Review Xbox 360: Brothers in Arms: Hells Highway

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Brothers in Arms Hells Highway is a first person squad combat shooting game that makes you realise what these games are all about and that is to remember the people who died protecting us in the war. Some war games are about the violence and action, BIA does more than that and actually stops you and makes you realise what those soldiers went through in the darkest moments of WWII and captures the gore, violence and pain these people saw.

You are Sgt. Mathew Baker, squad leader of a recon unit of the 10th Airborne. You and your division are sent into Holland on a mission to destroy Nazi Germany before Christmas 1944 by fighting your way through German lines from Holland.

The first level gets you straight into this tense atmosphere and story line as you find yourself in the doorway of a huge WWII plane ready to take that jump, as the view pans out you see all the other war planes on their way to the target drop site, you can really see the intensity and scale of this war which BIA gets across well in its story telling and general feel of the game. You will also be shown memories of Bakers, which adds to the drama and builds up character profile and also drags you into the lives of these people even more. You land with Sgt. Joe Hartstock in a destroyed damp hospital, bombs are falling and glass is shattering everywhere, you run through the corridors as you try to regroup with your squad mates.

After the initial walkthrough level and some interesting background information at base camp you will enter Holland, the scenes you see after this are even more inspiring with glider planes landing right alongside you as you rendezvous in your jeep at the target drop zone. With sunny skies and a golden glorious feel it really sets you up for a fall as you start to see some upsetting scenes as the game takes a dark bloody twist as things start to go wrong for these men.

The script for BIA is compelling, with no over the top dramatics and with more of a personal look at these soldiers life’s in camp and on the battlefield, you get the complete picture of how these men over come more than just the pure fear of war but to also overcome more personal issues, you will start to get to know your comrades in many ways which adds a lot character and depth to this game and will have you in despair at the saddening story line.

Through the story you will meet other soldiers and take a look into their lives individually. Many of these stories don’t have happy endings and you will see demoralized scenes as these men are slaughtered and maimed. Operation Market Garden did not go well at all, with 17,000 soldiers killed in nine days, BIA shows you all this death and destruction and does not sugar coat any of it and stays true, to a degree to the true story this game is based around.

BIA is like any first person shooter control wise, you have your: A for sprint, RT to shoot and X button to reload but BIA has some different features so configuration is a little different to what you’re used too however it’s not a massive problem as after a couple of levels you will have gotten used to the extra commands. If the default controls are a problem for you, be sure to check out the option screen where you can select from alternate control schemes and create custom control figurations I would also suggest to turn up you’re sensitivity as I found the default too slow.

 

You can choose to take the tutorial by pressing A for yes or B for no at the beginning of the first level I would say yes as the extra controls are a little different but refreshing. It will take you through the basics of ducking and sprinting and after that you will learn to dig in (take cover) to look over cover you just use the left analogue stick in the direction you want, which makes it easy to peer over low-height cover and around the side of cover. Also you will learn about suppression icons, suppression icons appear over targets and are gray but turn red when they see you, shoot at them and this icon will turn gray again which means they are recovering, this is very useful in battle as you can make some targets hide and take out others with the added benefit of knowing when the recovering targets will start attacking again and is a great feature to use just for moving you and you’re men into better cover, oh and most importantly to zoom in or aim down your sight you use the right analogue stick not the LT button.

The second level you enter Holland, you are now a squad leader and depending on the mission you will have up to one to three teams to command. Here you take control of a machine gun team to get you started and depending on your fire and manoeuvre techniques and your ability to learn, you can use this feature to maximise your success also the instruction booklet come with a easy to read table of what units are best in certain scenarios for example: the machine gun team are great at suppressing small arms fire and best behind wooden cover.

Controls are easy to learn and use: To call your team to you hold the B button or press down on the D-Pad after that the MG icon will move into the middle of your compass so it reminds you that the MG team is following you. To order your men to move: hold the LT button down to bring up the command ring then release when the ring is in the position you want your men to move to, as squad leader you can order you men to take cover anywhere in the gaming environment even out in the open, but of course placing your men behind cover is a must. Also your men are smart enough to seek nearby cover automatically, especially if there are enemies around so no repositioning required by you if you don’t get the ring in the position you wanted the first time around. To order a team to fire onto a target: hold the LT button and aim at the target you want destroyed, a crosshair should appear then release the LT button to issue the ‘fire’ order, you can also press the RT to exit command mode without issuing a order so if you do press LT and want to cancel you can. To change your current team (if you have more than one) press the B button to cycle through or use the right and left directions on the D-Pad to pick the team you want without cycling through. This may seem like a lot to remember but wait till you’re past the second mission; all these controls will come easily as BIA doesn’t give you a steep learning curve but a steady progressive one.

