Brothers in Arms: War Stories Review

It seems in this age of numerous consoles, including two handheld consoles, it’s become the standard that when a game is being developed, if a way can be found to put it on as many consoles and handhelds as possible, that it’ll be used.  Whether it’s a port across numerous platforms or something specifically created for a handheld, it seems that if a game is coming out for one system, it’s likely that it’s also coming out for nearly everything else.

Clearly, Ubisoft has come to the same conclusion, with Brothers in Arms: War Stories, or Brothers in Arms DS if you go by the cover of the game, being the latest game to bring a franchise to the Nintendo DS.  Sporting a redisign to fully use the DS capabilites, the game features touch-screen controls and bite-sized levels for quick on-the-go gaming.

The question really is, though, is it truly necessary?  Does a game have to be ported to the DS at all, and if so, does the DS’s features need to be the focal point?  Today, we seek to answer these questions and more.

The graphics in Brothers in Arms: War Stories are somewhat solid on the DS, although at times they shade towards the average and even slightly below average.  It’s easy to tell what everything is from the over-the-shoulder perspective, although there are times when it’s easy to confuse bits of cover for other objects on the level. 

It’s obvious, though, that much of the graphical shortfalls of the game were made to keep the game running slow, and the shortfalls are pretty easy to spot.  Draw distance is horrible, many of the soliders are indistinguishable from another, leading one to shoot at their allies now and again, and numerous textures are somewhat fuzzy and indistinct.

Granted, this being the Nintendo DS, one doesn’t expect a graphical powerhouse, and it’s pretty good what Gearbox Software’s been able to accomplish graphically on the DS.   Thanks to the sacrifices made to make the graphics shine, the game is able to run at a decent frame rate, with little stutter or lag.

While Brothers in Arms: War Stories features very little in the way of music or voicing other than small, repeated comments from various NPCs, what’s there fits in well and is very solid.  The game concentrates its audio energies on giving accurate portrayals of the weapons and environments used in the game.  At this, BiA: WS does a very good job.  The weapons all sound authentic and seperate.  A machine gun doesn’t sound like a pistol, and a grenade doesn’t sound like a tank.  Everything sounds about like you would expect them to sound.

One note here, however.  If any game really needed a set of headphones, this is it.  While the sound through the DS’s speakers is decent, the sound improves measurably by using a set of good headphones.

The controls for Brothers in Arms: War Stories are very simple:  The directional pad (or the face buttons if you are left handed) control your character or vehicle’s movement while the should button handles weapon firing.  Outside of that, everything is controlled by the stylus on the touch screen.

You aim your weapon, change weapons, and reload your weapon all with simple movements of the stylus on the screen.  It isn’t perfect by any means, however.  There’s no sensitivity option, so that it takes several swipes of the stylus to turn around, for example, and aiming can be a bit tricky.

Unfortunately, simple isn’t always best.  This control scheme requires you to hold your DS with only a few fingers and the palm of your hand.  It isn’t comfortable, and if you play the game for any time at all, it’s actually physically painful, and can cause your fingers to cramp up after only ten to fifteen minutes of play, about equal to two or three levels.  It feels like the developers decided that this game absolutely must use the touchscreen as its primary control, and the game overall suffers for it, especially in the controls.  It would have been more comfortable to play if it used the face buttons and the d-pad for control, with minimal use of the touch screen.

If you’ve played any of the Brothers in Arms games, or really any WWII shooter at all, you know what you’re getting into here.  Unlike the console and PC versions of BiA, though, War Stories is not a squad-based shooter, instead focusing on one soldier with an over-the-shoulder viewpoint as you go through around thirteen missions over three campaigns:  Normandy, Tunis and Ardennes. 

