So everyone is totally over killing Nazis in video games apparently. This will pass my friends because killing Nazis never gets old, and it’s probably the only time in human history we’ll ever have such a pure ‘Good vs. Evil’ setup. However, before the Nazi bubble burst, developers Gearbox were bringing us a unique take on the WWII FPS with the Brothers in Arms series. The first Brothers in Arms (Brothers in Arms: Road to Hill 30) was released in early 2005 and gave players a fresh take on the battlefield tactics of trench warfare with a constant need to move position and use your two squads at your command to kill the opposition and reach checkpoints. Strangely enough, this sequel, Earned in Blood was released the same year as Road to Hill 30 only later in the year. The first game was well received so there’s nothing quite like striking while the iron’s hot.
You take control of Sergeant Joe Hartsock who was a squad member in the first game. As the main character, you’re sent on several missions that span Hartsock’s tours of duty that shows his rank progression. Naturally, you again command two squads in order to punish more Nazis. All of these characters and events in the game take place based on real events. I’m no historian, so I can’t speak to the accuracy of each event, but they all feel authentic and the loss of life in the game rings true.
Developed using a modified version of the Unreal 2.0 engine, this game looks great running on the Xbox. With plenty of action on the screen, the graphics never take any noticeable dips that affect gameplay. As with many WWII games, the color range isn’t huge with a lot of muddy and earthy colors, but that’s pretty much what the countryside and cities look like when you drop bombs on them. The guns look excellent on screen with lots of details showing the age, wear and tear on each gun. The characters look good although the previous generation had a really bad “uncanny valley” effect in character faces, but that was par for the course. The sounds are flat out fantastic. Each gun has an accurate firing sound with weight to give it some added realism, and the explosions feel massive. The voice acting is very good and really humanizes each character. Overall this is top-notch presentation.
The tactical gameplay is where this game truly shines and sets itself apart from other WWII shooters. When you take control of your squads, you will most often be controlling one team that is best used as a diversion/fire team and another as a flanking team. Giving commands for each of these groups is set to the left trigger and issuing commands is incredibly easy. When you run into enemy squads, there is a suppression meter above each group that lets you know how well they’re being suppressed – giving you an indicator that it’s safe to move your flanking team. This makes for some truly memorable and fun gunfights, you’re not just running and gunning with a prayer like the COD games.
The AI on Earned in Blood seems well improved over Road to Hill 30 even though it only came out a few months later. When enemies are being suppressed, instead of just sitting there, they make an effort to out-flank your teams and change their position to make themselves a bit less easy to kill. You will run into some heavy artillery and luckily there are segments where you’ll have control over your own tanks and other vehicles to cause mass destruction. Some of the battles with German tanks versus American tanks with foot soldiers running around on both sides trying to out-position each other were incredible.
This really is one heck of a game, even if you’re sick of WWII shooters. The main problem with this particular title is that it’s very much like the first game in almost every respect; same graphics and sounds, but with better AI and slightly more open endedness on some of the maps. The other issue is you can also get the latest in the series, Brothers in Arms: Hell’s Highway on the Xbox 360 and PS3 super cheap. Again this game is very similar to that one, although running on Unreal 3.0 so it looks better, but it ultimately plays very similarly. If you’re a fan of WWII FPS’s or a history buff then you really can’t afford to miss picking up at least one game in this series, otherwise you’re probably not going to be riveted enough to compete with some more modern shooters