Brothers in Arms: Earned Blood addresses some of the issues of its predecessor, Road to Hill 30. But in the process it comes across as more of an expansion pack than a true, stand-alone game.

Fans of Road to Hill 30 will no doubt revel in Earned Blood as it does provide more of the same gameplay that cultivated a rabid fan base for the original game. I would have liked to see a lot more additions in this version and not just upgrades. It's definitely a better game than Road to Hill 30 but not by miles.

One of the inherent problems with bringing tactical shooters to the console is that the control system is not as sophisticated as the keyboard and the mouse combination. Commands can be issued quickly with hot key commands and the precision aiming of the mouse has not been rivaled by any analog stick or D-pad. The Xbox makes a good attempt by offering menus which can be accessed quickly but the accuracy of the stick will result in missed shots and even wrong commands. It's just something you have to live with.

Told in story form by Joe "Red" Hartsock, he relives the events surrounding D-Day while he and his squad succeed in sending the Nazi's back to Hell. Red must lead his paratroopers past Hill 30. This is done through a series of commands that indicate where the squad is to go and what they are to do when confronted by various situations. The pathfinding isn't perfect and you'll sometimes find some of your teammates standing out in the open taking a chest-full of lead. You can chose to revive fallen comrades for the next mission or replay it and attempt to keep everyone alive. It's frustrating when you find that the reason some of your men get killed is due to faulty pathfinding or sloppy controls.

New weapons, vehicles and maps have been added. Even though the locations might be different they still have the same fields, forests and urban-ness that we experienced in the last game. Arguably the best addition has been the upgraded intelligence of the enemy. They don't just stay in one position and wait for you to surround them. They keep their eyes open and if they see you moving in one direction they will move to a safer position. You won't be able to catch them by surprise anymore but they might be able to do it to you if you're not careful. If need be they will retreat but you might be able to get them to retreat into awaiting units and ambush them. The upgraded AI makes this game more challenging but also more frustrating.

Upgraded online modes add more replay value to this version. You can play Deathmatches and Skirmishes in co-op fashion. The gameplay is more exciting than the single-player story mode in that the Germans will actually be attacking you but there is so much overlap between the online and offline modes that the gameplay becomes repetitive quickly. There are only so many ways you can flank your enemy and only so many ways to use your weapons or vehicles. Characters don't gain experience points and very few new challenges or variables are introduced although you can play the game as a German.

Earned Blood looks similar to Road to Hill 30 although there are some pleasant upgrades that give certain scenes a photo-realistic look to them. The animation is very smooth, especially the dying scenes which look incredibly realistic. You almost feel sorry for the poor bastards. The characters, like most of the environments, are well rendered and convey a great deal of detail and dimensional depth. The cutscenes are moving and dynamic and clearly illustrate your objectives and motives. The symphonic soundtrack is a perfect accompaniment to the action. Sound effects are loud, sharp and take full advantage of surround sound, putting you in the middle of a war zone. Some of the voiceovers issue the same commands over and over. I would hate them even more if they weren't actually useful in the context of the situation.

To call Earned Blood a sequel is pushing it. It hasn't even been a year since the last game and that's evidenced by the similar nature of the gameplay between the two games. It's fun and well produced but it's a console version of an expansion pack and nothing more.

System: Xbox, PS2, PC
Dev: GearBox / Shanghai
Pub: Ubi Soft
Release: Oct 2005
Players: 1 - multi online
Review by StewXX