There's no doubt that we've seen our fair share of war-based video games recently. The Medal of Honor series and Call of Duty are two that immediately come to mind. While those two games are rooted in truth, they're still largely made up. Ubisoft's Brothers in Arms: Road to Hill 30 differs from the other games in a couple of ways. Not only does the game introduce actual military tactics and strategies, but it also adds squad-based elements to the standard FPS gameplay that we've become accustomed to and the game's storyline actually occurred.
In the game, players assume the role of Sgt. Matt Baker of the 502nd Parachute Infantry, a man who inherits the command of a squad of 13 members during the D-Day invasion. Development team Gearbox does a nice job telling the story and making players interested. You can feel the bond between the player and his men. There's much more emotion involved in the game and in the soldiers' dialogue. Although this is definitely an action game, the story is well-told and believable.
As I mentioned, Brothers in Arms is a squad-based FPS, and tactical strategy is involved if you plan on making it past the first full chapter. You'll have to learn what flanking is and how it's executed, or else death is inevitable. Basically, if you're a run-and-gun type of player, just stop reading this review right now because this game is not for you. For those with a little more patience, you'll appreciate the extra strategy involved in the game, rather than picking off enemies as you run with little resistance. In order to establish flanking position, you'll have to tell your soldiers where to go and what to do. You can order suppressing fire on Nazi positions in order to get cleaner shots, or you can direct them to attack—although this option isn't always the best option as the Germans are no weak enemy and will knock off your squad members without warning.
The FPS portion of the game is fine. Baker will find assorted weapons to use during a variety of missions. Baker is pretty nimble, which will help in a firefight. Aiming can be a little clunky, especially when using the sight (by clicking the R3 button). Enemies will go down faster based on how and where you aim, so head shots will help here if you can get accustomed to the aiming. Aiming, however, requires more than just blindly firing towards your target—especially in the harder difficulty settings where the crosshairs are removed. Unlike most other FPS games, it's also worth noting that there's no in-game healing. That's right… you need to get through each stage alive in order to reset your health to full for the next stage. This also means that making it to a checkpoint with almost no health left is almost worthless, as there's no way to regain any stamina and the next wound you suffer could be your last.
The single-player campaign is driven by the continuing story, and the missions are pretty varied. Early on, you'll need to take out AA guns along your route. Later, you'll face tanks, eliminate sniper groups, take on mortar platoons, and more. These variations keep the experience fresh. There are 17 chapters to complete in all, beginning on D-Day and culminating seven days after (which will help to explain the opening sequence of the game, which isn't very interactive). Expect to die quite a bit, unfortunately, as the game lies about enemy firing accuracy when suppressed—the Germans are deadly accurate from any position, despite the best efforts of your mates to pin them down. When playing with friends, Brothers in Arms can be an enjoyable experience; however, the strategic and squad rules apply, and each participant will have squad members to command. Taking the game online may help you find suitable people to play with if you can't find anyone locally to team up with– or play against.
Visually, Brothers in Arms isn't bad, although there are issues with the game in a few areas. The frame rate isn't always steady, which affects any game, FPS or otherwise. Some of the effects, such as fire belching from wreckage or debris, look suspect. The textures tend to look a little fuzzy close-up. That being said, the game does a good job of conveying the feel of war. There's not a lot of color involved; the game looks dark and gloomy. Despite this, blades of grass dance in the wind and there are farmhouses and buildings that escape the wrath of war.
Sound is perhaps the strongest suit of Brothers in Arms. The voice acting is very well done, conveying the emotion and chaos of war. From Baker's quick monologues at the beginning of each chapter to occasional comic relief to shouted orders and taunts, the dialogue is delivered with aplomb. As in most wartime FPS games, the sound effects are solid here. Whizzing bullets fly past you from front to rear, clanking off of objects or burying themselves inside of an enemy's flesh. There are explosions galore, too. Strangely enough, there isn't a lot of music in this game, although what little there is sounds pretty good. It's also worth noting that there isn't any music in-game, although this may have more to do with Gearbox attempting to convey a feeling of realism rather than just producing another war game.
Realism seems to be the name of the game with Brothers in Arms. Despite the issues that have been mentioned here, Gearbox should get some credit for doing things differently by applying real soldier strategy into the game. Sure, there are going to be some people that will play it for an hour and realize that this isn't their kind of game; however, for others who appreciate a little strategy to go with their shooting, Brothers in Arms delivers a rather intense war-playing experience that goes along with a fascinating story told from the perspective of the soldiers who lived it. If Gearbox can fix a few balancing issues and perhaps soften the difficulty curve a little bit, their next project could be a dandy.