engine
Platforms: Microsoft Windows, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3
Release dates: September 23, 2008 (PS 3, Xbox 360), October 7, 2008 (PC)
Genre: First-person shooter, Squad-based tactical shooter
Back in 2005, Brothers in Arms became the third major World War 2 simulator; up there with Medal of Honor and Call of Duty. The first game released was Road to Hill 30, and the sequel, Earned in Blood, followed in the same year, which is quite rare, although it did feel more like an expansion, due to the lack of any real new features and it used the same engine and had the same graphics.
Brothers in Arms: Hell’s Highway has taken three years to appear since the last game, and the time seems to have been reasonably well spent.
What is Brothers in Arms and why is it so popular?
World War 2 has been a fad for many years, and although some complain that it’s getting a bit tired, most of us enjoy seeing an old favourite come back. There have been tons of games that take place in the WW 2 era and the Brothers in Arms series has been praised as one of the best.
It introduced new combat situations, and instead of the more run and gun approach of MoH or the script-based CoD, it relied on using cover, suppression, flanking and other real world tactics that would save you getting killed. The team who developed it made sure to do their homework and even enlist seasoned veterans, Col. John Antal and even Capt. Dale Dye (MoH, Saving Private Ryan, Band of Brothers) to help with the authenticity.
The story takes place in another rarely explored area of World War 2, that being Operation Market Garden. The player resumes the role of Sgt. Matt Baker from Road to Hill 30, as he and his squaddies tackle the Netherlands instead of Normandy.
• Uses Unreal Engine 3.
• Great graphics.
• Good voice acting.
• New cover system.
BiA takes a more tactical approach than most FPS titles, and the best way to describe this is by comparing it to a very similar series, that being Rainbow Six, especially the later titles such as Vegas and Vegas 2.
Why Rainbow Six? Well, not only do they share the same goals; i.e. eliminate the enemy with as little fuss and loss of life as possible, but they also have other things in common too. They are both published by Ubisoft, both use the Unreal Engine, and they play similarly.
The player is usually in charge of two squads, sometimes one or three, to take on the Germans. One squad, referred to as a fire team lays down suppressing fire which makes it hard for the enemy to move or return fire without being hit, while the assault team comes from a different angle, called flanking, and takes them down. The option to storm an enemy position and get into melee combat is no longer available, and it’s just as well because it wouldn’t work in this game with the lacking AI.
In BiA:HH, there are different teams that the player can command. The assault team carries Thompson submachine guns and M1 carbines as well as grenades. The fire team has BARs (Browning Automatic Rifles) and M1 Garands, but there are special units too, and they can be an MG (machinegun) team, or a bazooka team. Bazooka teams are the most useful seeing as you can blast not just enemies but anything to smithereens, and they are very handy for dealing with MG nests, especially in buildings.
A trait that both Vegas and Hell’s Highway share is the fact that the main character doesn’t have health like most games. The screen goes read when he is in ‘danger’, but he can eventually die if in the ‘danger zone’ for too long, like being out in the open under machinegun fire. Once the player returns to cover, he gradually recovers.
This approach to health in games isn’t entirely new, as it’s been done by games such as Clive Barker’s Jericho, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare and Call of Duty: World at War. Why this is done, is probably because it seemed unrealistic to have med kits lying all over the place like in Doom or Quake from years past.
Speaking of cover, don’t expect wooden objects to last long, and sandbags won’t protect you from much either. A well placed shot from an enemy panzershreck or 88 will show you what I mean; this goes for the enemy too, though.
In and out of the action, you’ll have cutscenes that are quite drawn out and dramatic. I say keep it short and sweet, and more action. The cinematics feel similar to Mass Effect’s, another droner, although they don’t have the interactivity of an RPG such as that. In addition to this is the zoomed in slow motion kills when you achieve a head shot or something.
