BATTLE EUROPE! (part three): the Brothers in Arms series

Watching battles unfold in the HBO mini-seires, Band of Brothers, I commonly envisioned two things: 1) how I would handle myself in those situations – would I die quickly or make an adequate soldier? And 2) how these scenes were similar to experiences I’ve had playing Brothers in Arms.

So let’s get this obvious point over with; Brothers in Arms is basically the videogame version of Band of Brothers, and in some respects, it’s an uncrediting ripoff. But, if I imagine the series as a standalone I idea, I think they are majorly cool; mainly because they offer the most realistic soldier’s vantage point I’ve ever experienced in a video game. And that’s the whole point of my Battle Europe! series of posts – to examine soldier portrayals historically and emotionally accurate to the greatest war.

Starting with The Road to Hill 30, the Brothers in Arms series establishes a very personal look at the main character and at the characters surrounding him. There’s an emphasis on dialogue and interpersonal mingling to establish friendships and comfortable feelings, making the battle scenes all the more meaningful – the same route Band of Brothers took.

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Along with that, the combat system is drastically different the normal Call of Duty point, shoot, charge, and throw grenades sort of gameplay. In Brothers in Arms, there is a focus on strategy as if it were a RTS, but in first person. Combat situations present a manditory use of flanking, suppression fire, and squad positioning. In the end, combat has little to do with aiming your weapon as the more important thing is to position your squad to a place where the enemy is exposed. And the soldiers you command are a lot less likely to die than in other games (unless you lead them straight into fire, of course), and when they do get injured, it feels especially heart-wrenching because you can draw back on experiences of conversing with them and getting to know them. I’d say that’s a much more interesting tribute to the soldiers of WWII, and more accurate.

In the end, I didn’t care too much for Road to Hill 30 because of its unshakably dry nature, and the combat situations were not all that varied. I barely remember anything about Baker’s (the main character’s) story in that one, I just remember that it ended with Baker leading the two tanks onto the Hill as a finale. I wasn’t all that impressed with the experience as a whole, but I still found the concept very fascinating.

Now, with Earned in Blood, the second of the series, it was a totally different experience for me. I really fell into the story and felt every little bit of feeling tied to it.

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I found Hartsock, the lead of the second game, to be much better as a protagonist. There was something honest about his voice, and the way the game flashed back to his interview in between each scene of the game to get his personally voiced outlook on the situation was very compelling. The combat situations remained pretty much the same, but the settings all around, were more foreboding and gray, along with being slightly more varied than in the first game. There’s an sense of grand doom that’s only subtly hinted, and it made me really concerned for what would happen next.

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I felt an attachment to this story, and there’s so many emotional moments. The end battle scene directly after the death of one of Hartsock’s close friends felt very epic to me. The experience I had with it made it one of my favorite games. 

Finally, the third installment, Hell’s Highway, is hugely different than the previous two – probably a response to the expectations of next-generation graphic systems. The environments are very wide ranging, the emotion of story is pushed to extremes and displayed more cinematically (and in some cases like a creepy David Lynch film), and the combat intensity is increased for the sake of gamer adrenaline.

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There’s a significant update in graphic presentation including directX 9 style shading and lighting, which was a big plus. Certain environments sure were pretty, especially when drenched in rain.

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But the thing that made me not really care for this game (and most modern games) as much as the previous release was the forced epic-ness. All the emotion is kind of told to you, rather than letting you feel it on your own, and there’s a lack of nuanced, subtle doom, and rather a obvious sort of doom. Maybe the subtly of the second game is just in my imagination, but it’s what I liked most about it. Hell’s Highway just feels like a movie at times.  It’s definitely more of a commercial enterprise than a documentative representation and thus wasn’t as successful at depicting the true World War II experience as prior games.

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But the game is very well crafted. The combat is likely the best of all three games, the spectacle is definitely grand and presenting grandly, and the addition of surreal moments to add to Baker’s struggle with the subconscious made it unique.

Honestly though, I had a blast playing this… as well as the first two. At putting you in the shoes of a 1940s soldier invading Europe, the Brothers in Arms series is the most accurate I’ve seen.

Now for ratings:

2005’s Brothers in Arms: the Road to Hill 30 for PS2…

★★★½

2005’s Brothers in Arms: Earned in Blood for PC…

★★★★½

2008’s Brothers in Arms: Hell’s Highway for PS3…

★★★½

Which game of the series do you think was best? I’d like to hear.

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