I know that World War II FPS’s are a dime a dozen, but there are a few series that manage to make a mark on this genre and Brothers in Arms is up there at the top. Hell’s Highway, the third in the series, continues the exploits of Sergeant Matt Baker and his men as they pick up the pieces from the previous installments and attempt to create a highway into Germany to end the war.
Based upon the real-life Operation Market Garden, the story relies a little too much on past Brothers in Arms to land the emotional weight it goes for. Baker is troubled by the memories of lost comrades and his task in leading both old timers and new faces. While it is adept in its depiction of Baker’s mental state over the course of the game, many newcomers to the series won’t quite grasp why we should care without playing the previous titles. The story and characters are solid enough to almost mirror an episode “Band of Brothers”, but even the blanket “previously on Brothers in Arms” and flashbacks don’t help it achieve its goal.
Combat-wise the game takes the best aspects of FPS genre and successfully integrates squad tactics into a meaningful strategy experience. This is not a run and gun title, even on the lowest difficulty setting you must effectively use your squad or you will die. Horribly. The majority of the game gives Baker at least one squad to command. The action mostly revolves around finding the enemy, suppressing the enemy, flanking the enemy and finally destroying them. I wanted to think of this as a rinse-repeat game, and while it could be categorized as that, the different battlefields and layouts prevented it from really going there. Every map needed to be analyzed to figure out where to place men, where to suppress, where to flank and attack, and even if you think you have it right, the difficulty is high enough the best laid plans could fail.
The AI successfully represents soldiers’ fear of death. If enemy soldiers see you flanking they will go to better positions. Your own squadmates mostly take the cover path to objectives and will actively engage the enemy if threatened; they also make sure to let you know if the cover they are in isn’t sufficient. Not to say there aren’t some head-scratching moments when these soldiers jump over walls when they can easily could have walked around, but fortunately these moments are few and far between.
Controlling the squad is as easy as holding the left trigger, selecting a unit, steering to a position and letting go. Attacking was equally simple by holding the left trigger and steering to the enemies you want to focus on and letting the trigger go. The earlier you master these minor controls, the easier time you will have progressing through the game. In addition to your standard suppressing and attacking units, you will occasionally be given bazooka or heavy machine gun units that serve slightly different tasks such as taking out sandbag entrenchments or tower emplacements.
The graphics strive for a gritty, realistic feel. Lighting effects are great, and the environments are varied and detailed for the small area you actually cover, but occasionally you will see something that completely throws you out of the moment. During cutscenes when someone is trying emote, the facial details will fill in late, leaving a temporary blobbed-faced person; if you run forward too fast you can watch the draw distance catch up, which is a little disconcerting. Amid all of this visual inconsistency is one awesome experience that you must see for yourself; while pulling off a particular attack such as a grenade or head shot, the camera will switch to a slow motion blood-splattering movie-like explosion that can show enemies being ripped limb from limb. This small detail was such a pleasure to pull off, as I constantly tried to get the head shots in. The sound on the other hand is consistently flawless.
Multiplayer eems like an after-thought. Twenty-player battles are waged between two teams vying for the other teams’ territory, with the twist being squad dynamics. The different squads mirror the game units with one group leader who is ideally leading everyone, although I don’t know if there are any gamers outside of the military who will actually take orders to achieve the goal. But it has potential. Graphics seem to take a knock here, probably attempting to allow so many players on each map, but it is forgivable.
Hell’s Highway is the best World War II strategy FPS out there, and while it definitely has its quirks, solid squad tactics and a mostly engaging story make this a title that people should consider.
ESRB: M for Mature, plenty of visually stunning slow-motion explosions that literally rip enemy’s limb from limb
Plays Like: Strategy First Person Shooter, set in World War II
PROS: Realistic feel, mostly effective enemy and friendly AI for challenging squad tactics
CONS: Nits abound, graphically, AI, and challenge level