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Brendan
25 Apr, 2005

Brothers In Arms: Road To Hill 30 Review

Xbox Review | ...A unique World War II shooter!?
Great, another World War II FPS – just what the gaming world needs. After all, there have only been a few hundred of them since the turn of the century. They’re all the same – land on a French beach in D-Day, advance up the beach against machine guns, fight in some broken down buildings. Brothers In Arms: Road To Hill 30 can’t be any different. Right? Thankfully, no. Recognizing the stale feel of your average World War II game of late, developers Gearbox (you may remember them as the people behind the Half Life mod, Opposing Force) have put a new slant on the genre.

From the outset, it’s obvious the game has drawn inspiration from the Band of Brothers television mini-series – understandable, since this game is also about the 101st Airborne. You play the role of real life Sergeant Matt Baker, one of the paratroopers dropped behind enemy lines on D-Day. Each chapter (or level, if you will) is introduced by Baker, who against a black screen with the date on it, gives some thoughts on the mission, the people around him and so on. The pre-mission information cut-scenes are all viewed from a first person perspective, leaving you free to look around from a stationary position as you deem fit. The whole thing comes across very clean, with the exception of some hefty load times, unfortunately.

Unlike other squad-based shooters, you simply can’t run around and do all the killing while your team mates pretend to provide covering fire. Like Full Spectrum Warrior, you control the actions of your squad – except in this game, you can actually participate in the action. Already, this seems like a fresh take on the genre. But, it goes even further. In order to succeed in Brothers In Arms, you MUST use suppressing fire and flanking tactics to take out enemies. Thanks to some rather good AI, enemies are rarely found in the open, and those who are will instantly run towards the nearest cover, be it barrels, a trench or whatever is handy as soon as you open fire on them. From there shooting at them from a distance won’t do much good either, unless they are exposed. In what will become a frequently used tactic, you must order your squad to provide suppressing fire on the target, and then flank them from the side where they are exposed. Or, you can do the suppressing fire and order your squad to attack. Tanks also come into the fray during the game, adding another tactical element – moving cover.

You’ll want to climb onto that tank and throw a grenade into it

You’ll want to climb onto that tank and throw a grenade into it
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Each enemy has their own suppression meter. If it is entirely red, it means they are open and running into their sights will see you die in seconds. The grayer the meter, the more suppressed they are. An entirely gray meter means you are fairly safe to move in front of them, allowing you to creep up on their exposed flank.

The controls for this area of the game have been brilliantly implemented. What could have been a nightmare is actually incredibly easy. You can select which part of your squad you want to command by either pressing left or right on the d-pad, or using the white button. Pressing up on the d-pad will see the squad seek cover, and pressing down will make them follow you. Holding the L trigger will see a blue circle appear, or a red crosshair if it is an enemy. Letting go of the trigger will see them head to the area or attack that target, while pressing the R trigger will see them assault the target. It might sound complex, but after a few missions it will be completely natural. The squad AI isn’t flawless though, as occasionally some soldiers will be difficult and not engage an enemy if they are slightly out of position. But, on the whole, they are dependable and get the job done well.

To help you decide how to tackle a situation, pressing the select button will give you a situational awareness view. Basically, it gives you a bird’s eye of view of where you are, with locations on all soldiers, both friendly and enemy, currently detected. The navigation of this mode isn’t brilliant, but that’s probably the point – after all, World War II commanders didn’t have it.

All of that sounds absolutely brilliant – and it is. It provides a much needed way to identify this game from the Call of Dutys and the Medal of Honors of the world. Unfortunately, as far as actually controlling Matt Baker is concerned, things quickly become irritating. First and foremost, in an attempt to move the focus away from running and gunning to flanking tactics, there is no crosshair on the screen. In order to actually target anything, you have to click the right analog stick, which brings the sight up to the screen. Unfortunately, it also makes Baker move ridiculously slow. Having to constantly click the button when assaulting is incredibly annoying, as hitting things without the sight is tough. The amount of recoil is at times utterly ridiculous, too. We’ve seen recoil before in games, but this is beyond most – even using a mounted machine gun on a tank is incredibly tough to control.

Seldom will you find an enemy so open

Seldom will you find an enemy so open
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On top of that, the game simply isn’t as fluid as other Xbox shooters, such as Halo 2 – let alone a PC FPS. Everything feels somewhat clunky, from running, to jumping and, as mentioned, the shooting. The right analog isn’t sensitive enough either for our liking, even on the maximum setting of 5 – this makes controlling the tough recoil even harder. This really is a shame, because if the actual attacking controls were as easy to use as the intuitive tactics control scheme, this could have been one of the best games on the Xbox.

