Brothers in Arms: Hells Highway Review for PC

Brothers in Arms: Hells Highway Review for PC

One Hell of an Experience

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. Hell’s 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.

Brothers in Arms: Hell’s Highway screenshot

Newcomers to the series will immediately notice the large amount of attention paid to developing the characters. At times, Hell’s Highway feels more like an HBO miniseries than it does a video game, but this isn’t 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 Hell’s 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, Hell’s 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 aren’t anything new, they have been recreated with great attention to detail. Furthermore, the flow between environments is practically seamless, so players won’t conclude one mission and magically find themselves standing inside of a building in the next. While these locations can be drastically different, they also don’t act as odd gaps in the flow of the game.

Brothers in Arms: Hell’s Highway screenshot

The animations are a big part of Hell’s Highway. However, it is important to separate the animations into two categories: gameplay and cutscene. The gameplay animations—running, shooting, jumping over obstacles, and getting behind cover—are 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 isn’t a game-breaking problem and it doesn’t 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 doesn’t 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 Hell’s Highway; all the weapons sound authentic and environments have a full range of realistic effects that increase the immersion.

Brothers in Arms: Hell’s Highway screenshot

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, Hell’s 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 Hell’s 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 it’s at its worst, it’s still on par or better than what you’ll find in other games.

Hell’s 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 won’t 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 isn’t difficult. One minor annoyance is there doesn’t 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 doesn’t really have an impact on success.

Individual controls are of the standard first-person shooter variety. There isn’t a prone position, but there is a “Dig in” feature, which is the same key used to get up against cover; takes some getting used to. At first, figuring out exactly how the character can be moved behind cover is a trial and error experience. But, once mastered, moving between cover and taking out enemies becomes fast-paced and second-nature.

Brothers in Arms: Hell’s Highway screenshot

Hell’s Highway also boasts an action camera feature that slows down time and lets the player experience the excessively brutal part of war: dismemberment. For example, if you throw a grenade in the middle of a group of enemy soldiers, if the damage is serious enough, the camera will slow down and let you experience slow-motion carnage. The action camera also comes into play when the player manages to get a head shot, but, luckily, the realism isn’t completely disregarded, as the enemy soldier’s head does stay attached to his body. Typically, bullet-time-like features are more common in science-fiction shooters, but Gearbox has managed to bring it to the historical shooter fairly well. It doesn’t occur too often to be annoying, but when it does happen, it does provide a bit of satisfaction. And, the best part is, there is an option to turn it off, so if it isn’t your thing, it doesn’t have to be present.

The multiplayer component to Hell’s Highway drops the squad-based A.I. in favor of a more traditional FPS experience. Players can join multiplayer matches of up to 24 and duke it out in attack/defend scenarios that span across a healthy number of unique maps. This portion of the game is setup to allow for squad-based combat by placing each player into one of four squads and then assigning a squad leader. There is in-game VOIP available to help create unity among the players, but its effectiveness depends on the players’ willingness to use it. Tanks do play a role in the multiplayer, as the attacking team is issued the use of one to help make the push for the flags.

There are some drawbacks to the multiplayer, however, in that it is extremely buggy. Player animations will often do strange things, making players stand and move in odd poses, creating a laugh about the first 20 times it’s seen, but becoming bothersome after that. Using cover doesn’t always seem to work either, as getting close to an edge almost always exposes enough to be shot and killed easily. Map designs are pretty standard and don’t offer the same effect that the single-player environments do, making it appear as if the developers didn’t put much time or effort into them. Furthermore, finding a nicely populated game without a lot of lag can be a difficult task. If it’s this hard to just find a match to participate in, the rest of the experience certainly doesn’t make up for it.

Hell’s Highway multiplayer component has all the evidence of a rush job. And, a lot of its success and enjoyment depends on the people you’re playing with. Nevertheless, Gearbox could certainly patch the game and provide a more stable foundation, but until then, there are better World War II multiplayer games available.

Fans of the series shouldn’t be disappointed by what Gearbox has done with Hell’s Highway. The focus for these titles has always been on the single-player campaign, plot, and characters, and all these things come together quite nicely. The player will find that Hell’s Highway offers an enjoyable experience from start to finish despite it’s less than perfect execution. While the multiplayer has potential, in its current state it has far too many issues to be a consistently fun endeavor. Therefore, if you’re planning on seeing the Brothers in Arms story through to the end, Hell’s Highway is a must buy. If you’re a newcomer to the series, it’s recommended that you play the first two before delving into this one, as you’ll miss out on the developed story up to that point. If you’re looking for a new World War II multiplayer experience, it would be best to skip over Hell’s Highway and wait for something a little more multiplayer-oriented.

A great-looking game that stands the test of time, but is marked by some stiff animations. 3.5 Control
Standard FPS controls that are done well with the exception of less than intuitive cover controls and an occasionally irritating over-the-shoulder camera. 3.5 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
A fitting musical score and great sound effects help breathe life, but the hit or miss voice acting can be both believable and laughable at times. 3.5 Play Value
Challenging and realistic gameplay is provided, but the lack of polish in the multiplayer severely limits the replayability. 3.4 Overall Rating – Fair
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.

Game Features:

  • Experience Operation Market Garden: Take part in the infamous plan to end the war by Christmas 1944 and experience the pain and suffering of the Allied defeat in what became known as Hell’s Highway.
  • Squad-Based A.I.: Control up to three squads and coordinate them to help overtake your enemies.
  • Developed and Personal Narrative: Experience the war from the boots of fictional soldier Matt Baker and experience both a personal and universal war story unlike any other.

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