Review: Brothers in Arms (Xbox)
Gearbox software, a little known developer with its roots in porting games, explodes into the limelight with their first original title, Brothers in Arms. Brothers in Arms is a tactical first person shooter which takes place in the initial days of the Omaha beach landing. The game follows an elite group of paratroopers through 8 days of intense fighting across the countryside of Normandy. The inclusion of squad commands and effective fire and maneuver tactics sets this title ahead of the competition to produce something entirely unique, original, and satisfying.
Friend, Brother, Squad Leader:
You command Matt Baker and the men that follow him, nicknamed the Bakers dozen. The story is told through the eyes of Matt Baker, a reluctant squad leader coming into his own. Your fellow troopers have unique personalities ranging from spineless, to comical and at times introspective. The conversations between your soldiers both in battle and outside of it enrich the experience and heighten the realism of the game. You will actually begin to care about your men and their lives, making their untimely deaths, which can be the direct result of the player’s bad leadership, all the more engaging. Unfortunately in the event you lose one or more of your soldiers during the course of the game they will return at the start of the next mission. It’s a buzz kill on the realism the game portrays at every other turn.
101 ways to die. Choose one:
Brothers in Arms aims to be authentic, and Gearbox has succeeded in making the most gritty and real World War II game to date. By default there is no crosshair enabled when your weapon is unsighted (though it can be enabled in the options), forcing the player to rely on the iron sights of the weapon for accuracy. When the weapon is fired, the guns recoil with beauty giving the weapons a sense of weight and power.
Enemies are affected by suppression which is notated by a circular icon above their heads. When the enemy is fully suppressed the bar will turn from red to a shade of grey which will deplete if the enemy is not kept under fire. If the enemy is properly suppressed, it’s the perfect time to maneuver your team into a flanking position and take out the offending unit. Thankfully, the enemy is not going to just roll over and take it. When you get within a close range or fire on a suppressed enemy from a flanking position they will return fire as well as throw grenades if you are within range. I was once daring enough to throw a grenade to flush out a group of Nazi’s I had flanked, only to have my own grenade tossed back at me to explode in my face! Up close and personal combat is intense and satisfying with melee attacks flowing back and forth between both the Americans and the Nazis. Combined with excellent level and mission design, the skirmishes never cease to be engaging and excel in being fresh even upon multiple replays through the same section.
It should be noted that the game is not easy. It’s challenging but not frustratingly so. A lot of the difficulty comes in adapting your play style to fit with the authenticity of the game. Playing Rambo is only going to get you and your team demolished. Instead, Brothers in Arms encourages strategic play and intelligent use of your capable squad. The allied AI is smart enough to find proper cover, keep track of the enemies and communicate their status to you verbally. Rushing an enemy mortar team with your teammates screaming and firing their weapons is an absolute rush and gaming at its best. After a well executed flank I found myself whooping in excitement at the sheer fluidity at which your soldiers respond and act according to your direction. By the end of the game I felt more confident in my ability to lead my squad in combat, and keep them alive in the process.
You’ve got pretty eyes sir:
Brothers in Arms is easy on the eyes, but not overdone. Gearbox has done a nice job of giving the scenery, which is accurately modeled after the real battle locations in Normandy, a dirty and used feel. Dead cattle mixed with swaying grass, trees, and foliage litter the maps. Trenches and cover used in the game is realistic and appropriate for the situation adding a layer of immersion and believability. The skyscape is gorgeously full of vibrant colors and typically highlighted with planes, anti aircraft flak, or bullet traces. Each scene is subtle in its conveyance and yet consummate in its detail, breathing fresh air into the stagnant genre. The game carries a mature rating and rightly so as the enemies legs and arms can be blown off by a well placed grenade or a tank shell. The blood spray is not gratuitous so much as it is lifelike, comparable to the effects found in the movie Saving Private Ryan. This should satisfy fans who have had to suffer through white puffs of dirt echoing from stricken enemies in similar titles. Brothers in Arms features an eerily realistic character modeling system as well. The eyes in particular can be haunting as they track you and express empathy or aggression through their movements. The character models differentiate enough for you to tell your allies apart from their look and express true emotion ranging from whimsical to sad. In the heat of battle paying attention to your squad’s demeanor, especially their facial expressions, is brilliantly engaging and immersive.
I’m deaf now, but I’m happy:
The first level of the game highlights the immense amount of work that went into the sound design of Brothers in Arms. Bullets will hiss and pop next to you, tanks shells explode around you and a constant barrage of deafening mortar fire will fill your house with the effects of war. The weapon sounds are beefy and pack a punch, though at times this drowns out the comments of your fellow soldiers. The voice acting is overall well done, however a few characters voices can be a little grating and tiresome. Hopefully for Brothers in Arms 2 they will hire a few actors with deeper voices, as this go around the actor’s timbre tends to be on the high side.
The foray into multiplayer is different than we’ve come to expect. Instead of the standard death match, capture the flag, and team death match. Gearbox has crafted a hybrid of the single player, taking the AI squad elements of the single player and placing them into a 2 vs. 2 multiplayer environment. Each human controls a fire team or an assault team of 3 men depending on the map. Coordination between each player is a must to successfully complete the mission based objectives in each level. The missions range from carrying a codebook to the levels exit, to placing an explosive on a designated target. Each level is well designed with multiple flanking paths and routes to and from each objective. Executing a well maneuvered win with your teammate is thrilling and motivating. As good as actual multiplayer is, it is hindered by a host of interface issues. A clunky friends list menu only allows voice messages to be attached with game invites, making gaming with your friends harder than it should be. For a game that encourages team play I find this decision odd. Another glaring problem is the time it takes to load into a multiplayer game from the server browser, only to find the server full and you must load again back to the menu. The process can take almost 2 minutes, which can be excessively frustrating when you spend 30 minutes just to find a game that’s not full.
I can genuinely say that Brothers in Arms is the definitive World War 2 game, sharpening the genre in a way no others have dared. The squad combat and enemy AI jack up the combat in a way that will be copied in the years to come. Gearbox’s masterpiece is not without a few flaws, but they are easily overlooked by the games polish and replayablility. The only question left now is, when do we get Brothers in Arms 2?
FINAL SCORE: 96/100 // REVIEWER: IAN WHITE