Reviewed: July 16, 2007
Released: June 19, 2007
Brothers in Arms DS is the latest offering from Ubisoft’s handheld division, Gameloft; the company that brings you all those cell phone games, only this time they’ve struck solid gold with a vibrant WWII game that is not only very representative of the console and PC titles, but fun and challenging to play as well. Frankly, I had no idea the DS was capable of pulling off half of what I saw in this game, and at times it seems the designers actually exceeded the technical specs of Nintendo’s handheld.
For veterans of the previous Brothers in Arms game, you will all likely remember the brilliant mix of action and strategy, combined with historically relevant battles exhaustively researched down to the last detail. You can expect that same level of intensity and authenticity with the DS version as you take part in 16 missions spanning three major campaigns from North Africa to Normandy.
I seriously had my doubts when I powered on Brothers in Arms DS. The PSP had its own fair share of problems trying to bring this franchise to the handhelds, so I couldn’t imagine the DS doing any better. Boy was I wrong. The game has definitely been tweaked for the DS making the most of the touch screen for everything from switching weapons to aiming and determining the distance when throwing a grenade.
The entire touchscreen is used allowing for maximum motion and ultimate precision when it comes to aiming or tracking your stylus along the vertical meter to arc a grenade into an enemy bunker. The weapon inventory is kept at the top of the screen allowing you to switch guns when needed and not by accident.
Most importantly, they configured the rest of the buttons in such a way that you can actually use the stylus rather than the thumb strap nub. I was amazed at the level of control and precision I had moving and aiming. Commands and movements that could have been problem areas – like taking cover – are all handled automatically. Just move up to any wall or object and your soldier will snap to cover allowing a new set of tactical movements.
Brothers in Arms DS mixes up the combat with all sorts of scripted sequences like manning the turret of an NPC-driven jeep or climbing inside a tank and blasting away with the big guns. These are some of the most exciting moments in the game.
AI is a bit lacking for both your comrades and the enemy, but is more easily detected on the enemies, especially if you deviate from the anticipated path of the designers. Then again, there is something to be said for a solid flanking strategy, but it seemed all too easy to sneak around and catch an enemy machine gun nest from the side and they wouldn’t even take notice as I started picking them apart one by one.
The 16 missions cover surprisingly large and diverse levels ranging from grassy fields to sandy deserts and snowy mountains. And while there is a small illusion of open-ended gameplay it won’t take long to realize you are being led by the hand to each waypoint and fighting all the enemies cleverly scripted to appear between points A, B, and C. Still, for a DS game that is admittedly a port from a cell phone game, Brothers in Arms is most impressive.
The screenshots don’t like. Brothers in Arms DS is one of the better looking DS games I’ve played this year, both in detail and sheer artistry. Subtle touches like making the touch screen blend with the environments in the top view, and colorful icons for grenades and weapons are just a few brilliant touches.
The action unfolds in the top view with a third-person camera that is perfect for showing off the stunning graphics while creating a tactical feel to the gameplay. Then combine that with nicely detailed characters, easily identifiable enemies, icons showing where to go, and beautiful scenery with painted backgrounds fleshed out with solid 3D architecture and boasting some of the best textures the DS has seen to date. The framerate does take the occasional hit, especially in the driving levels where things are moving along much more quickly than on foot, but the gameplay never suffered.
There is a fantastic soundtrack full or patriotic and military themes that gets your adrenaline pumping in the menus and mission briefings, but once you hit the battlefield the sound thins down to gunfire and explosions. These sounds are excellent with each weapon creating a unique and realistic sound and the explosions are powerful, especially if you are using some good headphones or piping your audio out to a larger sound system.
Most gamers will storm their way through the 16 campaign missions in 5-8 hours. Even by DS standards Brothers in Arms DS is a short game, made even shorter by the fact that the game is just so darn good you don’t want it to end. There is a Veteran mode you can tackle if you want to ramp up the difficulty but it’s the same missions, just harder AI and a stricter damage model.
There is support for up to four players using Wi-Fi local play, but each player must have their own copy of the game. It would have been fun to have some limited single-card play or at least a demo I could use to tempt other DS owners into getting their own copy.
If you want to talk somebody into buying a DS then this is the game you’ll want to show them. Brothers in Arms DS pushes all the boundaries of technology while delivering a solid action war game whose only fault is that it is over all too quickly. War might be hell, but Brothers in Arms on the DS is a heavenly experience and one that no action gamer should miss out on.