" Hell's Highway is really two games in one...unfortunately, only one of these games is any good."
Title: Brothers in Arms: Hell's Highway by Ubisoft
Format: WWII Shooter for the Xbox 360
Reviewing Monkey: Dungapult
The Hype: Part FPS and part squad based strategy game, Brothers in Arms: Hell's Highway puts you in command of members of the US Airborne during the dramatic but yet-videogame-unexplored Allied invasion of Holland during World War II. Though not nearly as well known as the landings at Normandy or the siege of Stalingrad, Operation Market Garden is easily one of the most intense and brutal battles the Axis and Allies ever fought. So can Hell's Highway tell this relatively unsung period of history as an awesome tactical shooter or will is it merely an new hook to push yet another WWII shooter down our throats? Read on, my Monkeys, and find out.
What This Monkey Thought...
Graphics: The further along games get,
and the more they diversify their graphical feel, the harder this category gets
to rate--and Brothers in Arms: Hell's Highway (HH) is a pretty good example
as to why. On the one hand, much of the visuals in HH are outstanding. There
is a fantastic level of grit and grime, with frequently excellent models covered
in mud and cordite residue. On the other hand, there are a number of really
surprising graphical shortcuts that slap you upside the head and completely
ruin the frequently movie-style feel of the game. An example? Imagine you're
engaged in a gripping firefight. In the window of a meticulously rendered farmhouse
is a machinegun that has your men pinned down. You and your squad return fire,
the muzzle flashes dazzling your screen and the empty shell casings spiraling
through the air trailing wisps of beautifully rendered smoke, and your inclined
to believe this is one of the prettiest games you've ever seen...until you realize
that there's a man in your squad who is stuck half-in and half-our of a piece
of cover and he's desperately running in place. Then you notice that beside
him your machinegunner's M1919 is being fed by a belt that's only four inches
long and looks like it was rendered on an 16-bit console. And that German who's
pinning you down? He's actually shooting sideways with his body pointing completely
away from you.
They're little things in the big scope, and don't detract enough to keep this game from looking sweet overall, but they're little things you'll notice over and over again. 4 out of 5
Playability: At its heart, Hell's Highway
is really two games in one. The first is a squad-based, tactical-style shooter
that uses an open-field which requires you to maneuver your troops from cover
to cover in order to gain strategic advantage and flank your enemies. The other
is a somewhat claustrophobic one-man shooter that takes place in the tight confines
of very linear buildings. Unfortunately for HH, only one of these games is any
As a combo FPS and strategy game, the squad-based portions are a whole lot of fun. Typically taking place on medium-sized maps only sparsely-populated with cover, these missions generally require you to take down an objective (a building, enemy artillery, etc.) while constantly engaging a numerically superior force. The best way to succeed, then, is to use the one to three squads at your disposal in fire and maneuver tactics to gain some form of advantage. Sometimes this means using machineguns and riflemen to cover your bazookas long enough to get them into position to blow the hell out of your opponents. Other times it means using your guys to draw fire while you snipe the prime targets from a distance. But, regardless of what you do, you'll use the games innovative "pin" mechanics that allow you to suppress the enemy enough to let you move around without getting turned into Swiss cheese. It's a great system that, despite a flawed control scheme and some seriously mediocre AI, gave me several hours of good, clean, Nazi killin' fun.
Unfortunately, those good hours are smattered with, and separated by, some of the most remedial FPS action I've seen in years.
There's no two ways about it, as a shooter Hell's Highway is a complete and total letdown. The game borrows pretty liberally from a number of different games to try and create a good military-style FPS, but despite this amalgamated effort, none of its parts come together into anything even remotely entertaining. To start with, HH uses a cover-hugging system like we've seen in the Rainbow 6 Vegas games and Gears of War, but unlike those games the mechanic is inconsistent, glitchy, and frequently frustrating. It also uses a penetratible/destructible cover system like Call of Duty 4, but applies the mechanics very inconsistently and illogically, frequently allowing you to destroy types of cover after large volumes of fire, without allowing you to shoot through it unless it's destroyed. So, for example, if an enemy is hiding behind a fence you can eventually destroy the entire fence by drilling it with a few dozen rounds from a submachinegun, but can't just shoot through it with a shot from a high-powered rifle. Finally, it uses the now-popular hide-to-regain-health mechanic that is all the rage in the current generation of shooters, but it's applied so liberally that you'll feel more like a force-field packing super space marine than a mortal soldier in life and death conflict.
Still, all of those issues wouldn't be much of a problem if they didn't detract from the rest of the game. Unfortunately, instead of being annoyances amidst a sea of other goodness, they are painfully highlighted as the game repeatedly pulls you from the joyous squad sections and forces you into these downright painful (and often painful long) solo segments. During these you'll have no choice but come face to face with every glaring flaw Hell's Highway has as a shooter, and leave these encounters wondering why the hell the developers felt the need to include these segments in the first place. 3.5 out of 5
Story and Drama: The idea of a story-driven
shooter is pretty novel. As a matter of fact, I don't think I've ever written
those words in a review. Ever. But, sure enough, Hell's Highway sports a story
that is not only rich and layered, it's actually excellently presented. With
both a tight script and some way above-average voice acting, it plays much more
like Brothers in Arms or Saving Private Ryan than any other World War II shooter
I've ever seen.
Now, that said, because of its layered storyline you will have to sit through a lot of stuff you won't understand until the whole story comes together in act 3...and because so much time is spent worrying about the interpersonal troubles of the main characters, and so little time worrying about the world around them, you will never actually feel like your in Operation Market Garden (as opposed to any other generic battle in World War II)...but, despite those two little facts, it still stands head and shoulders above most of what we get in a shooter story. 4.5 out of 5
Multiplayer and Replayability: Sadly, there's really very little to talk about in either of these departments for Hell's Highway. Though there is some enticement to go back and revisit the more entertaining battles after your finished, there's really no reason to replay the story from start to finish...especially since the realism mode that's unlocked after beating the game is unplayably broken. But, just in case that's not enough to earn HH a bad rating in this department, they decided to seal the deal with a multiplayer experience that includes only a single game mode (an only moderately entertaining attack/defend game) that has almost no customizable options. 1.5 out of 5
|At the end of the day Brothers in Arms: Hell's Highway is a fun, though under-polished shooter that is worth your time, but that sadly won't be worth thinking about a year from now. Hopefully the next installment (which is teased as possibly being during the Battle of the Bulge) will be more memorable.|
The Good: Awesome story with fun squad mechanics, a great suppression system, and good graphics.
The Bad: The shooter elements are remedial and the multiplayer/replayability is nonexistent.
The Overall Ugly: You should play it now before the slog of high profile games come out this winter...because after that you probably won't go back to it.
What it's Worth: Rental.