Brothers in Arms: The Road to Hill 30

I remember watching Steven Spielberg’s World War II epic Saving Private Ryan and recall just how horrified I was by what was happening on screen. The scene that to this day shocks me the most is the Normandy beach invasion by the American troops. Never has there been such a successful portrayal of the horrors of war; it was brutal and still turns my stomach. What I appreciate most about the film is that it didn’t glorify war in anyway whatsoever, and highlighted some of the appalling behavior by both sides. Spielberg’s aim was to show the world that war isn’t pretty and his message hit home hard.

Yet here we are some 60 years after WWII and we have an industry that is currently obsessed with war games. In 2004 it was Vietnam’s turn at the wheel with countless appalling efforts by various publishers, but they’ve taken a backseat as WWII returns to our favorite pastime.

Last year Activision’s Call of Duty arrived on consoles and was soon followed by the announcement of more COD games, EA has their next Medal of Honor on the way, and now the Tom Clancy obsessed Ubisoft has thrown their hat into the ring by releasing this disappointing title. (Amazingly, they even announced a sequel before the official release of the original!)

Much like Saving Private Ryan, Brothers in Arms can claim the accolade of having the closest portrayal of WWII, but that isn’t saying much when its main competition is the awful Medal of Honor and misguided Call of Duty.

Whereas COD‘s claim to fame was the number of fighters on screen at one time (apparently the developers thought it would actually make you feel as though you were in a war if there were loads of brainless soldiers running around you doing very little), Brothers in Arms aims to differentiate itself from other war games by placing an emphasis on tactics. However, this only serves to slow the game down to a grinding halt.

Bizarrely, this is probably the only shooting game I’ve played where you are actually encouraged not to shoot-to-kill but instead shoot-to-survive. The idea is to flank your enemies; you can be on a huge battlefield, but you may only ever come across six enemies at a time. Your foes will be well protected by the scenery whether that is a brick wall, wooden fence, or an MG gun. You order your troops to suppress there fire while you or other soldiers are sent around there defenses to execute an attack. Some gun battles can last for quite a while and do make the whole experience more believable as you try to survive. It’s sort of a refreshing, instead of just mindless blasting.

But these ideas are poorly implemented. The AI of your teammates is laughable, the tactics interface is awkward and unresponsive, the guns are unsatisfying and are mainly a nuisance to handle, and the objectives heavily repetitive. But what lets down Brothers in Arms the most? The pace. This is quite possibly the slowest game I have ever played. Whether it’s the reloading/firing/swapping of your guns, throwing grenades, assigning tactics, the sluggish framerate, or your super slow movements, all combined they can and will lead to your death and, thus, the need to repeat long sections over and over again.

There’s also a huge emphasis on story. The fact that it’s based on a real battle never really serves to immerse you, but it’s the character you play as and the ones under your command that really sets this apart. The attempt by Sgt. Matt Baker to take his small team of men to the hill and force back the German forces is quite endearing and there’s a feeling of despair if one of your troops should fall.

Overall, however, this is one of those “you tried too hard” moments. While it’s clear that Gearbox gave Brothers in Arms their all, it’s also clear that they got carried away with the realism and wound up forgetting the most basic element of gameplay: the fun.

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