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March 2005

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Brothers in Arms: Road to Hill 30: Once More Unto the Breach

Genre: Greatest Generation Shooter Publisher: Ubisoft Developer: Gearbox Software Platform: PC, PS2, Xbox Metacritic Metascore: 89

How many ways can we fight World War II? I have stormed the digital beaches of Normandy so many times I’ve lost count and I’ve killed more virtual Germans than Tom Hanks and Gary Cooper combined. From first-person shooters and real-time strategy games to hardcore wargames, World War II is arguably the most saturated era in all of Game Land. Yet we continue to flock to them whenever the next big thing hits the scene. Brothers in Arms: Road to Hill 30 is no different. On the surface, it’s just another squad-based 3D shooter with you as the American Hero doing battle against legions of Germans à la Call of Duty or Medal of Honor. But not only would such a rush to judgment be unfair, you’d also be missing out on one heck of a game.

Covering Fire!

Brothers in Arms: Road to Hill 30 is almost as much a strategy game as it is a first-person shooter. As Sgt. Matt Baker of the 101st Airborne, you are in complete control of your squad. You order troops to lay down suppressing fire or to attack an enemy flank, and so on. You simply cannot complete the missions on your own; you must use your fellow soldiers to your advantage. If you ever wanted to play Tom Hanks’s role in Saving Private Ryan or Captain Winters from the HBO Band of Brothers series, this is your game.

Brothers in Arms also shoots for realism. There are no floating armor kits or magic health packs laying around for you to snatch up and instantaneously stitch your wounds in the middle of a firefight. If you take several rounds from a German machine gun, it’ll rip you to pieces. Discretion is the better part of valor here.

There are a few hiccups. The missions have a distinct puzzle-like feel to them. You almost get the feeling that the developers have a certain way in which they want you to approach a mission, so you don’t have the complete freedom to get creative that you would in a real battle situation. Still, as World War II shooters go, this is definitely worth the price of admission.

Earned in Blood

Released in time for the 2005 holidays, Brothers in Arms: Earned in Blood shows the events from Road to Hill 30 from the perspective of another 101st Airborne soldier, "Red" Hartsock, who was the leader of a fireteam under Sgt. Baker.

It’s hard to say whether this is a sequel or more of an expansion pack. Despite Ubisoft’s claims that it uses better technology, it still looks a lot like Road to Hill 30. There are new features, to be sure, but perhaps the most anticipated addition is the realized AI that will hopefully make things feel less like a puzzle and more like an unscripted firefight.

Lastly, the game ships with enhanced co-op multiplayer for every platform with maps unique to that mode of play, so you won’t be simply rehashing the same maps from the campaign.

Gearbox Software, developer of Brothers in Arms, also lists the PC version of Halo and the PS1 version of Half-Life on its company résumé.

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