After being delayed for literally years, the latest Brothers In Arms title has finally made its debut on Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. Not to be left out, the Wii received an off-shoot title that melds the first two Brothers in Arms games into one experience. It comes as no surprise that Gearbox didn’t bother attempting a straight-up port of Hell’s Highway, as the Wii just wouldn’t be able to handle it.
Hell’s Highway puts you in the shoes of Matt Baker, an allied sergeant in the 101st Airborne during a World War II operation known as “Market Garden”. The history behind the operation centers on allied forces securing bridges and roadways and doing everything in their power to expedite the delivery of armored vehicles and troops to the heart of the conflict. It’s a classic wartime scenario for a game and serves as an appropriate backdrop for the personal story of Hell’s Highway to unfold within. This is important because unlike most war games, Hell’s Highway concentrates much of its efforts on making sure the player is emotionally invested in the characters. Nearly every soldier has at least a small bit of a cut scene dedicated to building his character up from just another blood-thirsty soldier to a guy you can see yourself relating to, if only on the most basic human level.
The story itself is a dramatic, and sometimes confusing tale from the eyes of a soldier who is living with regret. You, as Sgt. Baker, have a lot of baggage you carry with you into each battle and it begins taking a toll not only on your body, but your mind and sanity as well. You are trying to move on from past decisions you’ve made, but at the same time they seem impossible to escape. At times, the battlefield seems like a safer place than your own mind and you’ll frequently feel as though your men don’t entirely trust your judgment. On top of all that, you carry the dreaded Brothers in Arms pistol, which seems to mark each of its owners for death. Put all these things together and you begin to realize that the war itself may be the least of Baker’s worries. All told, Hell’s Highway has as good of writing as any big-budget Hollywood flick, and production values to match.
Undoubtedly, the main thing that most people will remember about the pre-release marketing buzz for Hell’s Highway is the oh-so-bloody combat. If this is what you’re purchasing the game in anticipation of, you’ll be rather pleased to know that the trailers were a good indication of how gruesome some situations can get. In fact, after a particularly intense gunfight (of which there are many), you may notice the ground is littered more with severed limbs than shell casings.
The one feature that all Brothers in Arms games have always held up high is the fact that you aren’t just controlling your main character the entire time, but instead are in charge of multiple squads that you must use to swiftly defeat your enemy. Throughout the course of the game you’ll be assisted by different sets of squads, with each squad having its own specialty, such as the light machine gunners being perfect at enemy suppression and bazooka troops specializing in destroying enemy cover. The squad commands work well for the most part but a few glaring AI issues rear their head from time to time. One instance in particular highlights this problem: I had commanded my assault unit to take cover behind a burnt-out truck where they would be safe from enemy fire. There wasn’t enough room for all the assault troops to hide up against the truck so a couple men decided a nearby wooden fence would provide a suitable alternative. The enemy gunners made short work of the fence and once my crew’s cover was blown they decided the best course of action would be to charge headlong into enemy fire. As if this weren’t enough, the remaining soldiers behind the truck, in what can only be described as an epic display of camaraderie, decided to join them. So there they were, my entire assault team gunned down while screaming at me about just how dangerous the situation was, just in case I hadn’t already noticed.
This problem highlights another aspect of the game that will prove frustrating is once your squad is dispatched, you’re done for. You can certainly make a valiant effort to go it alone and dispatch the remaining enemies, but that’s an exercise in frustration if there ever was one. Thankfully, once all the enemies in the area have been taken care of, your previously injured comrades are miraculously healed. Granted, the object of the combat is to command your troops in such a way as to outgun and outsmart your enemy without getting your whole crew killed. This, however, can prove difficult when your squad AI just isn’t 100% where it needs to be. Perhaps it’s just the fog of war. For the most part though, the battles unfold just how you would imagine and your skills when commanding your men are just as important as your skills with your own rifle. This is clearly what all the Brothers in Arms games strive for and Hell’s Highway pulls it off quite nicely.
Graphically, Hell’s Highway impresses and disappoints, all in one fell swoop. Some touches, like super-realistic cover destruction and deformation, and glass windows that shatter right where they would in reality, are sometimes overshadowed by a nearby patch of grass that is very clearly a static 2D, paper-thin texture jutting out of the ground. Still, these graphical issues are really nitpicky and the truly important things such as bad framerate and glitches that affect gameplay never come into question.
One aspect of the game that I do take issue with is the multiplayer. Aside from having a rather clunky interface, the gameplay itself just isn’t much fun. The maps, which are torn from campaign environments, are bland for the most part and feature very little in the way of innovative designs. The combat feels slow and the graphics are noticeably dumbed down to keep the 20-player matches running at a reasonable pace. The sole multiplayer option consists of a pseudo CTF/Deathmatch hybrid in which the winner is almost always decided by whichever team eliminates the other first. Unfortunately, what it comes down to is the multiplayer was clearly not a focus for the console, and there are so many better options out there right now, cough*Bad Company*cough, that there’s just no reason to give the online mode more than a passing glance.
In summary, Hell’s Highway is a fine game overall, with a superb campaign and outstanding story value. It’s a shooter that everyone should at least try, but the meat of it can be experienced in just a handful of dedicated play sessions, and don’t expect the multiplayer to give these Brothers any additional staying power.
- Fantastic story, great character building
- Better-than-average cover system
- Makes WWII seem interesting again
- Standard Unreal Engine issues (texture pop, etc)
- Multiplayer mode just not made for consoles
- Some questionable AI scripting
Recommended? Campaign – Yes / Multiplayer – No