‘Brothers in Arms: Hell’s Highway’ *** PC Game Review 112108

.............PC:...... PC Special Edition:..... XBOX360: XBOX360 Special Edition: ............PS3:......... PS3 Special Edition:

The work = *****
There have been simply a ton of first person shooter games set during World War 2. One such game, ‘Brothers in Arms: Hell’s Highway’ is the latest in a series of World War 2 first person shooters that are somewhat unique from their competition. If you are familiar with the ‘Brothers in Arms’ series you will know exactly what to expect from ‘Brothers in Arms: Hell’s Highway’. I am giving the game a recommendation (maybe a bit too high of a recommendation but more on that later.) If you want a World War 2 first person shooter that has dose of strategy injected in it, give ‘Brothers in Arms: Hell’s Highway’ a try.

For those not familiar with the ‘Brothers in Arms’ series, they are a group of successful games that are somewhat similar to the other World War 2 games on the market. However, one element separates them: while playing through the first person shooter, you also can control one to three squads of allied soldiers that help you in battle. Not only that but firing on enemies does not simply damage them, it also causes them to hunker down and take cover. Concentrate enough firepower on them and they will become fixed in their position. Once they are fixed you or one of your squads can outflank and pick them off.

.........Ok, so, some of the interiors do look good in the game. The game can be quite pretty at times and sports some grain and gloss filters that give it a spiffy look.

For the most part, controlling your squads is intuitive (at least on the PC anyway.) Click one key to select a squad, aim at a location and press another button and the squad goes to it. Aim at an enemy, click, and the squad attacks. When ‘Brothers in Arms: Hell’s Highway’ works, it offers up a unique experience. Suppressing the enemy and moving your squads across the battlefield as you outflank your opponents and take ground is exciting and entertaining. Sometimes you will find yourself maneuvering around cover and drawing fire from the enemy so you can let one of your squads with a bazooka get a clear shot at a machine gun nest. When the bazooka hits the nest, the whole thing blows apart and the gunner’s limbs fly off in somewhat grisly slow motion.

That mixture of strategy and action is the best part of the ‘Brothers in Arms’ series. ‘Brothers in Arms: Hell’s Highway’ goes some distance towards correcting some of the issues with the past two entries. The series is based on real events during World War 2 and the story elements unfold in frequent cinemas throughout the game. In the past games you could not skip them, even after beating the game. Thankfully, ‘Brothers in Arms: Hell’s Highway’ lets you skip through most of them. This is a good thing because the story is heavy on the melodrama and if you just want to play the game, sitting through the cinemas over and over gets tiring quick.

This time out ‘Brothers in Arms: Hell’s Highway’ crafts a story that does work but it also relies on the stories in the past games. The problem is: if you are not familiar with those outings some of the drama will be lost on you. Also, some of the dialog sounds a tad overblown and false or forced at points. Again, while it is not as overdone as the past games it still could be toned down. I tend to find less is often more, especially with videogame drama. It is hard to make a dramatic statement about the horrors of war when you are doing so in an action game where you shoot tons upon tons of opponents and are able to respawn limitless amounts (to say nothing of having your fellow soldiers respawn at the start of each stage.) The creator’s hearts seem to be in the right place and that goes some distance towards smoothing over the few cringe inducing bits of dialog. Like I said, this time out you at least have the option of skipping most of the cinemas.

Besides, those are not the biggest problems with ‘Brothers in Arms: Hell’s Highway’. They are a series of nagging little bugs and glitches that pop up during gameplay. The graphics in ‘Brothers in Arms: Hell’s Highway’ are pretty good if not a bit stiff at times. Some things look better than others. The few times you venture inside a building, things look blocky and unmoving. Everything seems frozen in place somehow (except for the warehouse level where it actually sort of fits the concrete interiors.)

You play a soldier, Matt Baker, and pressing a “dig in” button cause Baker to lock on to a wall, or fence, or some sort of cover. This can be a real problem if you get close to an enemy while taking cover. The camera switches to a third person view and Baker can lean out from behind the cover and take shots at your opponents. This works better in theory than in practice because sometimes the camera ends up in the wrong place and when you pop out from behind cover you’ll end up looking at the back of Baker’s head.

Things get even worse when you have close quarters combat as there is no hand to hand attack. You better hope you can shoot him because otherwise you are dead. Not only that but sometimes the controls aren’t as responsive as they should be when you try to unlock yourself from cover. A couple of seconds fumbling with Baker, trying to get turned around at an attacker that pops up behind you, can be the difference between life and death. ‘Brothers in Arms: Hell’s Highway’ is pretty ruthless game and the odd glitches can get you killed quickly.

