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Brothers in Arms: Hell's Highway
Score: 70%
ESRB: Mature
Publisher: Ubisoft Entertainment
Developer: Gearbox Software
Media: Blu-ray/1
Players: 1 - 20
Genre: First Person Shooter/ Squad-Based/ Strategy

Graphics & Sound:
It took them quite a while, but Gearbox Software was finally able to finish the long-delayed Brothers In Arms: Hell's Highway. Announced many years ago for last generation consoles, Brothers In Arms: Hell's Highway is making its first debut on next gen (now gen?) hardware, but was the wait worth it? A game with that long of a development process surely has to be something special, right? Well... yes and no.

The first thing I noticed about Brothers In Arms: Hell's Highway was that it was using the old Unreal Engine 3 and it reflects in the graphics. It already looks aged. At its best, it looks like a Playstation 3 launch title. At its worst, it looks like a choppy PS2 game. There were many graphical anomalies throughout the game including screen tearing, texture pop-ins, and a less than stellar draw distance. While the visuals are the main attraction for quite a few gamers, it isn't always the end of the world for this game. Fortunately for Brothers In Arms: Hell's Highway, the graphics are by and large the only major flaw that it has.

The sound design and voice acting are simply top notch. Every gun has accurate sound effects and the background noise of war is convincing enough to feel like there is another firefight just around the corner. The voice acting starts off a little rough, but once the characters have been established, they offer realistic, grounded personalities. When the characters are not in cut-scenes, they await your command in your squad and give their own opinions for strategies and it wasn't very often that they repeated the same lines.

Brothers In Arms: Hell's Highway is the third game in the Brothers In Arms series and, having never played the previous titles, I was overall pleasantly surprised. You assume the role of Staff Sergeant Matt Baker who is a member of the 101st Airborne Division during World War II. He and his squad of men are now a part of Operation Market Garden in the Netherlands, which was an ultimately failed plan for the Allies to capture numerous rivers and bridges in order to transport troops into Germany. Instead of focusing on the war as a whole and what part these men were supposed to play, it focuses more on their personal conflicts and secrets and how that affected their lives. Think Band of Brothers, but in videogame form. One of the storytelling elements that Hell's Highway does really well is its use of flashbacks and how a soldier can suffer from Post Traumatic Stress. These sequences are used in a very effective way and are one of the main highlights for the title.

Brothers In Arms: Hell's Highway presents itself as a first person shooter but with strategic squad-based elements. At any time during the game, you can point and assign your troops to various locations to gain an advantage on the horde of Nazis. Matt Baker has different squads under his command that specialize in different abilities. There is a "Base of Fire" squad that is meant to hold a certain point while other troops move or flank the enemy. There is also a "Machine Gunner" squad that suppresses most enemies with ease and can be useful in taking out many enemies quickly. There are a handful of squads at your disposal, but the one complaint is that you cannot assign them anywhere else except through your crosshairs or with a Full Spectrum Warrior style place marker. It would have made the world of difference to be able to pull up the map and send troops to very specific points and then use the environment to provide cover without taking damage, because you were standing in the middle of the battlefield trying to point at a very deliberate spot.

Speaking of damage, they have replaced the health bar with the more popular screen effect where it becomes redder as you take more damage. The problem with all of these techniques is that it isn't very obvious how red it is before you die. So, if you feel like you might be pushing it, take a moment to dig in and find cover.

Brothers In Arms: Hell's Highway also has its own cover mechanic called "digging in." Essentially the same as most other cover methods, but in Brothers In Arms: Hell's Highway, it is much more finicky about what it will allow you to take refuge behind. Some cover can be damaged and broken (like a wooden fence), while something of a similar property is magically impervious to bullets (like a wooden barn door.) It is simply inconsistent and often times quite frustrating.

There is a multiplayer mode, but it is so much of an afterthought that it should not have been considered in the final retail product. You play on teams of squads to accomplish certain objectives. Half of the time, no one listens to the team leader, and the other half is spent watching your teammates finish the round just like Counter-Strike.

Brothers In Arms: Hell's Highway basically has two elements to contend with. The first is your squad; you have to keep a close eye on red circles over the enemy's head. If you fire at them, the circle turns grey and it is okay for your troops to advance or flank. The difficult part comes when you tell your troops to take shelter behind an object and they choose to hop over the other side and take cover, getting shot in their backs in the process. Struggling with the A.I. is the only major problem anyone will have.

The other section that will cause many retries are the parts where you take control of a British tank and get to cause lots of destruction. The controls on the tank don't feel quite right. They are slow and sluggish (like a tank should be), but constantly get stuck on something leaving it like a sitting duck for bazooka attacks.

Other than control and A.I. issues, the meat of the game can be completed around 10 - 12 hours. There are extra difficulties available after beating it and it is just your standard difficulty increase. You take more damage, less ammo lying around, and the enemies are more aggressive which gives it a little replay value. Honestly, there isn't much incentive to go back for a second time.

Game Mechanics:
Brothers In Arms: Hell's Highway isn't a very easy game to grasp at first. Movement is with the left thumb stick, while aiming with the right. The D-pad is used to issue certain orders or to round up your troops. There isn't a jump button, instead (X) is used for sprinting or vaulting over cover. (Square) reloads and (Triangle) changes weapons. The strange part is how they managed the shoulder buttons. (R2) fires your selected weapon, while (R1) lobs a grenade. Instead of having the cover system mapped with sprinting or on a face button, it is used with (L1). (L2) brings up a cursor to tell your troops where to go, or you can tap it to send them wherever you are aiming at the moment. It would seem much more intuitive to have the cover mechanic on a face button, so you can get in and out quickly, but as it is, it just feels awkward.

Once you have adjusted to all of the little nuances that plague Brothers In Arms: Hell's Highway, there is some enjoyment to be had. There are more than a few exciting moments, and the storytelling in the latter half is excellent. It is just too bad that it suffered from a notorious development process that held it back from greatness on last gen systems because ultimately, that is the way it is. It is a last gen game repurposed for next gen consoles.

-HanChi, GameVortex Communications
AKA Matt Hanchey

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