BiA: Hell’s Highway Review

29 Sep 2008  by   Paul Younger
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Back as Sergeant Matt Baker, you find yourself in the Netherlands fighting a battle which will take six days to complete.  Named “Operation Market-Garden” your job is to take back strongholds in the Netherlands and to push towards Berlin, helping out the “depleted Allied forces”.  Inevitably you learn a lot about yourself and your friends as well as losing a few of them and sometimes your mind along the way.

Being a sergeant you’ll have teams to send to their death or do your bidding, suppressing the Germans in their positions as you move to clear the area.  Depending on your mission, you will have between one and three units to command; a machine gun team, a bazooka team and an assault team.  They all do exactly what they say and, placed well, they can give you a little bit of breathing space to flank the enemy and cause some of your own personalised damage. 

This would all be fair and well if the robotic and pretty useless AI didn’t hamper your best efforts.  You’d be better off asking a penguin to help with a barbeque.  It brings a whole new meaning to Artificial Intelligence.  After issuing orders it’s not uncommon to find your team running on the spot in the line of fire, only to be picked off one at a time.  And if that wasn’t enough you can sometimes find yourself trapped in between the AI while taking cover, making it literally impossible for you to move unless you move them to another location, which will inevitably result in their death.  In addition to this, you have a very fiddly button mapping scheme which finds you hitting all the wrong buttons when all you want to do is issue orders to your Artificial unIntelligence.
And I haven’t even started talking about the enemy AI.  Let’s just say that if your weapon is loaded, they’ll be just as easy to pick off as your fellow Americans.

There are some points of brilliance; it’s not all bad.  The game requires you to play independently for about a third of the game.  Most of the time you’ll be in a building or picking off German patrols for some reason or another, but you’ll need to be a strong individual player.  The game really comes into its element here, and it’s a relief to know that you can just power your way through without having to ask your penguin squads to help, although it does defeat the object of using the teams to suppress your enemy.  Annoyingly, in all the cut scenes, you can see your Rambo-esque knife strapped to you, but you are unable to use it.

There are also a lot of opportunities to flank, and the maps are quite big.  You’re able to plan your route well enough, but there is an issue with the roaming freedom you have.  At first that annoyed me, frustrating as it was not being able to go down a road, or blast through a fence into a field in a tank, my anger didn’t stick.  There will be areas that you won’t be able to access in war-torn cities, bear that in mind and some of the frustration will be relieved.

Despite all of this though, it’s another WWII game that really didn’t hit the mark for me, especially after speaking to executive producer, Randy Pitchford, at Ubidays earlier this year.

Pitchford promised the feeling of camaraderie, the authenticity of fighting using suppressing fire, a whole new experience in the Brothers in Arms franchise, but I feel let down and a little despondent to the whole thing.

It’s difficult to say where exactly this game fell down, and it’s even harder to say where it succeeded.  The whole game experience left me rather empty, and the only sense of achievement I had was completing the game.

Of course there was the back-story, and for those that haven’t played the first two instalments released three years ago, you may find yourselves a little lost.  Even so, the storyline is compelling enough to keep you hooked, as well as being beautifully captured.  The camera work in the cut scenes is fantastic, with subtle details like focusing really making a huge difference to the story’s delivery, and the scenery is beautiful.  The face mapping is some of the best I’ve seen on any game, until you get to the last few chapters, and the last cut scenes where gearbox seem to have forgotten to add skin to the mapped face.  It’s these little glitches that start striking a nerve, and distracting from the overall feel of the game. ?
The whole game can be likened to the variety of weapons it offers.  There are set weapons in the game, with opportunities to use other weapons, but only opportunities.  You never see those weapons again. 

It’s a real shame because a lot of people that would be looking for a FPS will be disappointed.  It feels like a cross between Rainbow Six and Max Payne, without being here or there.  Those that have followed the Band of Brothers series and are fans of the Brothers in Arms games will enjoy it.  But those that have no interest in either will wonder why you bothered to complete it when you do.

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