Brothers In Arms: Hell’s Highway
I’m slowly but steadily getting bored as hell with World War 2 First Person Shooters. All those Medal of Honors, Call of Duty’s and other less popular variants make for a real infestation of this type of games but now and then developers come up with a different, innovative and even more original concept than what we’ve seen before. Such a game was Brothers in Arms: Road to Hill 30 that got released in 2005. It wasn’t your ordinary “run and shoot Germans”-game as we had seen hundreds before. Gearbox succeeded to add a new and interesting aspect: leading your troops and position them tactically and use them to pin down the enemy and kill him with a simple flank movement. This all had to be done while you yourself were running through the battlefield with German bullets flying around your head. Now, about three years after the original, we get a successor: Brothers in Arms: Hell’s Highway.
The BiA games are – as said – known for the tactical aspect that was added to the FPS genre, but that isn’t the only thing that makes the series. Also a rock solid, authentic-feeling storyline, the surroundings that are recreated up to the smallest details and strongly developed characters make these games true classics. Hell’s Highway is all but an exception to that rule! Here and there it even improves the old formula, eventhough without adding too many innovations. It are the little, more subtle changes that do it.. or in some cases don’t.
You’re still playing Sergeant Matt Baker who this time needs to guide his squad through the battlefields of The Netherlands, aka Operation Market Garden. The game starts with a short flash forward that seconds later caused goosebumps on my skin and made me wonder: “Is it done already?”. Throughout the game you get to know your buddies in arms better and even create a bond with them in a certain way while a strong storyline develops. This cohesion, however, is only created and maintained by the short cut-scenes (which look beautiful but unfortunately shake now and then). While playing you’ll notice hardly anything about the strong ties between the characters and the “Band of Brothers” atmosphere that was built during the movies gets almost completely lost. Where the atmosphere does manage to come through is in the behaviour of your team members. It’s like they perfectly understand when to stay quiet and hide to do a surprise attack or when to do the opposite and charge. This goes along with the necessary whispering or in other cases blatantly challenging talk towards the Germans. By the integration of this situations analysis that the AI does it becomes again somewhat easier to completely immerse yourself into the game.
Also this time Brothers in Arms managed to surprise me with the bloody splatters with which hostiles blow up when they get a grenade or artillery schrapnel pumped through their body. These aren’t your ordinary pieces of meat like those from Doom 3 that are flying around but effective limbs including bones and pieces of ripped off texture from the muscle tissue. It’s even so dramatic that Gearbox has added an option to disable this. And it’s not only people who can be torn apart, also the object behind which they’re hiding aren’t safe for heavy fire of anti tank rockets or the enormous bullets coming from the barrel of a pantsered vehicle. All this blowing up of objects and persons is then highlighted by the “Action Cam” who zooms in on the violence and shows the dramatic decay of man and wall/building/sandbag, including the flying arms and legs with the necessary clowds of blood. A surprising gameplay element and next to that it also shows the cruelty of war very well which as such again adds to the atmosphere.
To prevent repetition inside the single player there are several moments where you won’t have to lead a team. From time to time you’ll have to go through a building yourself or control a tank and race through the streets of a town while shooting down just about everything.
If that isn’t enough, you can take on other players in the online multiplayer where you get the possibility to get going with 19 others (so 20 in total). This is also the only way as there are no other modes present, clearly indicating that multiplayer is only added because it needs to be in a modern day game. The soldiers are divided into two teams, one trying to defends its flags while the other needs to capture them. In each team also squads are formed and each player gets a role assigned with all having their own weapons and special abilities. You may be a squad leader or anti-tank soldier which makes that you also have a specific objective to fullfil. The entire online happening is strongly based on team work but it’s also clear that not everyone likes to follow orders from someone else and just like with any squad-based game you’ll get people who go out on themselves and abandon their team.
Both the images and sound that you get are of pretty decent to even very high quality.The detailed surroundings, dramatic explosions and even more impacting filmic music bring forth a complete package of atmosphere that will certainly create goosebumps from time to time. Add to that the sound of bullets flying around your head, possibly combined with tank tracks on the asphalt and you’ll quickly be at the edge of your seat, ready to kick German ass.
Brothers in Arms: Hell’s Highway is again a solid tactical shooter that can be added to the series. The deep storyline, the atmospheric surroundings and combat in combination with the excellent music make for a typical Brothers in Arms experience. I can make it short: a must-have for any FPS lover…