|System: PC, PS2, Xbox, Wii|
|Dev: Gearbox Software|
|Release: March 1, 2005|
|Screen Resolution: N/A||Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Strong Language|
by Josh Engen
It's rather unfortunate that so many gamers considered Brothers in Arms: Road To Hill 30 to be one of the more disposable first-person shooters out there. But, even though Brothers was critically praised and received overwhelmingly positive reviews, I'll be the first to admit that it doesn't belong on many Top 10 lists. However, in the category of "World War Games," Brothers in Arms: Road To Hill 30 absolutely deserves a seat at the table. In fact, some would argue that it deserves to sit at the head of the table.
The reason Hill 30 deserves such respect has more to do with the individual player's preference than quality of the game itself. See, while most World War II shooters were specializing in fast-paced action and over-the-top visuals, Brothers in Arms was focusing on storytelling. Gearbox, the developer behind Road to Hill 30, concentrated heavily on character development, historical accuracy, and cinematic craftsmanship. At the time, games like Call of Duty and Battlefield 1942 were redefining the FPS genre, but Brothers in Arms was attempting to carve out a new genre altogether. So, in order to be a genuine fan of Hill 30, you needed to be the type of person who preferred long-winded character development to explosive action. You also needed to be the type of person who was constantly attempting to understand the depths of the human condition. You would probably also prefer Terrence Malick to Michael Bay, and your friends would call you a pantywaist behind your back.
Unfortunately, these types of players were (and still are) hard to find, probably because they're too busy reading poetry or holding hands with their girlfriends. Pantywaists.
Brothers in Arms had a distinctive cinematic quality that seemed to echo films like Saving Private Ryan or the TV series Band of Brothers. Hill 30's story followed Sergeant Matt Baker, a character primarily based on Harrison C. Summers, a real-life member of the 101st Airborne Division in 1944. For those of you who failed American History, the 101st was famous for parachuting into a few of the most infamous battles in WW2, including the D-Day invasion and The Battle of the Bulge. By using real-life soldiers as the basis for their characters, Gearbox managed to give the game a uniquely personal feel.
And actually, the characters were only the start of the historical connections.
For example, the portrayal of World War II in Hill 30 was so realistic that it garnered accolades from academic historians and soldiers alike. In fact, Road to Hill 30 was fully endorsed by the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the National D-Day museum. How many other video games can you name that were endorsed by a museum?
And that's only the half of it. In addition to the accuracy of BiA's portrayal of WW2, players were tasked with completing a series of true-to-life missions based on the historical "Mission Albany." Albany was the operation that eventually kicked off the D-Day invasion.
As players completed each mission in the 17-chapter campaign, they would unlock historical extras like real photos taken by Summers and his crew, as well as actual reconnaissance photos of the operations. I think it's safe to assume that Brothers in Arms: Road To Hill 30 is the only game that allows you to slaughter another country's military while simultaneously giving you an accurate history lesson.
Unlike most shooters, the Brothers' storyline unfolded slowly, paying unique attention to detail. Players were treated to cutscenes that allowed them to get to know the other members of their division (also based on real-life soldiers). The scenes also gave a recap of the missions and highlighted their significance from a historical perspective. There was also a palpable level of introspection built into BiA. Baker and his crew were constantly musing about the personal effects of war, and these conversations were punctuated with concentrated moments of intense action.
The gameplay in BiA was also unique. Most first-person shooters of the day encouraged intense individuality, but Gearbox consciously downplayed this aspect by highlighting squad-based play. BiA was one of the earliest titles to include tactical elements and team play within an FPS.
But the thing that solidified BiA's spot on the "Best World War Games" list was its inclusion in a documentary about the Normandy invasion. In 2005, the History Channel used Brothers in Arms to recreate scenarios for its documentary special, aptly titled Brothers in Arms.
It pains me to say this, but I think the lack of widespread appeal for Brothers in Arms says more about the underlying problems with our attention spans and distaste for cooperative play than about the quality of the game itself. Fortunately, innovations like tactical, team-based play have become a part of mainstream gaming. Now, if only we could convince people to stop watching the Micheal Bay films, society might be saved.
CCC Contributing Writer