|System: PC, X360, PS3||Review Rating Legend|
|Dev: Gearbox||1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid||4.0 - 4.4 = Great|
|Pub: Ubisoft||2.0 - 2.4 = Poor||4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy|
|Release: Oct. 7, 2008||2.5 - 2.9 = Average||5.0 = The Best|
|Players: 1-24||3.0 - 3.4 = Fair|
|ESRB Rating: Mature||3.5 - 3.9 = Good|
by Derek Hidey
Most first-person shooters based on World War II take players through the key battles and events, but the Brothers in Arms series takes a slightly different approach. Hells Highway acts as the third part in the series of games developed by Gearbox Software, and it continues the story of Matt Baker and the Airborne as they push into Holland via Operation Market Garden.
Newcomers to the series will immediately notice the large amount of attention paid to developing the characters. At times, Hells Highway feels more like an HBO miniseries than it does a video game, but this isnt necessarily a bad thing. Most of the story is played out through significant cutscenes that take place between missions and, occasionally, during them. The interesting part is how much of the dialogue is seemingly extraneous. The player will watch other characters play jokes and get into fights and arguments, all of which has nothing or very little to do with the previous or upcoming missions. It is in this way that Hells Highway is focused a great deal on narrative, and that is how it stands out against the large backdrop of other World War II shooters.
Visually, Hells Highway meets all the expectations of the Xbox 360 generation of graphics. And, for the PC version, those visuals are enhanced even more. Surprisingly, the environments vary quite well. Players will find themselves in large manors, open fields, small towns, and abandoned hospitals. While these locations arent anything new, they have been recreated with great attention to detail. Furthermore, the flow between environments is practically seamless, so players wont conclude one mission and magically find themselves standing inside of a building in the next. While these locations can be drastically different, they also dont act as odd gaps in the flow of the game.
The animations are a big part of Hells Highway. However, it is important to separate the animations into two categories: gameplay and cutscene. The gameplay animationsrunning, shooting, jumping over obstacles, and getting behind coverare fluid and believable. One of the coolest things to do is to jump a fence or bush while looking down and seeing your shadow as it accurately mirrors your movements. Now, the animations during the cutscenes are also done well, but there are some noticeable issues. There are moments when the characters movements seem stiff and unrealistic, which is strange considering how smooth the combat animations are. Moreover, facial expressions and speaking animations seem a little underdeveloped for a game that places such emphasis on narrative development. It isnt a game-breaking problem and it doesnt ruin the story at all, but if it had been just a little better, it could have proven to seal the deal on the cutscenes.
The music complements the narrative sufficiently, but there are moments where the music doesnt seem to match up with the emotion. Nevertheless, the very military-style score does the job. Similarly, the sound effects are solid, but it would seem to be a difficult task to get them wrong considering this is the third installment in the series. The concept of practice makes perfect is certainly represented in Hells Highway; all the weapons sound authentic and environments have a full range of realistic effects that increase the immersion.
Because the Brothers in Arms series relies so heavily on its ability to convey an interesting story, its characters have to be believable, identifiable, and given personality. The voice acting is probably the biggest indicator as to whether the game achieves that goal. Unfortunately, this is where players will find a mixed bag of good and bad. Sure, Hells Highway includes some credible voice talent. For instance, Dale Dye, the actor who played Colonel Robert Sink in the HBO miniseries Band of Brothers, reprises his role as Sink in Hells Highway. Nevertheless, some cutscene dialogue seems worse than others. At times, the voice acting will be nearly flawless, and then ten minutes later it will revert to something corny or laughable. It is difficult to tell whether it is entirely the voice acting or the writing, but chances are it depends on the specific example. While the game relies on the voice acting to help convey emotion, there are plenty of other factors involved. Therefore, while the voice acting is hit or miss, even when its at its worst, its still on par or better than what youll find in other games.
Hells Highway is a tactical shooter at heart, meaning that the run-and-gun style of gameplay that can be used in games like Call of Duty just wont get you very far. Instead, planning and quick thinking will make the difference. While the player is in sole control of Matt Baker during each mission, you are also given squad control of up to three types of squads. Each squad has its own function, whether it is acting as a base of fire, a defensive point, or a flanker. Controlling the squads can be odd at first. Players first have to select the squad by pushing the related key, by default they are numbers 1-3, and then they issue orders by using a mouse-over system. Hold down the order key and hover the cursor behind a sandbag and the squad will take cover behind it. If you place the cursor over a group of enemies, the squad will lay down a base of fire on them. There are times when releasing the order key will cause confusion among your squads, but, for the most part, getting them to do what you intended isnt difficult. One minor annoyance is there doesnt seem to be a way to issue orders to all squads at once. So, if you want to rally them on your location, you have to select each squad one by one and issue the order. On the other hand, this is rarely needed in the heat of battle, so it doesnt really have an impact on success.