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October 28, 2008
Brothers In Arms Hell's Highway - PS3 Review
Release Distributor Publisher Developer Offline Players Online Players
Media HDD Space Resolution Sound Format Tilt Controls OFLC Rating

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Looks like you're taking some damage there.
A little while ago, World War II shooters were a dime a dozen; series such as Call Of Duty, Medal of Honor, Battlefield and Wolfenstein have all had their time in the sun, each with their own fortes making them stand out from one another whilst still all being part of their almost cookie-cutter subgenre. More recently though these games have been released less-regularly than we've been used to; with the last Medal of Honor game being released over a year ago, and Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare being based in current day rather than during the second world war, you'd almost think that this genre's well had dried up. Enter stage left, the latest game for the Brothers in Arms series; Hell's Highway. And while the majority of the hype leading up to Hell's Highway's release revolved around the game's brutal and violent graphics, there's plenty more depth to the game than blood and stray limbs, and it just goes to show that this genre still has some life in it yet.

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Buildings around Hell's Highway are on fire.
Brothers in Arms: Hell's Highway focuses on the experiences of Staff Sergeant Matt Baker, a soldier from the 101st Airborne division, who is a bit of an emotional loner because of his prior experiences in the Normandy landings (from the last Brothers in Arms title). The story sets out with Baker and his squad fighting in Operation Market Garden, tromping through the green German fields and beyond. Baker's emotional scars from Normandy become a focal point of the storyline, together with his 'cursed' pistol, which give the story sufficient depth to keep you playing through, rather than just the usual 'kill ze Germans' motivation of a game such as this. While the story does continue on from Brothers in Arms title, Hell's Highway is still very much accessible to those players new to the series. In fact, for a Brothers in Arms newbie like myself, the storyline and the way the player is immersed within Hell's Highway was one of the big 'wow' moments that I experienced during the game; while the cutscenes only use in-game graphics, they have an almost cinematic feel to them, and really add to the way you feel towards Baker as well as the rest of your team.

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The amount of grass here is stunning!
Rather than just having your usual first-person shooter all-guns-blazing approach, Hell's Highway has a strong emphasis on tactics, primarily involving distraction and flanking. For instance, you can order your troops to provide covering fire to keep ze Germans busy, and once they're suppressed you can sneak around behind them and pop them off with minimal danger to yourself and your squad. Commanding up to two assault and bazooka teams, this makes the team-focussed gameplay one of the strong points of the game, as it lets you concentrate on the tactics as well as the aiming, shooting and dodging which we've come to expect from first person shooters.

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Battles around the streets in BIAHH.
You're not always part of the team in Hell's Highway; occasionally you'll become separated from your squad, and you'll have to resort to the every-man-for-himself guns-blazing strategies. Unfortunately though, it's the strong team-based sections which makes the lone-wolf parts of the game somewhat awkward and unenjoyable. The controls just aren't quite 100% tight and together (such as in Call of Duty 4), however the big letdown is the AI. While the majority of the game is played out as firefights between your squad and defended pockets of axis baddies, they have very little motivation to run at you or play your own tactics game against you. In fact, just left to themselves (with you just hiding behind something, not providing covering fire), they're happy just to sit there behind a wall, popping out occasionally to send some bullets near your position, and then just wait. Hey, you could go fetch a coffee, take a dump and mow the lawns, come back and still expect them to be just waiting for you to do something. While newbies might appreciate this predictability of the AI, it soon becomes old hat, and means that when you die, it's out of your own forced errors rather than something clever that the AI is doing.

Multiplayer is something which is expected in virtually all first person shooters these days, however the developers behind Hell's Highway have really put together a last-minute hack job and it really isn't an enjoyable mode of the game. Aside from bad lag and a poor, almost unusable interface, the actual gameplay of the multiplayer mode is limited to capture-the-flag gameplay. While this would be fine as a multiplayer mode option, limiting this to the only multiplayer mode is silly given that it goes against the grain of the gameplay of the rest of the game and just doesn't suit the game one bit.

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The town is pretty much destroyed.
Visually, the player models are really well done; not only is everything smooth and moves fluidly as you'd expect, but there are little touches which go above and beyond what we normally see in WW2 shooters. Most if not all of the characters have different facial models as well as textures, which change depending upon the level and environment you're playing in. For example, early on in the game your character Baker is fresh and clean shaven, whereas on other levels dirt, fatigue and tiredness take their toll. And we're not just talking about a bit of brown muck pasted on here and there, but rather dirt in the small wrinkles, pores and cracks of the skin where in reality you'd expect it to settle. Yes, it's that detailed.

Unfortunately the detail doesn't carry through consistently. The player models are let down by some pretty average scenery in parts, and even worse (ie non-existent) animations – for instance the d-pad lets you command your squad, with visual cues, as well as your main character yelling at them… with his mouth shut. If you can give the player a 3rd person view of the main character, with astonishingly fine detail, then it's madness not to have his mouth flap open when he's yelling out orders.

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Don't look at the scenery, start shooting.
In addition, lighting in general is rather poorly done too – while they've covered up for it with some nice pre-lit pre-rendered textures, it doesn't take long to pick some odd-looking surfaces and objects which don't match up; i.e. they glow too much or are pitch black compared to their surroundings. Particularly in the indoor levels and in shaded areas this is apparent, like 'glowing' paintings on the walls inside German houses, but for the majority of the game this will go unnoticed.

While the visuals really shine at times in Hell's Highway, so does the audio. A brilliant orchestral score backs the gameplay throughout, and further adds depth to the cinematic cutscenes. Sound effects are well up to par too, with loads of meaty explosions and gunshot sounds. In a somewhat refreshing move too, there are loads of different audio samples for Baker and his squad when giving and responding to orders. While you may order the same squad to follow you and move behind cover several dozen times in a level, it's rare that you'll hear the same audio clip more than once.

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Now check out that for destruction!
I'll admit I was a little sceptical first putting Hell's Highway into my PS3; all of the previews of the game seemed to focus on the blood-filled body-dismembering violence in the game, and even the sheep-killing which (surprisingly) has still made the Australian gold release. Having played the game solidly for a good 20+ hours since, and going back again to discover more, I'm pleasantly surprised at what Hell's Highway has to offer. Granted, it isn't a perfect game, and there are flaws in almost all aspects of the game, but in telling an engrossing and engaging story it really does hit the nail on the head. World War 2 nuts will have a ball with this game, and for the casual FPS fan, the single player mode is one that will keep you glued to the box for a good weekend straight. Unfortunately the multiplayer (or rather, lack of) mightn't make this game appeal to everyone, but if you get the chance to hire this, or pick it up for cheap, definitely give Brothers in Arms: Hell's Highway a shot (yeah... there had to be a cheesy pun in here somewhere).

Review By: Chris Gobbett

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GRAPHICSHardly consistent, but the sexy visuals far outweigh the bland ones.
SOUNDPlenty of voice samples, and a great orchestrated score.
GAMEPLAYThe team play in single player is very satisfying and backed by a moving story; it's a shame about the multiplayer.
VALUEChecklisted objectives and extras are great, multiplayer smells though.
OVERALLBrothers in Arms: Hell's Highway offers a solid WW2 shooter which has a superbly atmospheric single player mode, which is let down by some sloppy gameplay sections and a last-minute hack at multiplayer. That said, it's a very good game, and one that I'd recommend, particularly if you enjoy the odd first person shooter.

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