Giant Bomb Review

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Brothers in Arms: Hell's Highway Review

4
  • PC
  • X360
  • PS3

A unique blend of battlefield tactics and first-person shooting make Hell's Highway more interesting than its familiar WWII trappings let on.

The significance of this gun won't be apparent to first-time Brothers in Arms players.
I'm as guilty as anyone for ragging on the ubiquity of World War II first-person shooters, but just because a game features an overly familiar setting doesn't make it a bad game as a matter of fact. Having not played any of the prior games in the series, I definitely came into Brothers in Arms: Hell's Highway with expectations that this would just be yet another WWII first-person shooter, and was pleasantly surprised by the focus of the story and the unique and engaging squad tactics.

Squad dynamics are significant to Hell's Highway beyond just the gameplay, as the story of the game focuses almost entirely on the interpersonal relationships between your squad members. The game takes place during Operation Market Garden, but instead of grand and violent Saving Private Ryan set pieces, you get discord between officers, the burden of guilt over a soldier's death, and the resentment of being passed over for promotion. The game lays out its cinematic aspirations early on with a showy, Altman-esque tracking shot, and while there are some resonant moments, it's hindered by inconsistent voice work and characters that are difficult to distinguish visually.

The game also assumes that you've been following the Brothers in Arms series pretty closely, taking little time to introduce the characters or explain the events from past games, both of which end up playing significant roles in Hell's Highway. As a Brothers in Arms first-timer, I felt like I was watching the middle episode of a serialized TV series, though I think this structural choice for Hell's Highway might have actually worked to its advantage had the game come out closer to when developer Gearbox originally intended. The way it panned out, Hell's Highway is picking up the story three years after the last installment, which is less than ideal for episodic storytelling.

While I found the plotting in Hell's Highway a little uneven, the gameplay was incredibly engaging, largely because it's as much a strategy game as it is a first-person shooter. Playing as Staff Sgt. Matt Baker, you regularly command up to three squads of soldiers while simultaneously trying to take out some Nazis yourself. Trying to coordinate multiple groups of soldiers without getting your own ass shot off might sound daunting, but the game does an excellent job of acclimating you to its unique controls--which are themselves pretty intelligently designed--and the AI is actually pretty smart about not running headlong into obvious danger. When your men fall in battle, it's because of you, not iffy pathfinding.

Why shoot when others will do it for you?
Much emphasis is put on suppressing enemy forces with one squad, and then flanking them with another, a basic tactic that gets a lot of use over the course of the game, though with enough variation that it stays interesting. Your squads can have different specialties, such as a bazooka squad or an assault squad, and figuring out how best to use them in different situations is part of the fun.

One of my favorite things about Hell's Highway is the fact that you can spend as much time commanding your squads as you do actually shooting enemies yourself. I've played too many first-person shooters that feature AI-controlled companions who are little more than window-dressing, and I found having the option of getting through a skirmish without firing a shot myself to be incredibly satisfying. It's also the thing that makes Hell's Highway feel a little more authentic, since the inter-reliance of soldiers is a fundamental facet of military life.

The game peppers in sequences where you're on your own, away from your squads. While technically competent, these weren't my favorite parts of Hell's Highway. Even then, the game's pronounced cover system kept it from feeling too terribly generic. There are a few sequences where you get to take control of a tank, which is nice for the variety, but maybe not as much fun as wreaking havoc with a tank should be. Hell's Highway also features an online multiplayer component, but it's a fairly different experience from the single-player game, one that doesn't play to the strengths of the single-player game. You're still part of a squad, though real live squadmates simply aren't as dependable.

Hell's Highway is a World War II first-person shooter, but it's also a lot more than that. Gearbox doesn't nail every aspect of the execution, but it's unique enough to warrant a look, even if you think you're done with WWII.
56 Comments
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Posted by Pavlo

hell yeah! this game kicks ass.

Posted by Daveyo520

YAY, I was hoping this game was good. I really liked the 1st one.

Posted by rohanspear345

nice I was wondering about this game

Posted by Dimsey

Burnt out as I am on World War 2 I almost bought the game when I saw Blockbuster had the Collectors Edition in. I'm a sucker for collectibles.
But with the large amount of games I'm deeming "must haves" coming out in the October-Early November timeframe well I kinda have to be a bit more careful then I usually am with my monies.
Still. Nice to hear the games actually good. Might pick it up once things die down a little.

