WWII has to be one of the most common themes for first person shooters. There have been countless numbers of games that task you with shooting up the nazis, lots of which have been hugely successful like Call of Duty and Medal of Honor. So, in an already crowded genre, a new instalment of the Brothers In Arms series joins the ranks with Brothers in Arms: Hells Highway (BIA:HH). But with so many games already to choose from, what makes this one any different from the others? To sum it up in one word; storytelling.
In my opinion, the one thing that has been sorely missing from almost every game based in WWII is the sense of camaraderie that was shared between the soldiers during those hard times. You never really seem to get any idea of what it felt like to be fighting the war. Prepare for all that to change, because BIA:HH absolutely nails that feeling. From the instance you boot up the game and watch the opening cutscene you can tell that this game is special. I don't want to give away anything that happens, so I'll just say that before I had even picked up my controller and started to play I felt more attached to the characters than I ever did throughout the entirety of Call of Duty 3. Quite an achievement. This high quality of storytelling doesn't stop at the opening cutscene either. Just about every cutscene in the game oozes with realism and believability most games can only dream of.
When you are not being treated to these divine cutscenes, you will spend most of your time in game playing a squad based shooter similar to Rainbow Six. The story follows the 101st Airborne as they take part in Operation Market Garden, which is widely considered the allied army's worst failure in the whole of WWII. Throughout the various chapters of the game you get given different squads which you can command. These vary from machine gun squads, to bazooka squads and even tanks. If you have ever played any of the previous BIA games then you should feel right at home because not much has changed since the last title in the series. You select your squads by using the B button, and then hold down the left trigger to issue an order. If you point at a spot on the ground, your squad will go there. Point at an enemy and they will shoot at them, and so on. However, as nice as this system is, it is far from perfect. Often I found myself trying to move a squad to a certain location and was unable to do so due to the rather erratic movements of the squad command cursor. To give an example, I was trying to move a squad to the far side of a wall, but every time I tried to move the cursor to the other side of the wall it would jump a good 10 feet over the other side of the wall. Considering the core gameplay mechanic involves moving your squad around in order to flank the enemy, the cursor issue is far from ideal.
Still, once you get around the cursor problem the gameplay is actually very engaging. The enemy will often try and push forward, meaning you have to adjust and re-evaluate the situation. In essence, this means that to win, you have to use your squads and flank the enemy. If you sit still, the enemy will flank you. This is also made clear during the game by your squad mates who will constantly yell at you if you are not giving them orders, which really pushes up the tension factor, or at least for a while. You see, there are a couple of small issues, which while they may be small, really break the whole immersive experience. First of these is the repetitive chat. It's great having your squad mates chatter and shout during the action, but after a couple of hours with the game you will want to shoot your own squad for saying the same thing over and over and over again. It really is quite frustrating. Even more frustrating are the moments of sheer stupidity that get displayed by your squads. Occasionally when you tell your squad to move somewhere they will take the worst possible route, which usually involves them running straight out into the open. You may have taken a route couched down along the side of a wall, and then your squad will jump over that wall and run straight into the open in order to reach you, often dying in the process. It didn't happen to me that often, but when it did it was one of those moments where I wanted to throw my controller at the TV.
Graphically the game is a real mixed bag. The facial detail on the characters are great. Similarly some of the cover in the game such as wooden fences and sandbags look really nice, especially as they start to get blown apart. On the flip side, some parts of the environments look horrible and are a real let down. There is also some nasty pop in issues throughout the game, meaning that you can be looking at some great looking fences one moment, only to notice a barrel in the background which hasn't had it's texture loaded yet. Thankfully the audio department makes up for the graphics. The game has a stellar musical score, brilliant sound effects and the voice acting is top notch. It is obvious that a lot of work was put into making everything in the game sound authentic, and it really pays off.
There is a multiplayer component to the game but it is horribly obvious that it was an afterthought, and I don't see there being many people playing it a couple of months from now. It's a nice little diversion for a couple of hours at most.
So, if you are looking for your next WWII fix, you could do a lot worse. Despite a few issues, BIA:HH is still fun to play, and the squad based gameplay makes a nice change from the mass of run and gun WWII shooters. At the very least it is worthy of a rental, if only to see how storytelling should be done in a game.