Brothers in Arms is a good game, but not a great one. The historical realism that BiA strives for is undermined by level design that is far too linear, and its attempts to have you care for the characters is aren’t as well placed as they could have been. What we have here is a decent shooter merged with a very intuitive and effective squad command system.
BiA places the player in the shoes of Sgt. Matt Baker. As Baker, the player will stride from level to level, blasting away at foes, and primarily doing so by means of the squad command system.
This command system is extremely intuitive: merely press the L trigger, and place the cursor where you’d prefer your men to go--they’ll seek out cover on their own. Cycling through your squads (you’ll never have more than two) is a cinch with the D-pad. It’s an effective and enjoyable system. The occasional AI quirk is somewhat marring--with sandbag embankments, particularly, the men have a tendency to run opposite the side you ordered them to--but the command system is easily the best designed portion of Brothers in Arms.
The actual shooting fares a little worse. The Halo-esque controls are simple enough, with crouching becoming a necessity, as aiming is erratic without doing so--a nice touch of realism. The crosshair is by default shut off, and I very much liked this, as it forces a standoff-ish, cautious style of attacking, rather than run-and-gunning stupidity. It’s another nice realistic inclusion.
The faults in gun-slinging are mostly to due to the enemies themselves. For a game that vaunts its own realism, these Nazis are absurdly tough: give them a shot to the chest, and they will neither fall nor flinch, but stand undaunted, and continue firing. It requires two or more shots to take an enemy down; as far as I can tell, headshots are nonexistent.
Indeed, this odd lack of realism extends to the level design. It is said that Gearbox tirelessly researched the actual areas the game includes, even going so far as to visit Normandy. I don’t question the hard work involved, but it hardly matters: the areas in the game are so extremely linear as to shatter any hope for realism. Even areas that ought to be vastly open, such as country roads, are instead enclosed by invincible hedge ways. Adding to this pain is the fact that, despite the presence of a jump button, neither Baker nor his squad mates can scramble over low fences and walls--an absence that dashes many potential tactical maneuvers. It is hampering.
BiA definitely looks good. The foliage is painfully poor-looking at point blank range, but it looks very nice at a distance. The various character models are strong, especially the faces--it’s easy to pick your squad mates apart, even though their uniforms are identical. Gun muzzles flash appropriately. One of my favorite effects are the tank treads, as the gears churn convincingly.
The sound effects in Brothers in Arms are strong. The various weapons sound like they should, and there are excellent extraneous touches, such as the rumbling of nearby tank treads. The voice acting is mostly sterile, but it gets the job done, with a couple of standouts.
Unfortunately, the music is woefully sparse. There’s a bit that plays during the loading screens, an orchestral piece that is pretty strong. But not a single bit of music plays during the game. While this may be a shot for realism, it actually hurts the presentation--moving music is needed to cover the emotional bases, and its absence is notable.
Brothers in Arms attempts to forge a bond between the player and the AI characters, but this is only marginally successful. Three major faults hamper the potential: firstly, the game never effectively walks you through the cast. I knew maybe half the squad by face, at best. Secondly, the player’s actions as squad leader have no effect on the characters’ chance of surviving--send the whole squad into a firestorm, and they’ll be damned-skimpy by the next level. This isn’t so bad, as one can assume that the squad mates are merely incapacitated; it understandably allows for dramatic deaths and such. But this brings us to the third point: the game never informs you of the deaths of most of your comrades. The game begins with twelve members in the squad; I recall an effective scene wherein two of them die. Several missions later, Baker says “There are only seven of us left now.” What the hell? I don’t recall any others dying. How am I supposed to care about these characters when their status is ambiguous?
Technically, BiA is okay. I experienced no slowdown. The loading times are painful, especially during the later levels, when dying is common. The game needlessly reloads the entire level upon death--I grew very sick of it.
As far as the frustration factor goes, Brothers in Arms fares better than average. Difficulty levels are present, as is the option to enable crosshairs, and they ease the challenge, if needed. I played on the default difficulty, and had no trouble until approximately three-fourths through the game, when a spike arose. The loading times can compound the frustration after death, but BiA generally fares well in this category.
In short, Brothers in Arms is a good game that fails to completely capitalize on its intentions. Pick it up if realistic FPS action is your style; merely expect the faults that have been presented, and understand that the raving reviews are somewhat unwarranted.
- Metallimoose, SwankWorld Media