Brothers In Arms: Hell’s Highway
War is ugly, but you wouldn’t be able to tell that from Hell’s Highway, the third game in the Brothers In Arms WWII shooter series. Never before has the relentless waste of life and systematic destruction of the human spirit looked so damned pretty. From the brightly coloured corn fields of the opening battle in Denmark to the hellish firebombing in the battle for the city of Eindhoven, Hell’s Highway is a cavalcade of spectacle. And that’s just the in-game stuff; the cutscenes are directed with a cinematic flair not seen in many films, much less video games.
Sadly, the rest of the game isn’t quite enough to support the visuals. The gameplay, which merges small-scale strategy with first- and third-person shooting, ultimately boils down to the same routine: send the heavy arms team to point X to suppress the enemy with covering fire while you and the attack team flank the baddies and take them out. Elements like elevated terrain and foxholes add a little complexity, but for the most part it’s pretty obvious where the game wants you to take cover in its linear theatres of war.
Attempts are made to spice things up with a few solo missions and a tank level, but these basically boil down to hiding behind cover (even in your armoured tank) and picking off baddies at a distance. Repetition is everything in this game, it seems.
This wouldn’t be so bad if there was a compelling storyline, but for those who haven’t played the first two Brothers In Arms games, the plot of Hell’s Highway is virtually incomprehensible. After a recap sequence that’s about as illuminating as a damp match, newcomers are thrust into a squadron of virtually identical-looking soldiers (human design and animation being the one thing the graphical wizards couldn’t manage, it seems) having Tarantino-esque ‘real’ conversations while a single camera darts chaotically between them like a stunned toddler.
This kind of one-camera-take looks great in Generation Kill, when there are actual humans with recognisable faces that we can latch on to, but in a videogame populated by creepy mannequins it’s just stupendously confusing. And it makes a mockery of the game’s subsequent attempts to proselytise about the horrors of war by killing some of these guys off – as does the insistence on using a slow-mo ‘action cam’ whenever you score a cool kill. Because American GIs dying is tragic, but a German soldier’s brain spurting out of his burst noggin is kewl. And yes, yes: Nazis. But over the past few years we’ve killed more virtual Nazis than there were actual Axis soldiers in WWII. We’re almost feeling sorry for them.
Anyway, moral quandaries aside, Hell’s Highway is far from being a success. The designers have got the graphics down pat – if only they could do something about the gameplay.
Available in stores.