Version tested: Wii
The World War II shooter genre has yet to make itself essential on the Wii, with the best efforts on the console - Call of Duty 3 and Medal of Honor: Heroes 2 - still only managing to scrape their way to disappointing 5/10 scores. Now it's the turn of Ubisoft's squad-based Brothers in Arms to take up the challenge.
Arriving on the Wii almost a year after it was first promised, Double Time is a conversion of both the original Road to Hill 30, and the follow-up, Earned in Blood. Both games are packaged separately inside a cardboard slipcase, giving the impression of a substantial experience. However, since both games focus on the same overly familiar territory of rural France during the D-Day landings, and feature most of the same characters doing much the same things, it's hard to really see them as distinct entities.
The games are supposedly narrative-driven - they're both "based on a true story" as the cover reminds us - but all this means is that the action is constantly interrupted for poorly staged cut-scenes rendered using the game engine. The graphics are fairly grim and rather undersell what little poignancy the trite story can muster. The attempts at depth and emotion just come across as a warmed over imitation of Saving Private Ryan, performed by balloon-faced mannequins. None of which helps distinguish the series from all the other wartime shooters that trade in the giddy thrill of shooting virtual Nazis, but then pull sad faces so we can pretend our vicarious sofa battles are somehow respectful to the men who actually fought and died all those years ago.
Much has been said about how the Wii interface should make it ideal for FPS games, but it's perhaps telling that the only game to really deliver on this promise was Metroid, which is only partially an FPS anyway. The good news is that Brothers in Arms does a pretty good job of boiling the expected control system down to work on remote and nunchuk. Movement and strafing is mapped to the nunchuk stick, while aiming and turning are handled via the remote. Shooting uses the B trigger, with the nunchuk buttons set aside for crouching and precision aiming. It's a core set-up that most previous Wii shooters have stuck with, and while aiming initially has a slightly floaty feel it soon becomes second nature.
Squad commands are simple, with the decent friendly AI filling in the blanks for the blanket orders you're able to give. Hold down the A button and you can direct your fire team where you want them to go. They're smart enough to find cover and return fire without you having to determine their combat stance, and should you move the squad cursor over an enemy it changes to a target. Your squad mates can then lay down suppressing fire, or rush the enemy, with a simple button press. Hardly the deepest squad system in gaming, but it's adequate for the needs of the game. Later on you get to order some tanks around, which makes for a nice change from the near constant flanking manoeuvres the rest of the game relies on.
The motion controls, usually the area where the lure of gimmickry proves many a game's undoing, are also mostly successful. Recalling your squad means raising the nunchuk and making a circular motion in the air. It's hardly essential, but it's the sort of stoic Hollywood-approved military signal that encourages you to get into the play fighting mood. Less successful are the melee attack and grenade throwing. Hitting an enemy with your weapon requires a horizontal bashing movement with the remote, while grenades are aimed by holding down the plus or minus button, and then thrown with a vertical flick.
It's not the accuracy or response that's the issue, just the inescapable problem of how these movements affect your view. Using your aiming device to carry out these attacks is like asking PC players to fling their mouse around, and when throwing a grenade leaves you staring at the sky you know something isn't quite working. But motion control can be switched off for grenades, and the sensitivity of the remote can also be tweaked, so while it's an annoyance it's still far from the clumsy and unintuitive waggling that Call of Duty 3 demanded.
No, what ultimately lets Brothers in Arms down is a game engine that only ever manages mediocre performance, and is often shockingly poor. The frame rate is low, with frequent inexplicable pauses and stutters, while levels are linear, little more than a procession of claustrophobic pathways punctuated by scripted encounters. The enemy AI, in particular, leaves a lot to be desired. One memorable moment found me discovering a trio of German soldiers sitting at a table in a farmhouse. Apparently oblivious to the American soldier in the doorway, they even failed to react when I shot one of them dead. I then tossed a grenade into the room, which killed another but still wasn't enough to rouse the final enemy from his important sitting down duties, so I shot him as well. No wonder they lost.
That's an extreme example, but you really have to ramp the difficulty all the way up to get enemies that even begin to provide a credible challenge, and it's at those unforgiving difficulty levels where the limits of the floaty aiming become a hindrance. Things certainly aren't helped by some horribly inconsistent hit detection. Headshots are no guarantee of a kill, while enemies will often take two or three bullets to the chest without even reacting. The complete absence of multiplayer is another black mark against its name, especially when Call of Duty 3 showed that it's far from impossible on the Wii, with a little effort.
You're left with a frustrating package. There's a wealth of gameplay, across the two discs, but very little variety. When you've seen one empty field or chunky polygon village you've seen them all, and enemy encounters soon settle into a predictable suppress-flank-kill routine that robs the game of all its tension. In terms of control there's a lot here that comes close to finding a workable solution for the FPS genre on the Wii, but it's undermined by the undeniable fact that it's all in service of a technically sloppy game.
5 / 10