Reviewed: November 19, 2005
Released: October 26, 2005
Whatís this? Another Brothers in Arms game? You bet your life mister. The lead developer Gearbox, along with veteran publisher Ubisoft, bring us Brothers in Arms: Earned in Blood. This title is a combination of squad-based strategy, with dynamic World War 2 gameplay, akin to shooters like Call of Duty, and Medal of Honor.
WW2 games are all the rage these days, and why not? They combine cinematic appeal, with a gritty real-life storyline that can reach across generations to enthrall. So get your boots laced up, your chin strapped tightened, and your BAR locked and loaded, we are going to get a little messyÖ
Brothers in Arms: Earned in Blood sets you in the bloody shoes of Sgt. Joe Hartsock; someone from the original game coincidently. As you progress through the 10 missions, you will run into all kinds of old buddies too, from Matt Baker and other members of the U.S. Army as you wage your way across Western Europe.
The interface should also feel very familiar, you still have the same abilites to move and command your team as before, such as flanking maneuvers, all out assaults and so on. Itís an intuitive one at that. With the click of a button you have a simple variable icon that allows for distinct orders, not to mention the birds-eye view commander mode, that stops all the action to bust out the real ďstratigery.Ē
You can wield up to two fire teams, as well as a freaking tank to stand on, ripping out massive swaths of bullets from the .50cal machinegun. I would often just lay down a suppressive base of fire, and send out my units ahead, to probe, flush, and flank.
This formula can work for pretty much the entire game, and is true to real life Army doctrines. It is important to note you canít just run in like John Rambo and spray bullets everywhere-you will die, and very fast at that. You have to be patient, use the terrain and your personnel wisely, and often you will have to progress in stages, such as taking out a bunker first, then moving adjacent to it, knocking out an anti-tank team to allow your tank support to move up, before you storm the villa holding the entrenched German garrison. Rinse and repeatÖ
If it sounds like more of the same, well you're right on the money. But at least itís quality repetition, not to mention, who ever said it was glamorous to be in the military anyway? You should be lucky you arenít marching all day, or digging foxholes for a Generalís inspection.
The real key to all of this though, is the suppression factor of the enemy. As you continue to pour on the covering fire, a little icon will pop up above their head, revealing how suppressed they are. And even though I did say you couldnít just rush in headlong, you will still have to bear your fair share of killing. Fairly simplistic enemy A.I. helps this too. They will often use cover, and never really just stand there in the open firing from the hip, but they often seem to just sit there and wait for you to attack. They rarely will regroup, outflank your corner etc.
The game design is set up for you to overcome them, not the other way around. Even the pathing doesnít allow for such non-linear options anyways. On top of this, they canít hit the broadside of a barn, or your Sherman tank for that matter. Conversely, your squad mates donít fare much better. On more than one occasion they seem to get hung up on corner, or take a slightly off beat-and dangerous-path to their objective, living you cursing and short of breathe, as you scramble after them. This is yet again another reason to stick with your big gun tank if you have it, that way, you wonít be run over by it either... Thank heaven for those checkpoints is all I have to say.
First off, the character models and vehicles are fantastic. The little gritty details are all here, even the insignias, rucksacks and so on, and are historically accurate. Characters animate smoothly as they hurdle over hedgerows, or crawl beneath barbwire, dodging enemy sniper fire. Having played the original on the PC, the gore does seem to be toned down a tad. It's kind of a shame since it already has a Mature rating - might as well go all out. Speaking of whichÖ. I sure miss Soldier of Fortune.
Environments are pretty varied, but more often than not, you will be moving in a structured path the entire time, from a confrontation with a whole German platoon, to running smack dab into an armored column. Buildings and other battlefield features look as such, broken down, burned out and scarred beyond repair.
The performance does chug at times too, mainly during really intense firefights, something kind of odd considering the previous game didnít seem to have this issue. They did seem to buff up the lighting effects, especially the weapons effects and sunlight.
As always, Brothers in Arms: Earned in Blood delivers some vibrant sounds. The weapons effects are spot on, and leap off the screen, from every crack of a M1 Garand, to the buzzing of a German MG-42 raking into your squad. Heck, when your rolling on your tank, the sucker can shake the foundation of your house, if you have surround sound going.
The voice acting is also solid, whether it is the believable dialogue in the cut scenes, or the numerous shouts and quips during the action. Gearbox also did a nice job of capturing the war-torn ambience of the front line, from far off artillery, planes buzzing overhead and so on, itís really top notch indeed.
The single-player campaign will keep you busy for a day or two, around 10-12 hours for most gamers, which is a fairly standard rate these days for shooters. But its life is also extended with a capable multiplayer function. You can hop right into any mission co-op style, something you can always appreciate. We are often so drowned out by all this versus gameplay around us, and we forget how fun it is to team up to kick some virtual ass. Better yet, this can be played in split-screen, and online if you so desire.
Along with this, there are several other game modes; such as timed assault, forcing you to dispatch enemies in a certain time limit, and a nearly insane mode to complete several missions on only a single life. The objective based multiplayer, for 2-4, is also compelling, trudging you through nearly twenty maps. You have to be more on your toes this time around, as your opponent has the very real-and deadly- ability to out flank, and pin you down. Gotta love the life of the ďGreen MachineĒ eh?
Brothers in Arms: Earned in Blood has itís own unique formula working for it, coupled with a respected genre of WW2; itís a winning combination indeed. Add to this the solid graphics, the intense sound of warfare, and the electrifying strategy of squad command, and you have another great title from Gearbox. However, our patience for ingenuity is waning, and I only hope we can see some fresh features in the next installment.