Die you Nazi scu*... Oh god! Baker, get down! Your gigantic melon is blocking my view! Even with the problems, setting up an ambush and supressing enemy squads can be fun.

Another issue comes up when you are locked behind cover and try to throw a grenade. Several times Baker would bounce the grenade off the very cover he was hiding behind. There is no key to pick up a grenade and they can be hard to see on the ground so unless you manage to run quickly the fallen grenade may kill you and your fellow soldiers. ‘Brothers in Arms: Hell’s Highway’ implements some destructive environments but again, sometimes it works better in theory than in practice. Taking cover behind a fence doesn’t last too long when enemy fire blast chunks of it away sending you and your squad scrambling for new cover.

However, only certain bits of the environment are destructible and while sometimes it make sense, other times it seems downright random. This is especially true when Baker goes inside a mansion and some tables are destructible but others are not. Doors are never destructible, neither are couches (why???) I mentioned before that enemies can be blown apart but that only seems to happen when you get a particularly lucky or destructive shot, the rest of the time there is just a small red spray of mist and occasional stain on the wall. I’m not trying to say the game has to be gorier but if it was more prevalent (ie: the blew apart when the game was not in slow motion) then the game would seem more consistent.

Finally there are oddities that make ‘Brothers in Arms: Hell’s Highway’ appear as if it did not have quite enough test time to work out some quirks. Take, for instance, Baker’s 1911A1 pistol. Fire a few rounds and you may want to pop in a new magazine to save precious reload time. The trouble is there is only one reload animation for the weapon; even if the gun is not empty, the slide jumps backwards as if it is. This doesn't sound like a big deal but for a game that tries to convey a certain reality it is an odd oversight. Not only that but if you press reload while trying to take cover it simply won't happen, even if Baker had already started to go through the motions.

Then there are the tank levels. There are a few missions where you pilot a tank (and only one tank at that, there is no commanding a tank squad which you expect.) While aspects of the levels work, the driving mechanics of the tanks may them feel weak and sluggish. They may role over sandbags and fences but run into a brick wall or the wrecked remains of a German mounted gun and the tank will get hung up and glitchy.

The oddities extend to the multiplayer portion of ‘Brothers in Arms: Hell’s Highway’. When I went online there were not too many people playing. This is not so surprising once you play. There is an effort at team based combat but it is not very well thought out. This is a real shame because there is a lot of potential with ‘Brothers in Arms: Hell’s Highway'. Actually, I seem to remember that the past ‘Brothers in Arms' games had more solid multiplayer components but I may be mistaken.

There are alot of cinemas but at least this time out you have the option of skipping them. I complain a lot in the review but even with all the issues, the game still works and can be fun.

All of the problems give ‘Brothers in Arms: Hell’s Highway’ a distinct lack of polish. It sounds like I hate the game but the thing is I don't. Despite everything against it, ‘Brothers in Arms: Hell’s Highway’ does work. I mentioned interiors not being strong but there are some exceptions. Baker travels through a hospital a few times in the game and it looks quite pretty. There are nice lighting effects and when bullets strike some of the beds in the building it causes pretty poofs of feathers to shoot into the air and then flutter to the ground. Even with the glitches and the sometimes clunky controls, the weapons have a solid, powerful feel and when you are commanding your squads and they are doing what you want them to ‘Brothers in Arms: Hell’s Highway’ can be quite a rush.

In the end, the story can be ham-fisted and there a bunch of bugs and glitches that get in the way but ‘Brothers in Arms: Hell’s Highway’ still works. Hopefully there will be some patches to fix some of the problems and the rest of the stuff are things that could be fixed in the inevitable sequel. Be aware there is a special edition of ‘Brothers in Arms: Hell’s Highway’ available on the PC, XBox360, and PS3. Unless you want a ‘Brothers in Arms: Hell’s Highway’ action figure, skip the special edition and save yourself the money. This review was of the PC version of ‘Brothers in Arms: Hell’s Highway’ but from the reviews I checked out, all 3 releases of the game are pretty similar. Anyway, this is still the best game in the ‘Brothers in Arms' series and if you are a fan of the past games you will probably like this one too. Be aware of what you are getting into, especially the bugs and the weak multiplayer. As know what to expect, I say you should give the game a try. Reccomended.


‘Brothers in Arms: Hell’s Highway’ Links:

The official site for 'Brothers in Arms: Hell's Highway'.

For another videogame review, check out my review of the great 'World of Goo'.

Copyright 2005 - 2012 Nate Bundy. All rights reserved.