A game that wowed most journalists that saw it at E3 last year, Gearbox Software’s Brothers in Arms: Road to Hill 30 has finally been released. Based upon the stories of Staff Sergeant Harrison C. Summers (renamed Matt Baker for this game) and the 13 men under him in the 3rd Squad, 3rd platoon, F Company Paratroop Infantry Regiment (502nd Regiment), 101st Airborne Division. Summers is best known as the man who led a team into the “XYZ” complex on D-Day, kicking in doors and killing 150 Germans in the area. Summers received the Distinguished Service Cross for that day (many think he deserved a Medal of Honor), but the game Brothers in Arms starts off on D-Day, but ends the day after the battle at Carentan (June 13th, 1944).

Brothers in Arms is based upon real events that happened to the 14 men that comprised that team. Much like the HBO series, Band of Brothers (based on the 506th Regiment), Brothers in Arms is about a group of men and their trek to Carentan, the city the 101st was ordered to take over. Gearbox has gone to great lengths in order to bring a sense of realism to the game. They have gone and taken pictures of the areas that Summers group went through and re-created them in the game. Enough about that, let’s get to the scores.

A lot of people so far have said that although the graphics are good in Brothers in Arms they certainly don’t reach the levels of Doom 3 or Half-Life 2. I’d have to agree with them, but it would be pretty hard to put this game up against those two considering this game is built upon the Unreal engine. If I compare it to the games it shares genres with (games like Call of Duty, Medal of Honor and Battlefield 1942) I’d have to say Brothers in Arms outdoes all of them, but is certainly not as dark or gritty as Call of Duty is.

Once I was actually able to install the game without there being framerate problems (I am guessing that my defragging of the hard drive did it) the game ran at a great clip at 1600×1200 and the level of details medium or greater. Where Brothers in Arms excels is in the environmental and character graphics. As I said in the introduction, Gearbox went to France and took pictures of the route Summers’ (now called Baker to not confuse anyone playing the game) group took and planted them, with perfect detail, into the game. The houses in the “XYZ” complex are of special note because I found pictures someone took of the very spot on another web page and Gearbox has done a good job of duplicating the exact look of the area. The rest of the environment is also well done, especially the grass and trees. They reminded me a lot of Far Cry, another Ubisoft game, although the overall graphics were not as superb here as they were in Far Cry.

The people in Baker’s team are also very well done. Their faces are well done and you will see the wear and tear of the war on their faces and clothes as they go through the 9 days presented here (D-Day to D-Day +8 days). The lip syncing is a bit off and not of Half-Life 2 quality, but it does a good job anyway. The team will go through hell and back, including the fact that at least some people in the group actually do die. The gore is not super detailed though. You won’t see limbs fly off as you are hit by grenades, but you will see blood on people as they are shot. I think this may have been a conscious effort by Gearbox since this game is based upon the lives of real people and not some made up super soldier that some other games contain.

Although for some reason it doesn’t include 5.1 or EAX support (or at least not that I’ve found so far), the sound is great here. Without the surround support it doesn’t quite reach the level of Call of Duty in the audio front

and I have a feeling the Xbox version of this game would probably do a better job of getting a Call of Duty like feel to the soundscape. The guns, explosions and overall war sounds are just spot on.

Unlike other World War II games, the team you use (you can have control of an assault team and a long-range team) helps you greatly audibly. If you’re standing up and within the line of fire of the Germans, your squadmates will say, “Sergeant, get down!” or “Baker! Take cover!” This is all very well done as are most of the voiceovers. You get a sense of the people that constitute the group and what kind of people they are. You will hear expletives here and there, but it all goes along with the times in my mind. The funniest thing is that the voiceover for Baker is a little too melodramatic. Before each section there is usually a voiceover by Baker in which he almost always says, “I never wanted to lead” or variations of that phrase. Baker obviously is narrating the story and is talking about things that happened in the past, as if it was part of a journal or something. The beginning cutscene after the opening scene (that happens in D-Day +7 on Hill 30) sets up Baker and his anxiousness at leading a group. He says, “I have 13 guys under me…13, yeah, that’s a lucky number”. Baker himself has #13 painted on his helmet and he seems like a person that really doesn’t want to lead, but realizes that he must in order to keep his “family” alive through this difficult time.

Overall the sound is good, but it certainly could have used a 5.1 option to become more immersed in the game.

