Brothers In Arms: Hell's Highway Reader Review
Brothers In Arms: Hell's Highway is the third in the series and probably the best overall, but that is not to say it is without problems.
The story picks up a few months after D-Day and the Normandy offensive seen in road to Hill 30 and Earned in Blood, and places you back in the boots of Matt Baker fron Hill 30. You are now fighting in Holland during the ill fated operation Market Garden during the tough axis counter-offensives, and Baker is trying to keep his men together while also trying to save his own pysche. The story isn't anything oscar winning but does a good job of answering questions players might have had from the previous games, while furthering the narrative. Old and new faces return, and the story does a good enough job that you may be trying to morbidly guess who is going to take a stray bullet to the head or wind up going home missing a leg, grim as it is thats just what a war story does. Expect the before and between mission conversations which fill out why you are there and what your mission is. Newcomers to the series will be given some back story through flashbacks and conversations.
Hell's Highway plays exactly like the previous titles on PC and console systems. As Baker you command upto 2 squads who serve specific roles in each mission, usually a fire team and assault team. This installment now gives you bazooka teams as well as LMG teams to suppress squads or simply blow up their cover. The missions in Hell's Highway are chronologically tied to Market Garden putting you in the thick of some of the toughest fighting in Holland from the US perspective, no Arnhem in this game so you get a few relatively simple skirmishes which later on turn into pitched battles for city streets and industrial areas. A couple of missions will see you play as a British tank commander in a Sherman 'Firefly' knocking out armour, infantry and artillery. Aside from the campaign you can go online and take on other players in team based game modes relying on a simple class system to dominate the map, its rather simple and not that fleshed out to give you any reason to come back regularly, COD this is not. One mission involves some British soldiers who use American weaponary and this annoyed me a little, but I understand why they left out Lee Enfields for them as that would have been extra work for a short section of game.
Playing Hell's Highway is for the most part pretty fun like the previous titles plays it safe by going for the series tried and true thinking mans combat approach, rather than the standard run and gun approach of COD or MOH. as a squad leader you get to bark out orders to your teams while laying down fire on the enemy. Orders are simple to issue, using the mouse to highlight an area after pressing the corresponding key and then releasing it will send your men to the location. Fire orders are done in a similar way by highlighting the enemy unit you want to attack and then letting go again. A new cover system has been added that is similar to Gears or war and rainbow six vegas, and this is a very welcome addition. When pressed against a wall or piece of scenery like a car, you go to a third person view and are able to peek out and take potshots at the enemy, beware though as some cover like wooden fences and thin walls break when hit and sandbags can be blown up by explosives, this being the major use for your bazooka team. As I mentioned earlier your teams are made up of 3 men each and perform specific roles during a mission. A fire team is armed with rifles and they suppress targets, assault teams have short range weapons such as Thompsons and grenades for getting in close and flanking an unsuspecting unit. LMG teams provide much heavier and longer range fire but are not very mobile and are very prone to being flanked themselves, and lastly you have your Bazooka team who simply see a target and blow them to kingdom come. You won't get all of these units in a mission usually a mix of two for each, but careful positioning and tactics and they make things alot easier for you. Some missions have you going it alone and this kind of breaks the immersion, since running around a German infested manor house or hospital alone, is not a great idea especially for a leader of men as Baker is. I understand they wanted to give players a little challenge but with all the work put in for the squad command it breaks the immersion. Previous games gave you command of a friendly tank, but this time around you get to drive one and it is fun. You are practically invulnerable provided you are careful on the lower difficulties and its immense fun blowing everything up around you, even if its a little unrealistic. Now typical problems do arise despite the developers best efforts. Sometimes friendly AI pathfinding can get a little confused and send your men the long way round to a piece of cover, getting themselves riddled with bullets which caused me no end of aggravation when I was trying to complete a mission with no casualties. Another problem is that they will scream about not being able to see a target when you know they should be able to, and this means shifting them around until they do see them which is not only time consuming and got me killed every now and then, but also breaks the immersion. Enemy AI is competent for the most part but can suffer from similar problems or just simply being suicidal in their actions, like running in the open toward flimsy cover while being peppered with MG rounds just seems dumb. The game is given some replayability by giving you the option of searching for Kilroy's hidden throughout each mission. Kilroy is a cartoon from the war usually drawn on walls by US soldiers, and by finding these you unlock historical intel on the locations in game, weaponary and other items. If your a hardcore gamer you will want to track these down, but they aren't necessary to fully enjoy the game.
Hell's Highway graphically is a major jump from its predecessors, as you would expect from a next gen title and third installment of a series in general. The scenery is varied from mission to mission with peaceful serene fields of 1940's Holland being your playground for the early part of the game, later moving you to ruined city streets and burning buildings to stormy village assaults. I found the use of colour in the game to convey the mood of the story to be very ingenious. Your early missions have lush bright hues of green, browns and blues as the early part of the campaign historically starts very well for the allies. As the game continues though things get progressively darker and more gritty, as grey and black become more dominant, with the sky being cloudy and dull with the terrain being darker overall. Some areas have great use of fire and lighting to highlight the sense of being in hell. The model detail on everything from guns, uniforms, soldiers, buildings and even sheep are well done and make good use of the unreal engine. Some minor details will detract such as the repetitive German face models and the expression on the faces of dead enemies are all the same. Mouths don't move when your men are speaking during combat and this can destract a little but can be overlooked. Being that Hell's Highway is a mature game expect there to be blood and body parts flying in every skirmish. A well placed shot will slow the game down and zoom in to your target as their head gets a new airhole which can be a tooth dryer and morbidly satisfying. Grenades do a similar job as well showing legs flying off or even a torso, the gore is there for you. Sound wise Hell's Highway gives you plenty to listen to, whether that is the whizzing of a bullet passing by your head or the crack of a rifle, its all there and sounds the part. Voice acting is well done with both American and German infantry shouting taunts and orders to each other. Sometimes its worth listening to a battle just to hear the different phrases being uttered by your squad mates, although these do eventually become repetitive. Weapons sound meaty and lethal which is always good, and the ambient sound of distant artillery or gun battles really sets the mood for the missions. As I said earlier as things progress the ambient sound becomes more sinister as the campaign becomes more about damage control rather than quick conquest.
Overall Hell's Highway is a must for series fans if they want to know more about the characters or story in general, or just for more squad based combat. Newcomers will enjoy the cover system and not have to worry about back story as it is explained little by little through flashbacks and the like. Despite the few AI problems and minor grapic issues mentioned above I enjoyed Hell's Highway and hope to see the next installment soon.
8 / 10