Posted by Thor

Great review...glad to see it turned out well

Posted by xxDrAiNxx

Perfect review.

Posted by Serker

I agree on a lot of whats in your review after playing it.

Posted by Xander51

I agree, I had a fantastic time playing this game, and loved the fact that it's a seamless load-free experience for the most part.

Posted by DECA555

totally man superb review

loved this game

Wasn't a big fan of the first 2 (still liked them but not nearly as much as this game)

This installment is a lot more approachable to newbies to the series 9not so much in story)

Currently playing on Authentic mode (Currently getting ass kicked by Authentic Mode)

Posted by jag

The single player campaign is very good. It's basically a thinking man's shooter, which is something you never see anymore. The multiplayer is very disappointing however, especially since the first two Brothers in Arms had very unique online multiplayer.

Big mistake letting Rockstar New England do Brother's in Arms: hell's Highway multiplayer, big mistake.

Posted by guttershark

i bought it a few days ago but haven't had the time to start it due to college and flying

Posted by selfdestroyer

Have it but haven't touched it. Too many damn games this month and next.. need to take some sick days from work and get caught up.

Posted by Crono

I have been very curious about this game... sounds like a winner!  Will be looking forward to playing it next week.

Posted by TheGreatGuero

Prior to Call of Duty 4, Brothers in Arms: Road To Hill 30 was the most impressive war game I had ever played. I'm looking forward to this new Brothers in Arms game.

Posted by TomA

kool but i never played any Brothers in Amrs game so i wont play this one i cant stand more WW2

Posted by CraigAA1028

I'd say the game is a great rent. I beat it having only spent an hour of two with Road to Hill thirty and found it entertaining, yet flawed.

Posted by Genose

Wow, you definitely nailed it on this review. I like the fact that you mention little things that annoyed me too (as a first time Brothers in Arms player), such as the characters not being easily distinguishable visually. Great review Ryan!

Posted by Cybexx

I've played the first few hours of it and I'm liking it a lot. I feel the gameplay fails a bit when your suddenly forced into these sequences without your squad mates. The game is at its best when your trying to out-flank the enemy with your squad, the game is almost puzzle like at times.

Posted by TheHBK

What I always wondered was how this took so long to develop.  Wasn't everyone expecting it to come out like in January 2006, close to the 360 launch, like close to Gears of War at least?  Now it is late 2008, what happened.  Well at least it is a good game, but not worth the wait.

Posted by Milkman

So, which version has the advantage, 360 or PS3?

Posted by PapaLazarou

I don't like the squad combat it always feels like an annoying effort because the AI sucks and I don't think we'll see good quad based games until like 100 years times when we can make AI soooo life like it is living and the battlefields in the games arn't scripted but dynamic.

I mean I want the itnernet to plug into my brain so it draws me into it and then walk around the internet and online stores like Amazon are actual virtual shops. You walk round the internet like a virtual world and make money but a evil army of hackers are trying to take over and it causes the first internet World War.

Now thats when Squad based games will be good because the people you're fighting have emotion and are dynamic and have fear etc etc.

Posted by FelisLeo1980

I'm soooo tired of WWII shooters that I think I'll pass this one. I rather play Call of Duty 5 (because CoD4 was so awesome) and Gears of War 2.

Posted by meegs6sic6

nice review

love this game

Posted by Scroll

They really need to fix the online, without the lag it might be worth playing.

Posted by insanegamer

good review

Posted by RHCPfan24

Very nice review.  I think I might pass on this one though and wait for World At War.  Both look good nonetheless.

Posted by Zatoichi_Sanjuro

The problem with not having played the previous games means you cannot see how little they have evolved. Especially when you considered the three years development for this. It's just not good enough. The graphics and mission design are WAY too uneven and the enemy AI is just the same as the PS2 equivalent. They don't attack or pressure you in any meaningful way, they just hunker down, sometimes moving to a different position but never to one that threatens you. So you end up, pretty much, breezing through the game on Veteran to unlock Authentic mode only to shake your head and laugh ruefully. All it does is remove the cross-hairs and squad/compass graphics. You initially think this makes things much more realistic until you try to aim from cover and realise there's no ironsights...you literally have to guage where the centre of the screen is and hope you hit one of the rubbish hitboxes. Because the squad icons have gone you have no idea what squad you have selected, not even an audio cue. Which makes one of the best things about the game pointless.

