Have You Played… Brothers In Arms: Road To Hill 30

Have You Played? is an endless stream of game retrospectives. One a day, every day of the year, perhaps for all time.

Like Graham, I’ve always felt bad for the Brothers In Arms series of games. The WWII shooter was well into its fatigue stage by the time these games got around to doing something intelligent with it. Rocking up to the beaches of Normandy in Medal of Honor or storming the streets of Stalingrad in Call of Duty were excellent set pieces at the time. But neither game came close to making you think about anything that was going on, it was run and/or gun. That’s it. Brothers In Arms introduced a tactical element – and it was simple too. You just had to point at things.

More specifically, as the squad leader of a group of soldiers from the 101st Airborne you had to command your men from hedgerow to hedgerow during Operation Overlord, telling them where to move and where to fire by pointing at stuff with satisfying first-person hand gestures. This suppressing fire wasn’t intended to kill but simply pin down enemy Germans as either you or another squad flanked them. Today this mechanic sounds so murderously obvious but I can’t remember another game that did it at the time, nor any in the following years that did it smoother.

Like the shooters it followed (and the entire videogame industry to this day) it took too much of its style from movies and television. Band of Brothers and Saving Private Ryan were obvious and heavy influences. But it also managed to balance spectacle and historical accuracy in a way that CoD or MoH didn’t. Your campaign wasn’t across Europe as a single superspy-soldierman for the OSS, nor was it a ballistic recreation of the opening scenes from Enemy at the Gates. It split you into fire teams and assault teams, penalised you with inaccuracy when under fire, and followed the story of men who actually existed.

And now, where is the Brothers In Arms series? Captured and held hostage by Gameloft, famous for creating terrible phone games. We haven’t seen a real sequel since Hell’s Highway in 2008. Well, I for one salute you, Brothers.

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31 Comments

  1. Klydefrog says:

    I only played the second one, Earned in Blood, but I loved it. It definitely borrowed from Band of Brothers a lot but it did more justice to those stories than CoD or MoH had.

    I think the attempt was to retell the story of the 101st Airborne than directly make a game based on the series and they made a pretty good effort really. I remember at the time a lot of marketing stressing that they were actually interviewing the surviving members of the division which was not something a lot of other games had done at the time.

    The suppress and flank thing did get a little repetitive at times but it was still a big step up from the other Second World War shooters at the time most of which felt like they were completely on rails. Honestly I think the comparison to Saving Private Ryan and Band of Brothers is testament to how good an effort they made to tell a really authentic story of real life events. I’d definitely like to go back to these one day and try them again, and I never even got around to playing Hell’s Highway which I heard made some good improvements. It was nice to be reminded of these games, thanks Brendan.

    • DeepFried says:

      I liked the first one a lot, but found the second frustratingly difficult.

      • MattM says:

        I enjoyed the first, but gave up on the second after a few hours. In order to force you to use the suppress and flank system they made direct shooting very difficult. In the first game this worked well but in the second they often had fights with no flanking routes. I guess they wanted to increase the difficulty but it came at the cost of leaving the player with no fun options to use in the attack. You could get around it with cheesing and quicksaves but it killed the enjoyment for me.

        • Klydefrog says:

          I don’t remember being frustrated at the time but maybe I just had the kind of extreme patience on my side that only comes from being young and having a limited choice of games to play.

  2. denizsi says:

    Unskippable cutscenes, drawn out missions and the animated switch into the tactical view dragged down this game, especially the first on repeated plays and the “point at things” functionality could have been smoother (you had to long-press a button, which meant a delay) but it was a grand game. It captured those lofty nervous walks suddenly thrown into chaos pretty swell. And the sound design was a quality job. Very atmospheric.

  3. w0bbl3r says:

    Bloody great game.
    The first “tactical squad shooter” that I actually enjoyed, because it wasn’t a whole load of silly menu’s and drop-down lists to pick every single command. It was just nice and simple “go there” “shoot towards that” and “shoot AT that”, and it worked perfectly.
    Having the tactical awareness map was a nice touch. The least “gamey” way of giving you a view of the battlefield to plan attacks and pincer moves. Since every soldier knew these maps from their training for the invasion, it made sense you would have it in your head, and so just bringing it up on-screen to let you tell your men where to go and give you a chance to get a good look and think about things, was done very well.

    Such a shame they focused on the consoles for the hell’s highway (those solo missions really dragged it down badly) sequel was the death of it I think.
    It was already simple and “arcade” enough, without dumbing it down even more.

