Monday, 17 December 2012

Brothers in Arms: Hell's Highway: Game Design Review

The third in the series, Brothers in Arms: Hell's Highway follows Matt Baker and his squad of men as they take part in Operation Market Garden. Like in previous games, it's a tactical squad-based FPS where you control Baker and yell out orders to your various squads.

As far as I could tell, there were only several real differences compared to its predecessors aside from better graphics. Note that this only applies to the single player, not sure how the multiplayer is any different.

Destructible cover- You can now blow up and destroy scenery with your bazooka squad or grenades. This is extremely fun actually and adds a bit of tactical variety. You can now force enemy squads into destructible cover and then blow up the cover!

Cover based shooting and healing- Like modern shooters you can now take cover behind chest-high walls and you heal slowly if you wait a little.

Grenading close targets- In previous game, sometimes the game would end up in a stalemate with your troops and enemy squads being several metres apart firing at each other behind cover. Now, if you're close enough you can order them to grenade the location instead which is much more fun and safer for your guys ending stalemates much more easily.

Otherwise the game and the tactics involved are the same. You still have to fix/suppress them with fire and then flank them.

Game Design issues
The main criticisms of this game are the same as in my review of the previous game in the series.

Lack of order queuing- In the game you can order people to provide cover fire and attack enemy squads  but you can't actually queue orders. I believe this was done quite deliberately to to make the game much more immediate and accessible for console players and also force you into action.

Missing tank control- In the previous games, you could order a tank around which acted as a powerful weapon and also as mobile cover. In this game, the tank has been removed from the main game. Instead you occasionally get to control a tank in an action sequence. The tank sections are okay but frankly ordering a tank around the battlefield is much more fun.

Squad situational awareness against explosives and threats- While squad members will take cover appropriately, they aren't particularly good at avoiding getting blown up by tank shells or explosives just like in previous games. They pretty stay exactly where they are and die regardless or how horrible the situation is going. You have to pretty much tell me where exactly where you want them to go.

Indoor gameplay- During the single player campaign, Baker will sometimes be separated from the squad indoors and have to shoot his way out. Unfortunately this is where the problems of the cover-based system are exposed. Because of the narrow corridors, all too often Barker's head often obscures your view and enemies also tend to run into you more often giving you little chance to react. There isn't a close range attack so it can frustrating at times when you die because you're reloading while the enemy is less than a metre way.

Linearity- This is a very linear journey from set piece to set piece and very short. There are no optional areas or missions which is a bit of a shame really. I think a couple branching areas would have livened things up a bit and added a bit of replayability.

A lot of my criticisms focused around the problems inherent creating a game like this. Who do you please? The action-orientated gamers or the more hardcore simulation gamers? This is not a simulation game, this a squad-based action shooter primarily for the consoles and it's hard to criticise the game on it's simple command system and controls because that's exactly what it set out to do. It's still an engaging if linear game and good for a couple of hours.

I enjoyed this entry into the series, and its a good solid action game. It doesn't stray far from the mould of the original games so if you enjoyed those you'll enjoy this but if you're looking for something different, it's best to look else where!

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