Brothers in Arms Road to Hill 30

Gamestyle Archive Intro: one of the pet hates during my time during the gaming years was the arrival of these on the rails World War combat experiences. It all became too fashionable with shallow gameplay but there were some exceptions. This review dates from March 2005.

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When Brothers In Arms: Road To Hill 30 arrived at Gamestyle Towers, the thought of wading through another World War II-themed first-person shooter was not uppermost on our agenda. Indeed, over the past few years we’ve fought the good fight on the beaches of Normandy and survived Pearl Harbour, so another tour of duty would have to be compelling, to say the least.

To Gearbox Software’s credit, they’ve pulled out all the stops and delivered a credible, unnerving experience that surprised even the walking wounded at Gamestyle. Brothers In Arms follows nine days in the life of the 101st Airborne Division, who played an important part in the allied invasion of France. We’re all aware of the outcome of those historic WWII battles, but what about the skirmishes and less-immortalised tales and triumphs? Again, this works to Brothers In Arms’ favour because you never know what awaits in the next village – or even beyond the next hedgerow. All too often there is little character exposition in this genre; too much emphasis is placed on realism and authenticity.

Gearbox has certainly attempted to replicate the period – as a sortie through the extras section, full of archival photos juxtaposed with modern times, will affirm (even a retired army expert was involved, thus ensuring further attention to detail) – but most pleasingly they have invested heavily in the backstory which brings these troops to life. Your own character (Sgt Matt Baker) is a troubled soul, given responsibility for seeing that his squad survives each chapter. Characters come and go throughout the tale, but refreshingly they live outside of the player’s perspective – triggering their own in-game events (which somehow don’t feel as ‘scripted’ as others in the genre). However, Brothers In Arms does make one concession to the ‘atrocities’ of fact: it has removed all trace of blood and human suffering (presumably to avoid a harsh rating).

Speaking of harsh, there is an ‘Authentic’ difficulty setting available – which certainly imposes hardship upon the player – but it’s best to begin on Easy ground as there’s an element of tactical play involved (albeit not as engrossing as Full Spectrum Warrior), whereby you’re actively encouraged to exploit one manoeuvre: trying to suppress and outflank your opponents. While it pretty much becomes de rigueur throughout the game (and extremely important when commanding large numbers of men), its appeal is shortlived – utilising the same tactic can become tiresome. Conversely, Brothers In Arms does provide variety when it comes to level design; oftentimes you’ll be surrounded by scenic French countryside as you press through villages into town. The standard of your opposition also improves, as you’ll overcome inexperienced conscripts before moving up to the very elite of the German army. A point of contention for many will be the ‘realistic’ nature of aiming and firing – this definitely leans towards simulation, and lacks the arcade (and user-friendly) flavour of the Medal of Honour series.

Visually, the Playstation 2 makes a decent stab at suspending your disbelief – although it would’ve gone much further without the invisible walls, blocked passages and checkpoints. However, the attention to detail and the character models are of a consistently high standard for the system (witness the facial modelling and general movement). The colour palette can sometimes become mired in greens and greys – although war was never meant to be pretty, was it? Ditto for the lack of colour in the accompanying soundtrack; orchestration is minimal, with only the sound of mortars et al for company. Again, this may prove refreshing and highly atmospheric for some.

Offline, multiplayer options are limited to split-screen competition against a friend (each taking command of a squad); online things are a little better – provided you can find somebody to play against (Gamestyle tried on several occasions throughout the week, but active matches could only be counted on one hand. Could it be the small percentage of online-enabled PS2 players have been swayed by ‘greener’ pastures?) Regardless, online play is a far more intimate style of warfare than the lavish, take-no-prisoners approach of Halo 2, for example.

Upon completing its reluctant tour of duty with Brothers In Arms: Road To Hill 30, Gamestyle can honestly say it enjoyed the stimulation. Not only has it renewed our faith in the WWII-themed first-person shooter category, but it’s something of a ‘tour de force’ for the emotions (not to mention an heartfelt homage to the pages of history).

Gamestyle Score: 7/10

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