I was a bit concerned over the slow-motion-lol-gore-shot system initially but it is well implemented and not over-used. If you loved the previous BIA games (like me) then you'll enjoy this, but don't think it's anything but 'more of the same'. So whatever you do, don't pay full price.

Also the multiplayer is a bunch of arse.

Posted by TwoOneFive

OKAY! I will be renting this definitely. i bought the first two and were some of my favorite games. 

but now i think its time for what we all know may be coming. A MODERN BROTHERS IN ARMS!! who thinks that would be AWESOME!?
Posted by Mann_uk

Its good but should of been so much better.

Posted by ManMadeGod

Hmmmmmm, looks like I'm going to pass on buying this one and just rent it.

Posted by LNK862

ryan, you sir are an idiot.

Posted by Dryker

I've got this on my Gamefly queueueu ( E's & U's, not sure how many ) so I'll check it out when it shows up. The review is encouraging, considering Gearbox guys are now working on a Halo project.

Posted by Psynapse

I'm definitly done with WW2 games tyvm...

Posted by MadMatr07

Aw, I was thinking five stars.

Posted by zoozilla

Huh.  I didn't know that online, the squad mates were human.  I always thought that each player would have their own AI squad.

I can see how trying to command actual human players could be a little....problematic.

Posted by giyanks22

looks pretty awesome i'll get it for xmas...

Posted by Destroyeron

Kinda sad the real live teammates aren't as good as the AI :-P

Posted by SpikeDelight

Nice review.

Posted by NarcolepticBat

I liked road to hill 30 better than the second one. the story seemed more dramatic and compelling than red's dumb plot.

Posted by MikeFightNight

I rented it when it first came out and am still playing it.  I didn't see myself enjoying it at first, but it's really grown on me.  Good review, it's a solid game with great action and gunplay.  Shooting off a rifle at a bunch of nazis taking cover far away and then seeing that one of your bullets cracks one of their skulls open in glorious freeze frame fashion is a really great experience.  That's a feature i'm surprised Ryan didn't talk about, for it seems many reviewers either liked it or didn't.  I think it's a really neat addition. 

Also I did rent it, because there are so many other games coming out this fall, I'm almost done it. I couldn't see much replay value after you beat it unless your really into the multiplayer.  For me it's like a bioshock, once I rented that and beat it, I never looked back. Keep in mind no late fee's for rentals also.

Posted by Sirn00bal0t

I so want this game = )

Posted by MeanSeasons

Just rented the game a few days ago and I am loving it. Feels like a combo of CoD2 and Rainbow6. Also, the online is pretty sweet.

Posted by Shadow

I've been seeing a lot of Ryan's giddy face lately in reviews

Posted by Rowr

Games awesome.

If your a fan of the first few, pick this up.

Posted by Cymatics
Posted by pplus0440
Posted by MrSegraves

"The way it panned out, Hell's Highway is picking up the story three years after the last installment, which is less than ideal for episodic storytelling."

Try 3 months bud. The first 2 games take place during D-Day and shortly after, so June 6, 1944.  Market Garden took place in September, not exactly sure on the dates. I suppose it must have been a typo, meaning months rather than years.

Posted by Zatoichi_Sanjuro

"Try 3 months bud."

He ment 3 years in development not the actual story time-line.

Posted by daniel_beck_90

it looks like a good game and the combination of squad base system and WWII sounds fun .

Posted by cocomacoco

This game is very rewarding, actually i'm a first timer myself, I did try out other Brother in Arms, and I bought one for the PS2 before, but wouldn't last even 2 mins playing it, now with this latest Gearbox beauty, Can't stop, it does have a lot of Frame issues, slow downs and AI stuck-ups, but overall is a great satisfying experience that shouldn't be missed by Single play lovers like me.

8.9 out of 10 for me, 4 Plus stars

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