the resigned gamer, everything I hate about the thing I love the most

Highway to Awesome!

Posted by Doomeru Woebashi at 8:26 AM on Wednesday, January 21, 2009

doomeru woebashi's soggy cardboard-covered exhaust grate, the resigned gamer

Okay, here we go again, another WWII FPS. Shooting Nazis, running through bombed-out European towns and planting the American flag to the sound of soaring instrumental music. But there's a twist: You won't win if you run and gun, you don't storm Normandy Beach, you've got to utilize fairly smart AI teammates, and for once I enjoyed just about every minute of it.

Brothers in Arms: Hell's Highway makes it clear from the start that you are meant to work in teams. Combat revolves around suppressing and flanking, and even in the early missions you'll eat lead if you aren't playing the way the designers want you to. If you stick with it, you'll settle into a nice groove: Spot an enemy platoon, set up one team behind cover to suppress the baddies, then leapfrog your teams toward the enemy until they are close enough to be killed with grenades. Alternatively, you can have multiple teams suppress the same enemy while you sneak around and kill them all yourself, but this can backfire, as often once one group of Nazis are killed another team spawns on top of where they were. You can also use your own grenades to flush Nazis from cover and there are few things more satisfying than watching a bunch of them run screaming their girlish German screams only to get shot up by your heavy gunner team.

brothers in arms, hells highway, resigned gamer

There are literally hundreds of Nazis hiding in this idyllic village.

What's so cool about this system to me is that your AI teammates do a very convincing job most of the time of acting like smart, but obedient partners. They shout at you to get behind cover if you are careless, they relay orders from you to each other, and once dug in behind solid cover they won't get themselves killed if you stop watching over them. In many ways this game operates more like a puzzle game than an FPS. You can think of your teams as pieces on a board that need to be moved to the right places and under the correct circumstances, with the solution always being to surmount an enemy position.

Your teams, whether machine gunners or bazookas, never run out of ammo and if some or all get killed, will magically respawn once you've reached a checkpoint, so you don't have to be too anal about protecting them. Your own character can pick up guns along the way but you're given so much ammo that it almost never matters. One less thing to stress about as you're taking down the Hun.

Things aren't all perfect of course. Pathfinding could be better. Every so often, your team will decide to take cover on the wrong side of a barrier and get absolutely shredded.

hells highway, taking cover, resigned gamer

Please just stay behind the conveniently-placed corrugated metal barrier.

The suppression system doesn't work both ways. The enemy can't pin you or your team down. In fact, your team can be getting shot at with mortars and still run straight toward certain death if you tell them too.

Enemies never try to overrun you when you and your team are dug in or even throw grenades. This really limits the challenge and a lot of fights degenerate into a kind of whack-a-mole contest with you waiting for an enemy to pop up from cover so you can kill him. This in particular is a real shame because allowing the enemies to outflank you would have intensified the combat and added a lot of pressure, similar to how sitting around in Gears of War will quickly get you killed.

brothers in arms, hells highway, hiding in cover

"You know, despite the heat of battle, I think we could just stay here together forever."

Although your team does a fine job pinning the enemy down, it seems the game designers really wanted you to do the dirty work of actually killing the enemies. Sure your bazooka team sometimes takes a few out in a blast, but more often than not it is just you and your M1 Garand laying them down.

brothers in arms, killin nazis, resigned gamer

Two more dead Nazis, comin' right up...

Did I mention all the Nazi troops scream like little girls? It's as if the Germans ran out of soldiers and had to turn to the Hitler Youth to make ends meet.