Ubisoft’s tactical first-person shooter Brothers in Arms finally makes its way up to the latest batch of consoles with Hell’s Highway. If you are a fan of the previous two editions in the series then you should know what you in store for. Hell’s Highway doesn’t loose any of the magic that made the first two games so welcoming. Brothes in Arms has always been a favorite here at Extreme Gamer, Road to Hill 30 climbed over the competition and scored our Game of the Year award in 2005. That doesn't mean Hell's Highway will get an automatic approvial, actually it's more of the opposite. Its been three years and we're happy to see Gearbox returning to their alternative WWII shooter. Lock and load here is our review of the gritty Hell's Highway.
Before we jump right into the action in Hell’s Highway, I will bust out a short overview of the last two Brothers in Arms (BIA) games. BIA: Road to Hill 30 hit the original Xbox in 2005 and Earned in Blood followed later that year. Both games focused on the true story of a 101st Airborne Division and the 502 Parachute Infantry Regiment being behind enemy lines in June 1944. This also includes the 82nd Airborne Division in the capture a small town, Saint-Sauveur-le-Vicomte in Normandy. In Road to Hill 30 you walk in the shoes of the emotionally strong US soldier Matt Baker. Thrown into the promotional rank of Sergeant, Matt takes control of a small group of troops who persevering through the European countryside until a massive standoff battle on Hill 30. Earned in Blood is a flashback styled game told by an old war historian. A number of different scenarios are presented in the game including a brief stint as Baker. Earned in Blood didn't have the same emotional attachment as Hill 30, but it still had the rock solid gameplay to fall back on. Each BIA title has given a little bit more in their own subtle ways. This continues with Hell's Highway as it pulls further away from the other two games by evolving to the next-gen consoles.
In Hell’s Highway you will once again face off against the German forces wearing the boots of Sergeant Matt Baker. Matt is heavily developed character that almost seems real even though he is a fictional character. The sight of death starts to wear on Matt during the game and half way through the game you’ll witness some horrific sights that sink Matt deeper into his manic depression. This is party portrayed through flashbacks along with the events that are happening in the game. At times Hell’s Highway can dig deep into the melodrama which can be a little much if you are only into the game for its sleight action. However, if you wane into Baker’s story you will find a mature tale in the vein of a classic war movie. Each moment you’re taken out of the action for a multi-angled cinematic you will feel the passion pour out of the script with some of the best voice-over deliveries in a game.
History is an important element to the BIA franchise and this is even more evident in Hell's Highway. If you haven't played the first two games things might be a little confusing in the beginning. As the plot rolls on you will be start learn the general back story while being wrapped up in the new journey down Hell's Highway. The dynamic storyline can be attributed to Gearbox Software's excellent portrayal of the alarming brutal truth of war and the effect it can have on the soldiers sent into battle. Hell's Highway is a enthralling mature title that is more than just blood and guts. The passion in Hell's Highway seems to transcend the medium of a video-games into a resonating project that could consume any media type. Based on the story’s delivery alone, Hell’s Highway is one to remember.
Even if you took away the unfolding drama in the storyline Hell’s Highway still has a lot to offer. The squad based tactics and impressive level design makes sure of this. Hell’s Highway is mainly played in the first person perspective along with an over-the-shoulder camera that brings you closer into your scope for precise shooting, or to gain a better view point when you take cover. You control your squad mates via an icon that is moveable across the playing field. At each missions mercy you might be called to control multiple squads at one time. This is where the fun starts and when it also becomes more challenging. From one assault squad to the three supporting units, there are plenty of ways to go about your killing. No mission will ever been played the same and the limitations are only set by the boundaries of the playing field.
The idea of commanding multiple units in a WWII setting is a great feature to include in a game that focuses on team-work and large battles. The tactics you use in Hell’s Highway is the old suppress and flank technique that has one team holding the enemies attention while the other one creeps up on the side of the enemy to fill them full of unexpected led. At times the level design points to the obvious flanking root, however the battle lines aren't always clearly drawn. As you get further into the game the gap between your squad-mates will start to separate which involves more plotting and strategy to take on the enemy. Positing the right troops into place is only half the battle, you'll have to be able to time your movements are the perfect time when the enemy is preoccupied on another target. In scenarios when the odds seem overwhelming the advantage can tilt your way by using your character. Free to move anywhere you can often sneak into the perfect spot to fire off a few snipering rounds, or up close for the kill. Brothers in Arms isn’t a breeze in the trees, you’ll be sweating through some moments, that's on easy, let's not even get into veteran.
Surprisingly, Hell’s Highway wasn’t as polished as I expected. None of the the issues are deal breakers, but they are worth mentioning. One issue points towards miscommunication when commanding your squad. Your troops can misinterpret your intentions and move to the wrong side of a wall, or periodically take the path through the bullet hailstorm rather than the straightforward non-killing way. It’s too bad this wasn’t polished a little more. Games like Gears of War, or Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter seems to handle direction better a little better. While I have Gears on the brain, its shame Hell’s Highway didn’t include blind firing in its duck and cover mechanic. Even if you accuracy goes down and you’re not hitting anything, blind fire can give you some time on the clock to make the right movement.