Brothers in Arms DS
There’s not much to do if your parachute’s caught in the branches of a tree other than to watch soldiers shooting into the distance, enemies returning fire, tanks rushing past, Allies and Nazis pushing up the daisies, bullets whizzing by, shouts, screams and ground-swelling explosions. And as much of an introductory set-piece this may be, after you’ve cut yourself down and are in the company of Allied troops, the action continues apace right to the very end.
Brothers in Arms (BiA) places you in the role of a soldier in the midst of an Allied group whose solidarity is continually broken down and reformed throughout the three campaigns. Through the 15-or-so missions, you are never stated as a hero but just one of the many participants in the task of driving back the Nazis that have invaded, who are trying to invade, or who are retreating from a hiding you’ve given. You’re not made to feel better than any of your other comrades, only told what and where a task needs doing; this perspective plays a great deal in the gaming experience and makes it that little bit more down-to-earth, somehow giving you one tiny bit of the stress that may have really occurred.
The fast-paced nature of BiA is helped with the continuous stream of commands issued to you; the audio and visual markers make sure you’re never left clueless about the next phase, and distances between locations can be traversed in time for you to have reloaded your weapon whilst in motion. Using the touchscreen to look around, the D-pad to move and the triggers to shoot, the whole control system is slick and simple to use. And finally, a method of throwing the grenade that is so Goddamn great; tap-and-drag the grenade icon and the game shifts to a 3D top-down view with a target that moves in accordance to the power, let go and away goes a perfectly accurate throw. Wonderful.
Those familiar with the original PC version will be slightly taken aback as to having to be continually forced to think and move, instead of in pockets of action that you dictate. This means that the DS version does hold your hand a little too much and doesn’t allow for what made the PC version so good – the planning, waiting and attacking. Indeed, although you are part of a team you can’t give orders any of them as they’re scripted to go about helping you in their own way (mainly through distracting the enemy and dying as a consequence).
Except the only thing that prevents BiA from being quick, quick, quick, is that for all the rather lovely 3D graphics and very decent textures, sprays of dust and exploding grounds, the visuals push the little handheld slightly beyond its capabilities. Many a time you’ll encounter slowdown that pulls you away from the most intimate moments of you running, dodging and shooting. It’s a real shame because just when things are going so well, it just falls apart and you panic. And this isn’t made any better by the fact that the response from the touchscreen is so incredibly slow; you’ll have thought you tapped to change weapons or go into first-person mode but maybe not, except you did and now that you’ve pressed a second time you’ll see the menu flash up and instantly disappear. It’s clear that the developers put resources into getting the game to look and feel good – something you can’t argue against – but if only they dropped it ever-so-slightly to give the controls the responsiveness they deserve, BiA could have been close to perfect.
Luckily, there’s a lot in BiA to distract you of these problems. It’s not all on-foot action; driving and attacking with jeeps and tanks occur frequently and, happily, are not always sectioned for individual missions. The numerous missions involving a mix of foot, jeep and tank greatly help in removing the tired, stale formula of one mission type after another, repeat ad nauseam. Obviously the vehicles aren’t going to have Havoc-based physics but it’s nice to have the opportunity to drive, run-over and shell the enemies. Set pieces are pretty limited usually involving the demolishion of buildings, but include you pummeling tower clocks with tank shells, or falling a building in the path of a train. On foot, there’s a cover system that is intuitive although slightly fiddly and can leave you in the open until you’ve properly mastered it. Thankfully, there’s a good bit of leeway if you’re left standing out in the cold getting shot at from all direction, and there’s even the opportunity to run up to the Nazi and smack them up-close and personal.
It may be a little short but the replayability comes in from the extra difficult levels and their newly gained in-game bonus features. There’s also multiplayer although what modes are available have not been investigated. In all, Brothers in Arms is a neat little parcel; there are some forgivable patches but otherwise it’s a very decent and worthwhile romp. It goes to show that putting some thought into creating the game makes it that little bit more exciting, kind of setting the benchmark for the NDS the way that Half-Life did for the PC.