Review: Brothers in Arms: Hell's Highway

Nathan Grayson | 12 Dec 2008 17:00
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I love watching one of my best friends play Call of Duty. His method of combating Nazis is absolutely mind blowing. When he starts slinging hot lead at America's greatest foes, previously known tactics become irrelevant. Actually, all tactics, strategy and plotting (as well as its mustachioed doppelgänger, scheming) cease to matter. Instead, he runs, guns and bunny-hops through the game as though it were Halo.

Nothing against Halo or Call of Duty, of course, but last time I checked, World War II was a team effort. If one fleet-footed, utterly fearless soldier were all it took to win the second War to End All Wars, things would've been a hell of a lot easier. But it wasn't - and they weren't. That's where Brothers in Arms: Hell's Highway comes in.

Aside from the oddly anachronistic - though useful - "Last time, on Brothers in Arms" cinematic that begins Hell's Highway, the game strives to portray World War II accurately while omitting the bit about how war isn't actually fun. It's a precarious balance, but for the most part Gearbox pulls it off well. Weapons are appropriately lethal, bullet-riddled cover splinters convincingly and bounding over barriers into a blinding blizzard of gunfire is akin to wearing a "kick me" sign at a bully convention. Even so, an ironically Halo-esque regenerating health system, slow-mo kill cam and Rainbow Six-inspired cover system make sure frustration rarely trumps fun.

On the whole, Hell's Highway's central feature, squad command, is intuitive and fluid, but occasionally it will almost* make you want to root against your A.I. comrades. Usually, the game puts your character's thunderous vocal cords in control of two specialized squads - of either the fire, assault, bazooka or machine gun varieties depending on the situation - and tasks you with positioning them out of harm's way or in key support positions. When fate (or level design) flashes a grin your way, the system is undeniably satisfying - allowing you to trap your foes in the center of a bullet-spewing, Nazi-shredding human blender. Nearly as often as not, however, your squads will clomp down the path of greatest resistance, popping right over obvious cover and directly into Hell's Highway's particular brand of traffic - bullets.

Some people adore this tactical aspect of the series, and I can understand why. Given the A.I.'s blind obedience and the game's multi-pathed levels, there's a fair deal of room for experimentation. However, checkpoints, the game's only method of saving, tend to get in the way here, forcing you to replay unimportant bits of a scenario when you just want to jump right into the fray.

As with your teammates, enemies in Hell's Highway are, for the most part, competent. They dive behind cover, bolt to safer cover when they've been flanked and ... well, they really know their way around cover. But therein lies the problem: Enemies will get cozy behind walls, fences and what have you until they're either a) dead or b) about to be dead. Thus, a number of firefights quickly devolve into either peek-a-boo with guns or your own one-man flanking show, since your squads aren't so hot at the whole "moving without being shot" thing. Additionally, when you find yourself in such skirmishes, the against-all-odds sense of urgency that usually accompanies battle quickly dissipates. If the Nazis won't advance their position, you can just hang back and take your time.

*The whole Hitler thing is kind of a deal-breaker.

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