The other issue stopping the game from being a world-beater is the visuals. All soldiers are acceptable, all of them well modeled and the main characters all have unique faces. The lip-syncing is particularly impressive, too. They all have good animation, with characters generally looking fluid moving to cover and firing. There are little realism touches too, such as mud on the screen if there is fire by you. Or, if a grenade or shell explodes by you, the screen will go white with a high pitch ringing. These all help you feel immersed in the game. But, contrary to what still shots convey, the environments aren’t at all inspiring, and generally repetitive with the same blocky textures. Buildings look flat and incredibly similar through the game, and most fields look incredibly empty, with often only fences or hedges in the distance. Tanks seem to be lacking an awful lot of detail, too. The game also can suffer huge frame rate drops when the screen gets too busy too quickly, but this isn’t a common problem.

The game has fairly good audio across the board. The voice acting is a highlight, with Baker’s introductory comments appropriate, and often powerful. Squads convey stress in their voice when in battle, and even let the occasional naughty word slip. German forces can often be heard across the battlefield – speaking in German, naturally. The music is just as good, with an appropriate atmospheric score attempting to make the game more epic. The only blemish here are the guns. All seem a bit like popguns, with the majority lacking any sort of oomph. A machine gun should sound absolutely vicious – none of them are here.

Death from above

Death from above
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As is usual for FPS games, the game should last 10-15 hours through first time. On top of this are multiple difficulty levels, where the higher the difficulty you complete a mission on, the more unlockables you receive. These range from screenshots of the developers right through to some intriguing documents about aspects of the war. Plus, there’s the great multiplayer mode, with two players split screen or up to four on Xbox Live. Maps usually have an objective, such as 'destroy this item', and other players have to prevent this from happening. Unlike most FPS multiplayer modes, this isn’t a case of who has the quickest trigger finger. Players can work together to co-ordinate assaults on targets or the enemies, using decoys, mass flanking and so on. It’s fantastic, and extends the lifespan of the game immensely.

On the whole, Brothers In Arms: Road To Hill 30 is a great piece of software. It gives a new take on the unbelievably stale World War II shooter, and, for the most part, it succeeds. Whilst the clunky control system is the only significant flaw, it certainly doesn’t quite ruin the game. Those after a shooter that has a large strategy influence should definitely check this out. Or, hold on for the sequel, which is apparently due out by the end of the year…
The Score
For simply doing something different, Brothers In Arms stands well above most World War II shooters. The unique strategic gameplay is a welcome twist on a tired genre. Unfortunately, the game doesn’t quite play well enough to warrant a place in the Xbox elite.
Looking to buy this game right now? PALGN recommends www.Play-Asia.com.

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9 Comments
8 years ago
A 7.5? C'mon guys! It deserves more than that! It has an average of 90% over at Gamerankings.
All I know is that it's a top game that IS in the xbox elite. icon_wink.gif
8 years ago
this is one of those times i wish you also reviewed PC games...

i've had my eye on this game for a while (i love WWII games) but i was cautious against the PC version since it's a port from the consoles (assumedly) and i don't like FPS games on consoles...
8 years ago
mrcivic wrote
A 7.5? C'mon guys! It deserves more than that! It has an average of 90% over at Gamerankings.
All I know is that it's a top game that IS in the xbox elite. icon_wink.gif
7.5 is fine, American sites always overrate, you should know that icon_razz.gif If the controls were tighter and the multiplayer worked better than i'd say it deserves more, but for me Call of Duty on the PC is still the best WWII FPS experience around.
8 years ago
I would've given it a 8 based off the PS2 version of the game. I thought the idea was fantastic, very unique and added a lot of depth to the game and the genre. The online mode wasn't to bad either.

Good review though.
8 years ago
ObsoletE wrote
this is one of those times i wish you also reviewed PC games...

i've had my eye on this game for a while (i love WWII games) but i was cautious against the PC version since it's a port from the consoles (assumedly) and i don't like FPS games on consoles...
I still recommend it on PC as it's not a straight out shooter. There's tactics involved and if you go in guns blazing towards the Nazi's, you don't last past 2 shots.
8 years ago
I had it as an 8, but every game I've given an 8 has been overrated in hindsight.

On PC I'd imagine it would probably 8.5+ easy, due to the mighty keyboard/mouse controls.
8 years ago
well thats good to know icon_smile.gif

might see about buying it this evening...

cheers icon_smile.gif
8 years ago
mrcivic wrote
ObsoletE wrote
this is one of those times i wish you also reviewed PC games...

i've had my eye on this game for a while (i love WWII games) but i was cautious against the PC version since it's a port from the consoles (assumedly) and i don't like FPS games on consoles...
I still recommend it on PC as it's not a straight out shooter. There's tactics involved and if you go in guns blazing towards the Nazi's, you don't last past 2 shots.
Definitely. It's an amazing FPS War title, but like Socko mentioned above, the original Call of Duty for the PC is by far the best War-time FPS on the market - great atmosphere and sense of gameplay.
8 years ago
yeah i have (and loved) the Call of Duty PC game and exp, so if it rates near that i'll have to seriously consider it... haven't managed to get myself to a games store yet...
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  Pre-order or buy:
    PALGN recommends: www.Play-Asia.com

Australian Release Date:
  Out Now
European Release Date:
  Out Now
Publisher:
  Ubisoft
Developer:
  Gearbox Software
Players:
  2

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