There's something weirdly laborious about PSP conversions of big-screen games. To review D-Day with any sense of perspective I'd have to be on the move, taking the coach to St Ives or bastardising my biorhythms on a flight to Kuala Lumpur. Instead I'm hunched in an armchair, two metres from the PC where I first played the original game. I'm craning my neck, thumbing my tiny comrades through familiar sequences of suppressing fire and Nazi-flanking without travelling a step. It's not right: it feels like tiny, fiddly hard work - and handheld consoles need to roam free.
Hell, a gamepad and 30-inch TV would be more convenient, and I wouldn't be lying upside-down with my feet in the air, trying to stay comfortable. But such grumbles are hardly valid: would I be making them if this was a brain-derailing puzzle masterpiece or PSP-only racing game? Probably not... Nevertheless Brothers In Arms was once a fresh young face amid the recent shooter masses and it wowed us with its tactical cleverness and thoughtful use of cover. I think it's worth comparing how the PSP version manages to boil down its big brother to this miniaturised form.
Firstly and most importantly: the tactical process of covering fire and flanking manoeuvre remains intact. I've heartily approved of this concept since the first moment I outmanoeuvred a Nazi, and it's excellent to see other games now making the same moves. D-Day gives you complete control over where your boys move to and what they shoot at. Get them into trouble and they'll curse you with the same distraught voices that screamed their way through the big screen games.
For those unfamiliar with the Brothers In Arms way of doing things let me assure you that it is deeply satisfying. A look-and-click interface allows you to tell your men where to take cover and which enemies to shoot. An on-screen indicator tells you whether the Nazis are keeping their heads down and once they're suitably suppressed either you or your men can assault their position - preferably legging it round the side to remodel their faces with some fresh metal teeth. That's pretty much the meat of the game right there: working out who to suppress, how to flank, and where to use cover is the constant challenge in Brothers In Arms games, and D-Day has this concept covered.
What's slightly less convincing is how the controls are implemented. Holding down one button and releasing it is simple enough, but using the thumb stick to let them know where to go is exasperating. After a large number of embarrassments you'll get a grip and begin to push your men around in the right way, ordering them to lay down fire and letting them take cover. The tutorial for this stopped working about half way through when I first played it, which I initially assumed meant I was a ludicrous spazzer, but I quick restart allowed me to get through. I suspect there might be a couple of other minor bugs kicking about too since there were a few other rough edges, like characters not facing you when they're talking. I didn't encounter any other show-stoppers though, so fingers crossed...
Anyway, the target strafing is rather awkward since the system seems unable to keep 100% locked on your intended enemy. I found myself slipping in and out and wondering why they hadn't chosen some other method of rounding your intended target. This means that using your men to cover while you rush in and cap the bad-guys is generally inadvisable. Unlike the big-screen version I found myself sitting back and using the crosshair zoom to snipe while making sure I had positioned my men in a suitable place to charge the last few metres. The in-built inaccuracy and defensive shield created by being under cover also means you get some 'Naked Gun' moment where you're opening up with everything at enemy stood the other side of a log and just not hitting him. This happened to some degree in the PC version, but it seems far more acute on the PSP.
What is superior to the big-screen version is the overhead tactical view. This option pauses the action and pulls the camera out. It was immensely messy and almost useless in the PC version but it's been cleaned up here and has at least a little functionality. I never found myself needing it, but at least it has been implemented with a little more intelligence this time around.
And there are some fun multiplayer options too. You can either fight another player head to head, or you can choose to indulge in co-operative skirmish missions. This was the one feature that made the big screen sequel 'Earned In Blood' so ludicrously satisfying, and it's therefore thrilling to see it implemented here too. Co-ordinating your tactics with someone and yelling your on-the-hood plan is just a great gaming experience.
So: the PSP has a fairly competent version of Brothers In Arms, and that means it has a decent FPS. Of course Brothers In Arms is far more about tactical thinking and covering fire than it is about gratuitous carnage and Rambo-mimics, but I'd hope that a large number of PSP-carriers will appreciate its cerebral and demanding nature. They should also appreciate that this is quite long and has stacks of replay value with the multiplayer. That multiplayer mode will be hugely satisfying to anyone who happens to know someone else with a PSP (gasp!) and it represents further evidence that 2006 is the year of co-op gaming. (See Rainbow Six Vegas, Gears Of War and, er, Earned In Blood.) All this pleases me and would, were I a fat man working in an antiquated office, be stamped in red ink with the word 'APPROVED'.