Brothers in Arms Hell
It’s been awhile since we’ve last seen Matt Baker and the boys of 101st Airborne Division and when we did it was on a platform like the PlayStation 2. Yes, the Brothers in Arms series is another WWII-themed first-person shooter but the series not only introduced a more realistic tactical approach to the action but it also did a marvelous job of invoking emotion and a much deeper glance at our fighting heroes that put their lives on the line for the good of mankind. Brothers in Arms: Hell’s Highway continues the tradition on the PlayStation 3 and - a few problems aside - does a great job bringing us back into the frontlines.
Highway to Hell
This being the third game in the series, we find the focus shifted back to Sergeant Matt Baker during one of the most intense and dramatic events of his life during the war. Having overtaken Hill 40 in the first game and breached further into Carantan, it comes to Baker’s attention that he and his company will be involved in Operation Market Garden. In fact, his unit plays a big role in this operation that will have them attempting to take a key highway through lovely Holland by way of force. The plan, of course, is to secure said highway in order for the rest of the Allied forces to finally slip into Germany and end Hitler’s shenanigans before Christmas. Sounds simple enough but the highway is no Sunday drive and taking the scenic route here will cost you your life.
Taking control of Baker, we get to see what transpires during Operation Market Garden and why the op became one of WWII biggest military blunders. It’s actually quite impressive how the game covers its historic bases and, through Baker’s eyes, we get a much emotionally deeper sense of what soldiers felt about it. The shooter fan in me, however, knows that the various scenarios that make up the operation are ripe with action-packed battles.
Fans of the series know that unlike the other familiar WWII games; you are not a lone warrior able to sling hot lead at the German forces all on your own. This is a squad-based game that rewards players for using common sense and as a result you will start thinking like a soldier. You’ll quickly find yourself assessing each situation and direct your MG Team or Assault Team in places where they can better provide suppressing fire or bring the enemy out of hiding. Recon, one of the game’s newest features, even allows you get better Intel that will help you set up ambushes or steer clear of a nasty Nazi trap.
… Those you raise hell with
Speaking of new features, Hell’s Highway also introduces a cover system that allows you to dig into a cover spot. The game turns the first-person perspective into a third-person view when you find cover. This allows you to use cover more accurately as well as shoot enemies from said cover. Realistically enough, you’ll know the difference between good cover. Dig in behind a table, for instance, and you’ll find that the enemy can shoot the table to ribbons and thus force you to look for better cover. Another feature, and it’s a more cosmetic one, is Action Camera. This feature basically slows time down and focuses in on gruesome headshot or a good grenade toss. Blood will fly and limbs will too so those with weak stomachs might want to consider turning off the feature if you find it too violent.
Sadly, even with these great new features, all is not perfect with Hell’s Highway. The level design offers some truly exciting and engaging scenarios but there are times when the action gets a tad dull. The satchel charge missions and the Factory level are the ones that stand out … and not in a good way. There’s also a tank mission that feels forced to the point that you’ll be glad it’s over. Yet the real flaws come from the AI. The enemy will be smart in one scenario and then complete idiots the next. Did German infantry men really hide behind cover with their heads sticking out? Is a picket fence the right place to hide from a machine gun turret? Even your squad is prone to some truly boneheaded blunders such as scrambling to find cover in front of a bricked wall rather than behind it.
Yet despite these obvious problems, the single-player portion of the game is extremely entertaining and the story (especially for those who played the first two games) paints a much broader picture. The game has a nice pacing and the campaign is appropriately lengthy. There’s online multiplayer for those who want to try their hand in tactical action with up to 20 players but the mode isn’t so fun that you’ll want to play repeatedly. There’s also no cooperative mode, which would have been great for a game like this.
You look like hell
I would have loved to have said that Hell’s Highway is a downright visually impressive game that is the very definition of next-generation graphics. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a very pretty game that does the character models and backgrounds well. Look closely and you can see the stitching of Baker’s Airborne Division patch and the beads of sweat when he stuck in a hairy situation. The green pastures and lovely city landscapes will make you stop to admire it (which I don’t recommend in the middle of battle). Then again, shadows become a pixilated mess and certain objects pop-up the closer you get. Oh, and to top it all off, the framerate stutters during really intense action.
The sound, once again, deserves a round of applause and it’s mainly for the gorgeous score that plays throughout the game and during cut scenes as well as the sound effects. You’ll know there’s a machine gun emplacement somewhere nearby because you’ll hear its familiar rattle and you’ll actually hear German patrols around the corner if you managed to sneak into an area occupied by the enemy. The voice acting is, again, top notch, although sometimes you’ll hear your squad members bark out the same phrases repeatedly. Overall, the sound is definitely a highlight.
Brothers in Arms: Hell’s Highway for the PlayStation 3 is deeply involving and riveting action game that is far from perfect but still exhilarating enough to be a good sequel. If you’ve been following the series since Road to Hill 40 then buying Hell’s Highway is definitely in order. The few glitches the game does have do get in the way of the action but when things do run as smooth as ice then you’re in for a fun WWII shooter and a solid attempt at bringing the series to a new platform.
Review Scoring Details for Brothers in Arms: Hell's Highway
Returning gamers will embrace a much richer story that wonderfully ties together all the events from the last two games and it honors our fighting men by covering every emotion. The addition of a bazooka team and a third-person cover system is a very nice touch but the enemy and ally AI has dropped a lot of IQ points this time around.
The character models look good and everything from their uniforms to their facial features is nicely detailed. Even the backgrounds look great from afar but the pop-up and jaggies that show up often throughout the game just makes the game feel incomplete.
On the other hand, the game benefits from great sound whether it’s the sound of each gun, explosions, soldiers from both sides issuing commands and warnings. With a strong voice cast and a beautifully cinematic soundtrack, the game’s sound is a real highlight.
Once again, you can’t run into an open field expecting to gun down enemy forces all on your own. Tactical positioning and using your assault or bazooka squad at the right times could mean victory while mismanagement can get you or members of your squad killed. Then again, the wonky AI makes planning a waste of time.
Baker’s story is a deep and richly detailed one that makes this game really stand out. The new features work well within the game and the Action Camera adds more realism to battles. Adding a tank mission is so Call of Duty, though. We appreciate online multiplayer but the multiplayer portion isn’t as fun as it could have been on the next-generation console.
Up to 20 players can play a tactical round-based multiplayer game that has players playing as the American Airborne or the German side. While it’s not bad or boring, I just don’t see gamers coming back again and again.
Hell’s Highway is a strong and compelling entry in the Brothers in Arms series but it’s also a slightly flawed sequel that could have been so much better on the PS3. Still, even with its glitches, inconsistent visuals and so-so online multiplayer, this game has enough standout moments to be an enjoyable ride down a bumpy highway.