Each mission has a number of objectives which you focus on in turn, with the game giving helpful hints along the way in the form of text blurbs and glowing green spots on the screen showing you where to go.  In fact, it seems that the entire game has been rather dumbed down, although there are times when the on-screen text is less than helpful, requiring numerous restarts to figure out how not to fail.  Luckily, the game has quite a number of checkpoints on each level, so you’ll never have to backtrack too far.  The easy-mode gameplay continues with a constantly-recharging health-meter and artificial intelligence that, on both sides, is about the level of your common toad.  Enemies will stand there and continue to fire straight ahead, and if you move out of range, they sometimes don’t track you.  Also, if you manage to go outside of the game’s predicted path, the enemy soldiers will sometimes helpfully present their backs to you for you to pick them off with ease.

Your allies aren’t much better, as BiA:WS falls into the trap of making the player the hero of everything.  Basically, as far as many mission objectives are concerned, if you don’t do it, your allies most certainly won’t.  This can be frustrating as SS troops manage to blow up a tank that your allies are hiding behind, even though they bypass ten other troops to get there.  It wasn’t fun in Tie Fighter, and it isn’t fun here. 

Making things a bit more interesting is the wonky camera.  Most of the time, it works fine.  Of course, if you get too close to cover, or get backed into a corner, the game decides that it’s quite all right to peek through a solid building, or to give you a camera image of the back of the wall you’re standing against instead of what is actually in front of you.  No, you really don’t need to see that German tank firing at you.  This wall is much prettier.  Really!  Especially with your blood dripping all over it…

The game does feature multiplayer deathmatch for up to four players, but it’s not Wifi and it requires that each player has their own copy of the game, which does tend to limit the ease of use for many players.

With all that being said though, if you’re a forgiving gamer, the game can actually be (and is) rather fun.  The levels are short, which is great for on-the-go gameplay, and there are three different difficulty modes that you can unlock on each gameplay.  The game does a great job at showing the drama that any war game should (and some fail at), and it can be fun to shoot all those nasty little Nazi soldiers, after all.

While I didn’t really expect much from Brothers in Arms: War Stories, I was actually impressed by the gameplay.  It wasn’t until I had been playing for a while that the pain in my hand made its appearance, and that’s about when I really started noticing the issues with the title.  Playing through the entire game takes about four to six hours, and if you add in the other difficulty modes, you might be able to squeeze twelve to fifteen hours out of this title. 

While the game is only $30 new at retailers, it’s really hard to justify that purchase, especially with the issues with the game.  It’s not that BiA: WS is a bad game, it’s just that it gives you more of a feeling of ‘meh’ in the long term.  For that reason, and because my hand hurts even thinking about it, I can only reccommend this game for purchase by serious WWII fans, or someone who has to own every title for the DS.  Otherwise, sure, give it a rental, or pick it up on the cheap if you can find it.

This honestly feels like a title that was pushed out for the following reasons:  First, they hadn’t put out a BiA title for the DS yet, and it was time to do it.  Second, they had a way to do it using primarily the DS’s touchscreen and stylus. 

Unfortunately, just because you can do something doesn’t mean that you should.  Brothers in Arms: War Stories would have seriously benefited from some focus group testing, especially considering the fact that playing the game can bring on physical pain.  It isn’t a bad game, it just…really doesn’t feel necessary.  Only die-hard WWII or DS addicts should pick up this title, even on sale.

Ron Burke is the Editor in Chief for Gaming Trend. Currently living in Fort Worth, Texas, Ron is an old-school gamer who enjoys CRPGs, action/adventure, platformers, music games, and has recently gotten into tabletop gaming. Ron is also a fourth degree black belt, with a Master's rank in Matsumura Seito Shōrin-ryū, Moo Duk Kwan Tang Soo Do, Universal Tang Soo Do Alliance, and International Tang Soo Do Federation. He also holds ranks in several other styles in his search to be a well-rounded fighter. Ron has been married to Gaming Trend Editor, Laura Burke, for 21 years. They have three dogs - Pazuzu (Irish Terrier), Atë, and Calliope (both Australian Kelpie/Pit Bull mixes).
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