Monday, 04 April 2005
Chris Pickering explains why war isn't quite as bad as it sounds.
During each and every conflict, every war that has taken place, there have been those that have believed in what they’re fighting for, and those that will do anything to distance themselves. The one resounding factor that spews forth from war is fear - fear that you’ll lose your loved ones; fear that your quality of life will change; fear that life itself will be changed forever. But this particular emotion is one that games that utilise war as the main concept fail to instigate into the mind of the player. If you’re well aware that your playable character has another two lives to fall back on, why worry about far off snipers, or mortar rounds closing in on your position? Brothers In Arms: Road to Hill 30 is attempting to change all that and take a more realistic approach.
There’s a great love in the video gaming world towards the Second World War. Particular battles have been brought to our consoles/PCs numerous times in the last decade to differing levels of effectiveness. Brothers In Arms takes a fresh spin on the story, bringing us the events surrounding the 101st Airborne Division from their drop behind enemy lines on D-Day, all the way through to that battle from which the game takes the second half of its name from. The games based on this particular war have been spread across many gaming genres; from FPS (Medal of Honor), through to the hardcore RTS market (D-Day). On first glance, Brothers In Arms seems set to fit squarely into the first hole with great ease, but first looks can always be quite deceiving.
You play the role of Sergeant Matt Baker, the leader of his particular squad of men. Throughout the game you’ll frequently hear your thoughts and feelings on what’s going on, bringing a new found sense of humanity to what you’re actually doing in game. This, along with the human nature of your squad, the in-game cut scenes, and their fairly frequent mutterings and pained cries when one of their team mates falls makes you actually care about your men. It’s this one grey area that has been so difficult for any other developer to actually cram into a gaming title to any great effect that sets Brothers In Arms well away from the crowd, and is unlike anything we've witnessed in a game before. Unlike games such as Star Wars Republic Commando, where you couldn’t really care any less about the collection of pixels you call your squad mates, here you really have to think about where you are going to place your men, and what you’re instructing them to do. Not just so you’re using them to their effective best (although thats always a help), but also because you simply won’t want to put them into situations where they could be hurt – or even killed in action. Each man in your squad (after the initial few levels of a few men under your command, your eventually have two 3 man squads) has his own unique personality. Each man has their own thoughts on the war itself, and their own fears, which you’ll come to learn throughout the course of the 8 days leading up to Hill 30.
All this isn’t done to supreme perfection however. After the initial cries of anguish from the rest of your squad as one of their brothers falls down after being hit by the enemy (and you will feel and twinge of guilt, especially if his death comes due to your actions) it’s unfortunate to discover that come the next mission, they will be back in your squad once again. Obviously this does somewhat detract from the realism that Gearbox have been attempting to bring us. Of course, creating cut scenes involving all different kinds of combinations of men would be a time consuming process, so it’s a merely a slight drawback in the game; and to be totally honest, it fails to detract from the experience overall.
Taking on the role of Sergeant Matt Baker, you’ll witness the events through his eyes in the traditional FPS style manner. But this is a long, long way from a traditional FPS shooter. As we mentioned earlier in the review, first looks can be ultimately deceiving. If you try to play this like you played Call of Duty or Medal Of Honor, you’ll find yourself cut down in seconds, and watching the loading screen, ready and waiting to try once again. If anything, Brothers In Arms has much more in common with the strategy war title Full Spectrum Warrior than either of the aforementioned FPS’. Using a simple ‘hold down of the left trigger’, you’ll be able to direct your two squads, issue suppression commands, and even tell them to take out particular points. Despite how complicated this may sound (especially when you have your own character to control too) the controls have been implemented in such a simple and effective manner that you will find Brothers In Arms a dream to play.
The game itself really can be summed up in two words; suppress and flank. As you come across an enemy, you’ll see a small red circle hover above their current position (called the supressions indicator), a full red circle showing that they’re free from worry, and ready to continue with their task in hand. However, if you instigate one squad to suppress the enemy, the bullets will rain down on their position. The red circle will slowly turn white, showing that the enemy has been suppressed, and dare not peek out from behind cover because of the bullets flying by their ears and above their head. Now that they are suppressed, you can now send your other team out to flank the enemy, and pick them off as you work your way around their cover. It’s this simple manoeuvre you’ll use time and time again throughout the entire game, but despite that, you’ll simply never tire of this simple, and effective concept.
You have to take good care of yourself as well as your team too. Ducking behind cover becomes incredibly frequent, and making sure you perform as few suicidal runs across your enemies line of fire as you can possibly get away which obviously isnt particular inkeeping with the game's realism. It only takes one particularly accurate shot to kill you. This is the same for the Germans however. One shot to the head is all it takes, and it’s headshots you’ll be aiming for as your stare down the barrel of your gun. There’s no actual aiming reticule on screen, meaning to get a decent shot away you’ll need to press the right analogue stick and stare down the barrel of your gun. But even then your aim will sway in quite a pronounced manner, something which becomes less of a worry if you find yourself kneeling down. It’s all very realistic, and so much more fun that simple text can’t convey.
The praise doesn’t stop with the gameplay itself however, with the visual and aural aesthetics needing special praise. The screen is littered with supreme visual effects, as bullets kick up dust, and mud blurs your vision as the enemies bullets home in closer and closer on your position. The backdrops themselves, which have been accurately modelled on the real life setting, convey the sheer beauty of the landscape. Textures are very well detailed, and your men move in a particularly realistic manner. The Dolby Digital support in particular offers a great aural experience during intense fire fights, and the smattering of music sets the feel of the game with quite supreme aplomb.
Luckily both the AI of your squad and your enemies hold up fairly well. If left to their own devices, your men will find suitable cover if they find themselves taking on fire, and your enemies will move from cover to cover if they see the need. Sometimes the enemy will make a mad dash out from cover, though again this could be explained, especially if you’ve shot their team mate that is or was sat mere feet away from them. Your own men too will suffer from some odd path-finding issues from time to time, especially in tight confined areas which can act to your detriment at the most inopportune of times.
We’ve made it more than well aware that Brothers In Arms is simply not a bog standard FPS WWII shooter. In fact, there’s very little we could actually point at and state that it plays the same way as Brothers In Arms. The tactical shooter idea has often scared off many potential gamers by the complicated nature of its control system, and the fact that very few wish to worry about anyone other than themselves (just like real life, wouldn’t you agree?). But Brothers In Arms takes on the task, and not only does it with incredible precision, but also offers a fresh gaming experience, and adds that touch of humanity which games that portray such horrible acts of violence really do need to do in this day and age of realism. It’s our opinion that Brothers in Arms: Road to Hill 30 is an experience that all gamers should try at least once. A top class videogame, and no mistake.