A feature that yet another Ubisoft published title, Assassin’s Creed, introduced, and that this game has in its own form, is the ability to recon the area for details. Assassin’s Creed’s one was more useful though, as it revealed features on your map. BiA gives you a little recon report that delves into the real life history of the area that the game replicates, during WW 2. This seems to take the place of the excellent bonus content that you could unlock throughout the game in the prequels. There are also Kilroys (like graffiti tags) that you have to locate as well, similar to GTA: San Andreas.
Situational Awareness in now gone; it was such a good thing to see the battlefield, but now there is just a standard coloured- in map with objectives, enemies and friendly units displayed on it.
One gripe I have with the game is the loading screens that pop out of nowhere and not only that but the checkpoint systems really destroy your planning sometimes. At the end of a checkpoint, your buddies that were previously downed miraculously recover, which is good, but you cannot leave squads behind that checkpoint and so they will follow you to the next area and if you’re not aware they are there, and fail to order them about, they will usually get slaughtered again.
You also can’t backtrack to an earlier part of the mission once you’ve passed that point of no return, and any failure to check out recon points, Kilroys and ammo drops will remain a failure, unless you go to the main menu and start over from the previous checkpoint. No thanks.
+ Great graphics.
+ Humour and real life behaviour woven in every now and again.
+ Good voice acting overall.
+ Good story.
+ Better combat system than its predecessors.
- Controls take a bit of getting used to.
- AI and their path-finding can get frustrating at times.
- No situational awareness mode.
- Long, drawn-out cutscenes detract from action.
- No bonus content.
It’s not the best game in the world but it could do a lot worse.
Playing Brothers in Arms: Hell’s Highway feels like:
Brothers in Arms: Road to Hill 30
Brothers in Arms: Earned in Blood
Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six Vegas
The graphics are much better than the first two games; that I can say. There’s a lot of HDR, and sun getting in your eyes, and the gritty detail in the character’s worn and weary faces and pits in their helmets sometimes makes it feel a little overdone compared to the airbrushed, anti-aliased features in some games. Not that this is a bad thing, though. It does a good job of recreating the warzones in detail too, with little to complain about.
The music in the game is performed by the FILMharmonic Orchestra and Choir at Rudolfinum in Prague, according to a source. There is no music during gameplay, but during cutscenes and at the menu screens it plays.
There’s pretty much everything you’d expect from a World War 2 shooter here, with explosions, gunshots and other wartime noises going on. The weapons from the era all sound accurate.
One thing that I couldn’t get was that there are no footstep sounds when running on pavements or roads, although you do hear it on grass.
The controls are okay, with one gripe being that the sprinting is a bit awkward. You basically have to be running along a straight path; otherwise you’ll be bumping into things and getting caught in the crossfire. Maneuvering while sprinting seems to be a no-go for some reason; perhaps because the developers though that it would add to the realism; a soldier carrying all that ammo and equipment isn’t very agile or fast.
The cover system is very similar to Vegas as well, and it works well sometimes, and others not. You tell your character to take cover and sometimes he doesn’t, or he’ll exit cover without being told to do so, or he’ll refuse to get out of cover unless you ask nicely by tapping the correct button.
The controls feel a little finicky and awkward during these times, and that combined with a checkpoint loading system will lead to some frustration.
Observations and other comments
It’s eerie how Hell’s Highway, Rainbow Six: Vegas and Mass Effect are so similar. They all use similar gameplay mechanics, and they share the same publisher, Ubisoft. I’ve also noticed that they almost act as chronological cousins. BiA takes place in the past, Vegas in the present, and Mass Effect in the future.
Bugs and other issues
The AI can be thick as two short planks at times, with teams refusing to move or fire on the enemy when commanded. Your squad can also get stuck on objects, as well take the short route through fire to a destination instead of using cover. When one of your teams gets up close to an enemy, the two factions stare at each other with guns pointing and not shooting.
Some surfaces, despite being perfect for covering behind will not ‘take’- you press the button to ‘dig in’ and nothing happens.
What I think of it
I liked the previous Brothers in Arms games, and don’t get me wrong, I like this one too, but it just has several niggling issues that really take away from the experience.
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© 2008 ANDR01D
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