This game controls much like other first-person shooters with a few extra things. In many ways Brothers in Arms is a cross between the gameplay of Call of Duty (the iron sights, the overall feeling) and Pandemic’s Full Spectrum Warrior (sending out orders). Moving and firing is standard FPS stuff with the keyboard and mouse. You are able to send commands via the right mouse button. You hold it down and move the icon around, when you reach the point you want the group to go you either let go of the right mouse button (if on an enemy it will set up suppression fire, if on the ground the troops will move there) or hit the left mouse button which will make the troops go in for an assault attack, which can be dangerous if you aren’t careful. You can also make the troops fall in with the Shift key and they will follow your lead.

In addition there is a Situational Awareness mode that you can go in to with the V key. This shows you a map with every known position of things that you see and that aerial photos saw before you embarked on the mission. It will not show you where all the Germans are, it will only show you where the camera picked them up earlier. In a way this allows you to know where your troops are and set up your next strategy without giving you the location of every enemy.

The controls certainly do their job and the game is very easy to get into. It will take a while to get used to the command options of the right mouse button, but you’ll catch on soon enough.

The game Brothers in Arms: Road to Hill 30 is based on the story of a real life group of troops who landed on Normandy in D-Day and made their way to Caretan to join up with the rest of the 101st Airborne and take control of the city. You are Sgt. Matt Baker (based upon Sergeant Harrison Summers story) and you are the lead guy of a 14 man group.

I talked about the fact that this is a fusion of Call of Duty and Full Spectrum Warrior in the control section. Unlike FSW you actually control someone and can shoot at enemies. You basically are the field commander. Much like FSW you have the ability to have your troops do suppression fire in order to flank the enemy and get a better shot on them. Also much like FSW this game is pretty darn hard and you will find yourself having a pretty easy time early on and then hit some missions that are extremely hard and you’ll see yourself die more than a few times.

The cutscenes are well put together in this game and certainly use real world locations in them. In many ways this game is like being in HBO’s Band of Brothers, but with a different group of soldiers. Even though the game is pretty linear, it certainly is an exciting and realistic representation of World War II…possibly the most realistic so far.

There are a few problems with the game, but one is more because the game is based on a true story than an obvious overlooked bug. The first one is that during missions your troops could be killed. In actuality they are just incapacitated, but will be back with you at full health when the next mission starts. Because the game is built upon a story, certain soldiers will only die at the time they’re supposed to according to the script/history. If they die in a mission beforehand, they’ve kind of died before their time.

The other big problem is the difficulty of this game. You’ll have an easy time of it during D-Day, but once you go to the days following things suddenly become a bit tougher. This is where the Situational Awareness thing helps a lot because it will show you where troops were before you ventured into the mission and you can plan your attacks in order to keep your troops alive and make it to the next checkpoint. The good bit of distance between checkpoints will also become frustrating as the game becomes harder. Checkpoints usually happen after a big battle, but the problem is you could die during that big battle and then have to start all over again at the last checkpoint. This isn’t to say the game isn’t phenomenal, but there are a few problems here and there that may suppress your enjoyment of the overall game a bit.

There’s a lot of historical stuff to unlock in this game and they are tied to the difficulty level you are playing at. I found a lot of the stuff pretty cool to watch and it certainly gives those of us who love historical things a chance to unlock stuff in the game a lot. There is also a multiplayer component that seems to still have a bit of problems at this current time. You can only play up to 4 players because this game is built much like Full Spectrum Warrior, so you won’t see any Battlefield 1942 type battles in this game.

The game isn’t especially long, but it is cool to go through multiple times in order to unlock all the history stuff if you’re interested in that sort of thing.

Is Brothers in Arms: Road to Hill 30 all it was hyped up to be? In many ways it is, but in some ways it isn’t. The realism factor and the combination of Call of Duty gameplay, Full Spectrum Warrior-like command structure and Band of Brothers-like feeling make this game rise above all other World War II games in my mind for immersion factor, including those on the computer at the single-player level. In the multiplayer arena it is pretty tough to outdo the Battlefields and Call of Duties out there with their easy to pick up and extremely fun multiplayer options. If you’re looking for a great, realistic World War II-based game that doesn’t have you taking the place of a super soldier, this game is it. This is a labor of love by Gearbox and if you’re at all into historical stuff, this game is for you. Highly recommended.