Even heroes need some help, and the best video games recognize that.
Many titles let you take on Hitler and his Nazi hordes single-handed, but those games never feel very realistic or satisfying to me.
"Brothers In Arms: Hell’s Highway" is different, offering an excellent blend of first-person and squad-based action.
You play as Staff Sgt. Matthew Baker, squad leader in the 101st Airborne Division, in the M-rated game created by Gearbox for Ubisoft. You’re dropped into the Netherlands during Operation Market Garden, the September 1944 effort to quickly cross the Rhine and push into Germany via a string of air assaults.
Developers took pains to create historically accurate weapons, buildings, animations and tactics. As a result, almost everything looks and feels right.
This verisimilitude extends to the physical and emotional carnage experienced by the soldiers who fought in the Netherlands. Expect to see a lot of spurting blood and severed limbs. Expect to see Dutch civilians shot, blasted and hanged by the Nazis. And expect to experience an emotionally wrenching story line.
This all makes "Hell’s Highway" far grimmer than most shooters.
During most of the game, you lead a squad that consists of a rotating mix of riflemen, machine gunners and bazooka men.
As a squad leader, you won’t be too successful if you send your men charging headlong at the enemy. The German troops are good marksmen, even at lower difficulty levels. The key to success is using one team to keep the enemy suppressed while another team flanks them.
It’s often best to do the flanking yourself. During these times, the game is much more like a traditional first-person shooter. In addition, there are a few missions where you’re on your own. The first-person controls are pretty standard for shooters and work smoothly and efficiently.
The squad controls are simple and work well most of the time. Press the left trigger to activate commands, such as "go there" or "shoot that." Press another button to switch teams. Normally, you can simply send a team to a good spot and they’ll find their own cover and start shooting at the enemy. However, your bazooka team often needs some prodding and repositioning before they’ll fire.
Sometimes, you don’t need to flank an enemy; you just need to obliterate his cover. Many weapons can chew through a wooden fence without too much effort. Sandbags demand something more powerful — either a bazooka, hand grenade or tank. And you need to remember that the enemy can destroy your cover, too, so don’t get comfortable behind any wooden fences.
This ability to destroy cover is beyond what’s available in most shooters. However, it pales in comparison to the level of destruction you can unleash in "Battlefield: Bad Company." Walls — and even some windows — are impervious to your firepower.
The artificial intelligence is pretty good most of the time. Friends and foes typically avoid becoming easy targets and the Germans usually respond well when you try to flank them. However, it’s not uncommon to see squad mates get struck while trying to run through barrels or run in front of cover instead of behind it. And it’s sometimes way too easy to sneak up on an enemy position.
The graphics are good, but not great. Outside of the cut scenes, most characters and backgrounds lack the fine texture and visual depth that makes "Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare" so stunning. In addition, the frame rate sometimes gets a bit choppy.
Those are points that might hurt when "Hell’s Highway" goes head-to-head with Activision’s "Call of Duty: World at War" when it’s released in November. This game will bring the phenomenal "Call of Duty 4" engine to World War II — and offer split-screen co-op play.
"Hell’s Highway" doesn’t offer co-op or local multi-player matches. But it does permit online competition for up to 20 players. Unfortunately, that was not yet running when I tested the game.
In the end, those who savor historical accuracy will be very satisfied with the game’s depth. And those who crave good squad-based action will be more than satisfied by its insistence that heroes don’t work alone.
Platforms: Xbox 360, PlayStation 2, PC
On the Web: http://brothersinarmsgame.us.ubi.com