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Brothers in Arms: Hell's Highway Review

6 October 2008

Brothers in Arms: Hell’s Highway is one of those rare games that manage to capture the realistic emotion and sentiment that true soldiers on the front line experience. The series has always followed the 502nd Parachute Infantry, 101st Airborne Division throughout their trials and tribulations of war. Revealing the soldier’s deepest thoughts, fears, and personality development, Gearbox Software captures the minds of gamers and sucks them into the battlefield. While these men are no strangers to insurmountable odds, Hell’s Highway is a retelling of Operation Market Garden, a World War II disaster that resulted in many casualties.

Operation Market Garden is also known as the largest airborne invasion within the history of warfare. The plan, which was originally designed to end the war by the Christmas of 1944, ended up being the Allies' greatest failure and the Nazi’s last great victory. The idea was to invade Holland and capture a highway point that would enable the Allies to drive straight into the heart of Germany. Hitler, however, had his best soldiers and tanks surround the area. The Allies were completely oblivious. When they overtook the highway and victory seemed sure, the Nazis came crashing down around the Allies, ending any hope they had at gaining control of that highway.

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The majority of the story revolves around Staff Sergeant Matt Baker. You spend a good portion of the start of the game being shown flashbacks of his earlier years, as well as a portion of the stories (from other games in the series) leading up to this point. This is a definite bonus, as it gives gamers who haven’t played the earlier titles a chance to understand what exactly is going on. Baker spends a lot of his time between missions reflecting on his childhood as well as fallen comrades that he’s fought alongside. Throughout Hell's Highway, these aspects come across as genuine, not corny. With this game, Brothers in Arms continues its standing as one of the most emotionally riveting series on the market.

If you’re a fan of the series, you’ll have a strong grasp of the controls right from the get go. Fortunately, if you’re a newcomer, you’re able to go through the game with tutorials enabled until you have a better understanding of the controls. To give you heads up, do not expect to run through Hell's Highway mowing down Nazis as though you’re a new-age Rambo. It just isn’t going to happen. Unlike other titles where you can push forward as your own one man army, BIA forces you to take a strategic and methodical approach to the battlefield that you may not be expecting. The best way to go about pushing forward is eyeing areas where you can take cover, then taking down enemy soldiers one by one. A word of warning is necessary, though -- be careful what you cover behind, as some cover is destructible. If you take cove behind a flimsy wooden barrel, for instance, don't expect to stay there for long, or you'll face rather painful consequences.

So, if you can't be a one man army, how do you make any progress? BIA is actually comparable in a sense to Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter 2, as you’re given the opportunity to instruct your teammates to perform certain tasks such as laying down cover fire. In total, there are three types of troops you can control to get the job done. These types of squads include Firing, Assault, and Special Weapons teams. If you’re going to be successful, you’ll need to learn how to play to each team's strengths and weaknesses.

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Unfortunately, the squad AI is one of the downfalls of Hell’s Highway. Though occasionally your teammates will display glimpses of brilliance by laying down suppressive fire and taking cover, there are also times where they’ll come off completely stupid. For instance, when I instructed one of my units to take cover safely behind a wall, the marker was position right and it should have worked. Sadly, two of the soldiers decided to jump the wall and ended up with more holes in them than 50 Cent on a good day. Another odd occurrence that takes place with your squadron AI is the teleportation issue. I know what you’re thinking, but yes, World War II apparently features teleportation devices (I know). There was more than one occasion where I directed my assault squad to run into battle with me, but instead of them coming up beside me, they leisurely made their way towards the battle and all of the sudden teleported in front of me. While this may not sound like a huge issue, it is when they start running back towards you, leaving them vulnerable to gun fire from the opposite direction.

As for online play, it’s tacked on much in the same way it was for Dark Sector. It gives off the impression that it was just added to please the online enthusiasts. Sadly, the graphics seem to take a downgrade online in order to accommodate the extra players. The online modes of play consist of really only two forms of play. In one, your objective is to raise flags, while in the other, your objective is simply to eliminate the enemy troops. There isn’t much else to the online atmosphere, so you’re going to find yourself simply sticking to the storyline.

You may have heard some complaints over the visual appeal of Brothers in Arms. Some gamers have touted the game's graphics as “mediocre.” Well, that's not too far from the truth. I can confirm that BIA has its shining moments and its downfalls. Some of the more impressive visuals take place during grenade explosions due to the realistic particle effects that Gearbox has included. However, the game is littered with 2D grass and other surroundings which leave a lot to be desired. It’s unfortunate that a title with such a strong story is left limping due to a mixed visual presentation.

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If I had to pick the shining star of BIA outside of the story, though, it would be the sound effects and dialogue. The dialogue, which includes shout outs from your squad during the heat of battle, is strong. They’ll often call out what type of ammo situation they’re in as well as notify you when it's time to move out. On top of this, the weaponry audio is top-notch. Add in an excellent script with a dash of vulgar language and you have yourself a title worthy of your surround sound system.

In the end, Hell’s Highway is a opportunity for a new generation to truly respect and appreciate the soldiers from World War II. With vivid, gory detail and a story worth sitting through, BIA embraces the gamer holding the controller and makes them feel like a part of the squad. BIA: Hell’s Highway ends up being a beautiful last opus for the series, but falls a tad shy in comparison to other games within the first person shooter genre.

-The Final Word-

Brothers in Arms: Hell’s Highway provides an emotionally charged story that will draw you into the battlefield, but some lackluster AI, visuals, and online play will take you right back out.
  • Amazing storyline
  • Solid cover system
  • Pretty particle effects
  • Inconsistent AI
  • Lack of visual polish
  • Lame online play
7.0
Platforms reviewed : PlayStation 3
See PSU's reviews scores on Metacritic and Gamerankings

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