Brothers in Arms: Hell's HighwayESRB:
Platform: Xbox 360
Category: Action Games
Published by: Ubisoft
Developed by: Gearbox Software
1MB to Save Game
Online Multiplayer: 2-20
To say there is an overwhelming amount of World War II video games on the market would be an understatement. Why are there so many? Well, simply put they sell and gamers love them. The Call of Duty, Metal of Honor, and Brothers in Arms franchises have been the leaders of the pack when it comes to this genre. So it comes as no surprise that Ubisoft has deployed another installment in the hit Brothers in Arms simply titled Brothers in Arms: Hell's Highway. This third installment follows a squad of men from the 101st Airborne Division (502nd Parachute Infantry Regiment). I was fortunate enough to review the Xbox 360 version of the game and I was looking forward to giving it a spin as I have limited experience with the previous Brothers in Arms games. So how does Brothers in Arms: Hells Highway measure up compared to some of those other big name WWII shooters? Read on.
On the surface the visuals in Brothers in Arms: Hells Highway are solid and for many the graphics will be the best aspect of the game. The production value is high as the game has a Hollywood blockbuster feel to it. Some of the detail in the game’s cut-scenes and cinematic slow motion scenes are truly impressive. If you haven’t played many next-generation shooters the visuals should really blow you away. That being said, more mature gamers, and those quite familiar with the next-generation era of shooters, will have some issues. The framerate slows down and clipping issues rear their head far too often. The slow down is most prevalent during some of the cut scenes. Additionally some of the textures appear weak and often the game turns ‘grainy’ which can really take away from the gameplay at times. Additionally the online visuals do not appear quite as good as those during the single player campaign.
In terms of the character animations, your main character, Matt Baker, looks good along with the rest of his ‘Band of Brothers’, however they won’t blow you away. Simply put, we have seen similar soldiers in a countless number of next-generation games from Call of Duty 4 to Rainbow Six: Vegas. Granted we have been spoiled of late and I can’t help but think if Brothers in Arms: Hells Highway was an Xbox 360 launch or second generation title we would be very impressed.
The environments on the other hand are pretty cool and at times border on visually stunning. The detail that went into such things as the war-torn buildings, farm field terrain, cracks on the pavement, stones on house and fence walls, and just about everything else looks incredible. As with the environments, the lighting effects in the game are superb and are amongst some of the best I have seen on the Xbox 360 to date. Based on the lighting alone you can tell if you are proceeding through a morning or late afternoon mission. Additionally, the night missions are non-problematic and you won’t have any trouble seeing your way through these types of levels.
The battle combat is also very intense in Brothers in Arms: Hells Highway. From the explosions, fire & smoke effects, to the sheer power of the guns, all add to the intense WWII atmosphere. The combat looks real and is comparable to something out of Hollywood movie. I was especially impressed with the smoke trails from the guns after you fire your weapon. It is presented in such a manner which I have never seen before and the overall effect is slick.
As far as the sound is concerned, Brothers in Arms: Hells Highway delivers. The game's sound is an excellent complement to the strong visuals. From the solid soundtrack to the soldier chatter, this title features terrific audio which should only be experienced in Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound.
I found the weapon sounds and explosions to be very life-like with the latter having the ability to jolt out of your seat at times. The game features a wide variety of weapons and will surely appease all those hard core WWII shooter fans or ‘Guns & Ammo’ magazine subscribers out there. The different shotguns, pistols, machine guns, rifles and bazooka’s all appear to have very unique sounds as they are sharp and seem to be bang-on to what you think they really do sound like in real-life. Of course there are ample explosions in the game which I found could border on thundering.
The voice acting, battle chatter, and the communication which takes place between you and your squadmates is also very effective. On the downside, there were occasions when they would yell commands which seemed out of place. For example, on some occasions I would get a question about why we are not advancing; meanwhile we are ‘knee-deep’ in the enemies gunfire at close range. These instances are few and far between. As such they do not hamper the gameplay a great deal but they are noticeable.
The musical score in Brothers in Arms: Hells Highway is also very good. The big swooping orchestral sounds are fabulous and line up very well with the scenarios which take place on screen. The music effectively amps-up as the action becomes more intense. That being said the action is so intense in the game you likely won’t notice the music too much but it is a solid soundtrack nonetheless.