For added strategic value and help if you get lost, there is a Tactical Map: press the select button and it will bring up a map of the battlefield. Here you can check out current and completed objectives and information on enemy and friendly units. To view units: press B for enemy units, A button for friendly units and Y for position of current objectives which is helpful if you get lost or confused and adds more of a strategic element for people who want more strategy. For anyone who thinks they don’t know much about strategic positioning and tactics, the game will teach you enough to learn how to combat difficult fighting scenarios by flanking so don’t panic too much about the ‘strategy’ part of this game if you are already.

You do get control of a Sherman tank but not often enough as it’s a nice change from the strategy. Another great bit of detail is you can pick from either controlling the cannon from inside the tank or sit on top with the mounted machine gun, again a great feature just to keep you entertained and on your toes. Sitting on top with the mounted machine gun does leave you open to small arms fire, however if you start to flash red just press the LB button to cover from fire to recoup your health. The cannon is incredibly powerful and with most of the BIA environment destructible, makes the Sherman tank levels fantastic as you can destroy almost anything, things get lively here with lots going on and really makes a refreshing change from inching forward all the time.

All these features are introduced gradually and after that are easy to incorporate into game play, which is great when new or special features fit well with the all round feel of the game, you don’t want a game that misuses or is unable to incorporate features smoothly and properly into a game as it will take away from the fun and be more of a nuisance rather than adding quality.

One thing to watch out for in BIA is that combat indoors isn’t half as good as outdoors, the style of the game doesn’t work well indoors as movement can be slow and constricting when you have a lot of different objects round you. Expect to be killed at least once in a building as its hard to see who’s shooting you and from where, this is something that should have been addressed as the rest of the game doesn’t have game play issues like this.

After you get used to the combat system there are a few other points of interest I should tell you about, the use button (X) is used for much more than reloading and swapping weapons, it also allows you to interact with various elements in the environment.

ACTIVE MOMENTS: Some cinematic scenes can happen in game, when you see the “active moment” prompt on screen you can press and hold the X button to change your view and watch the scene unfold.

RECON POINTS: Recon points are a vantage for important or interesting information on the current situation. Press the X button to survey the point of interest and unlock a report that you can view using your tactical map. You can check how many recon points there are in a level and also how many you’ve collected by bringing up your tactical map, just underneath the objectives.

KILROY WAS HERE: The legend of Kilroy differs depending on who you talk to, but among the American soldiers, he was always “the first one in and the last one out”. If you find him (looks like a cartoon like drawing of a face with a long nose) press the X button to make your mark on the legend. You can also check how many Kilroys are on a level and how many you have already collected in the tactical map.

The sound track for BIA is dramatic and epic where it is needed, for example: intro’s to huge fight scenes, the music is dramatic and gets you wanting to fight with your comrades. When the mood changes and say a comrade is killed, the music will follow with an orchestra of sound and emotion, which is a must for large and compelling war games, you want to be moved by sad scenes and sad music. As for bullet sounds, explosions and general effects, they aren’t mind blowing but they are to a more than acceptable standard, but the voice acting in BIA is great, they really get across emotions like urgency and other key emotions very well.

The graphics actually come into their own when you encounter dark environments. The lighting effects are nicely detailed, highlighting textured surfaces and other lighting effects like fires or firing you’re weapon in the dark are portrayed excellently in the dark. In the daylight the general look of environments is acceptable and nothing really exciting, but the gore and violence have had more work put into it. Throwing grenades is satisfying, as enemies flip and get blown a few feet through the air, also the blood effects are enjoyable with good blood spray.

All gore and bad language can be turned off in the menu system, so if you’re worried this being a 15 that it’s too much for your son or daughter, you can turn it off.

The fact that this does have a big strategy side to it means that this game doesn’t have fast paced fighting and game play, more of a rewarding step by step victory. Which means for people who are looking for heart stopping excitement you’re not going to get it but you will get more of a feeling that you’ve accomplished something at the end.  This game is more for people who have restraint and like to plan and flank, but it still does have that rewarding satisfaction of you, squad leader, getting stuck in to, but because of your teams you feel a little left out from time to time which is not to everyone’s tastes.

After playing it for a few days its strikes you as quite repetitive, yes all these features are a good expansion from the older BIA titles but it’s nothing ground breaking, which doesn’t make it one of those games you must have straight away. BIA doesn’t take you to new levels of gaming it just makes damn good use of easy to use and helpful features, which is a shame after the detail and atmosphere they try to bring in through dialogue and iconic imagery or war would be better received if there was a little bit more excitement.

Overall BIA is worth buying especially if you like first person shooters, it will test you in much more than your shooting ability, but will also test your patience and tactical ability. It’s nice to be challenged as a gamer and to be given a different direction in the competitive market for first person shooters, so if you’re in need of a challenge or in fact a change, BIA is worth a look and will have you wrapped up in the immersive, dark and saddening story and mission that is ‘Operation Market Garden’ also known as ‘Hells Highway’.

Rating: 7.7/10

Originally posted at www.xboxliveaddicts.co.uk

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