Brothers in Arms: Hells Highway is based on a real life WWII scenario called Operation Market Garden. It was the largest airborne invasion in history. A plan was devised by the British where three airborne divisions (2 US and 1 British) would land in the Netherlands behind enemy lines and secure multiple bridges at Eindhoven, Nijmegen and Arnhem. The plan was executed in September 1944 which just happens to be four months after Operation Overlord, which is covered in the previous Brothers in Arms games.
Unfortunately, things didn’t turn out as planned. The Operation was initially successful with the bridges at both Eindhoven and Nijmegen secured, however the over powering SS Panzer Corps stationed at Arnhem proved too much for the under-equipped 1st Airborne Division. The Germans quickly captured the British Landing Zones and the bridge at Arnhem. Soon after, thousands of troops were captured and the Nazi’s had locked the allied troops onto a narrow stretch of Dutch land. This narrow stretch leading up to Eindhoven became known as "Hell's Highway". It was the last great Nazi victory.
In Brothers in Arms: Hells Highway you play the role of Sgt. Baker, the leader of a Recon unit of the 101st Airborne. Sgt. Baker survived D-Day, however many of his squadmates did not. His new squad contains veterans and replacements and it is up to you to lead them into battle. The story is a very captivating one and has you really caring for the characters. Not very many games manage to capture the realism of what soldiers face on the battlefield, but this one does. Sgt. Baker takes the deaths of his men hard and the story does a wonderful job at giving you a blow-by-blow account of what he going through, both mentally and physically. At times the story was difficult to follow but the flashbacks and the in-game Recon reports helped me follow the storyline and gain a better understanding of the characters and their roles.
Brothers in Arms: Hells Highway for the Xbox 360 is not your typical run and gun shooter. It is a significant departure from those fast paced action shooters like Call of Duty 4 and Rainbow Six: Vegas as it is more tactical based game where the key to advancing past your enemy is being able to effectively command your squadmates. It took me sometime to get the hang of things as I kept getting impatient wanting to quickly take-down the enemy. However, after a few premature deaths on my part I slowed things down, made all the appropriate commands to my various squad teams and took care of the enemy. This resulted in my level of satisfaction with the game to drastically rise.
Much to my relief the game features a comprehensive tutorial which helps you become accustomed to the controls and how to command your teams. Your paratrooper squad consists of three teams. The fire squad is a team used to suppress enemy fire. The assault team is used for flanking the enemy and taking them out at short range. Finally, the special weapons team is used for blowing up enemy defenses and taking out large chunks enemy platoons.
All three squads play a critical role and your ability to control them will likely correlate with your overall enjoyment of the game. The controls are easy to learn but can very frustrating at times as often your squadmates do not always do what they are told. There were numerous times when I would direct my men to get behind cover; however they would subsequently engage in a fire fight or badly expose themselves. This could prove to be quite frustrating. I also did not like the use of the left trigger as the main command function as it seemed out of place and certainly seemed to be the blame for some of those inaccurate commands I would issue. Nevertheless, Brothers in Arms: Hells Highway does allow you to customize the configuration of the controls in the options screen. Once you do become familiar with the controls and realize it’s all about suppressing enemy fire and flanking them, the single player mode becomes a breeze.
The game features three difficulty levels and the single player experience should take you anywhere from 10-20 hours to complete depending on your skill level and how quickly you become accustomed to the controls. For those veterans of the franchise, Ubisoft tells us the cover system is a new feature this year. Overall it works, however I do prefer some of the cover systems in games such as Gears of War or Rainbow Six: Vegas. The cover system in Brothers in Arms: Hells Highway did not seem as smooth or as natural as it could be. As for the enemy AI, they were a mixed bag too. At times they can be incredibly difficult while other times they can be incredibly stupid. Often I would throw a grenade which would explode only feet away from them. You would think they would run for the hills however they don’t even react to the explosion which seemed odd.
Brothers in Arms: Hells Highway also features an online component which barely holds a candle to other great online modes in more recent games. On the plus side, the online multiplayer does feature up to 20 players online, however on the other side of that coin is the fact that there are only six different maps and a couple of game types to play. Overall there is not much here to keep the hardcore online gamer happy. Should you venture online the key to the being successful lie in playing as a squad which was difficult at the best of times as I witnessed far too many players just doing their own thing not caring about playing their team. All in all, I cannot see many embracing the online aspects of the game.
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