  4. Veles says:

    Yeah, but I was bored of WW2 shooters by the time it came out :(

  5. Legion1183 says:

    Looooved this game, it was such a welcome change from the other run and gun titles at the time. Using the squad commands to outflank the enemy as well as the well told story really set this game apart from the rest for me.

    I still have all 3 of the games for PC and really want to play through at least the first one again but at the same time don’t want to ruin my memories of it with its now outdated graphics.

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      cockpisspartridge says:

      I really enjoyed the fact that run and gun was absent from the game. I also liked the way that large scale battle was absent, giving a really compartmentalised viewpoint of the larger battle. I finished the first a few times and even the third a couple despite the major change in feel. I’ve still got EiB on my drive waiting to go. Might even do it tonight as I find myself staring at my steam backlong with increasingly dead eyes.

  6. uk100 says:

    “Today this mechanic sounds so murderously obvious but I can’t remember another game that did it at the time, nor any in the following years that did it smoother”

    Full Spectrum Warrior (modern Iraq-ish setting) had come out the year before, with a similar slightly more complex control system.

    Although it also had other sophistications (cover could be gradually destroyed by enemy fire, urban layouts were more complex and had better graphics) I recall levels often reducing to a geometric problem with only one solution – a complex sequence of manoeuvers.

    • uk100 says:

      … which coupled with very limited checkpoints was pretty frustrating.

      Thus BIA seemed to me like a simpler prequel which actually played far better. In fact I’m in the middle of replaying it now. Looks like there are various mods which must be worth a go too.

      • Sound says:

        I think a compromise between Full Spectrum Warrior and Brothers In Arms would have been quite good. Both could have learned a little from the other, but both of them were a good take at a squad tactics game.

  7. malkav11 says:

    I think Star Wars Republic Commando did some very similar things in terms of squad shooting. I actually went to try Brothers in Arms on the strength of having really liked Republic Commando and wanting more of that, but unfortunately Brothers in Arms is really buggy on modern systems.

  8. Rituro says:

    Man, I loved the hell out of this game when it came out. I had generally stayed on the sidelines during the WWII shooter glut and wasn’t in full fatigue mode with BiA came out.

    I loved the demo. I loved the full version, which I won in a website content and subsequently realized I would need to buy a DVD-ROM. One of my favourite lines still sticks with me today:

    “If it moves, shoot it. If it screams in German, shoot it again.”

  9. Heliocentric says:

    Brilliant game, peaked during the assault on the mill in Earned in Blood,it’s not a shooter, you are not a super soldier, you lead two squads and often a single light tank. But applied with thought that’ll do, so “suppress those bastards” “move here” and “punch it”.

  10. FLoJ says:

    Absolutely loved this even the maps ended up being shootery puzzles once you played it too much which isn’t a bad thing, it was just a little limited in terms of ‘what does the level designer want me to do on this map’ Oh he wants me to use that cover A to suppress from whilst the other squad flanks from cover B…

    • WJonathan says:

      I agree, BiA presented only the illusion of tactical warfare. It was, more often than not, a restrictively-pathed trial-and-error exercise. Allied AI was wonky,and apparently open fields really only had one solution. Gearbox wasn’t interested in fixing the squad problems in the sequels, and Hell’s Highway ended up being an admittedly fun FPS with dodgy management tactics on the side.

  11. yoggesothothe says:

    Reading this honestly just reminded me of Freedom Fighters from 2003. I was never particularly able to get into IO Interactive’s Hitman games for whatever reason; it feels a bit wistful to think about what might have been if they had continued branching out into developing more straightforward shooters with intelligent mechanics. The gameplay was quite innovative and fresh at the time when it came out, and I suspect it would probably hold up fairly well even today. Sadly, the game didn’t seem to get much coverage. I do wonder if being set in NYC was perhaps detrimental to its reception, or at least its discussion, as relatively recent as 9/11 still was then.

    • yoggesothothe says:

      I realized after I wrote this that I had completely forgotten about the Kane and Lynch games, which leaves me quite a bit less wistful.

  12. urbanraccoon says:

    I’ve never replayed a game so many times since. Beautiful almost-too-much-bloom french country side, punchy guns, tactical flanking, great story. I just wish the sequels kept that magic.

  13. Neurotic says:

    How and why bloody Gameloft of all people got the license? Insanity.

  14. Michael Fogg says:

    Historical fact: there was no PING (or it would be close to inaudible in the noise of battle). But the cash-register or typewrighter-like sound does make for a fun quirk.

  15. P.Funk says:

    This game managed to wonderfully capture a sense of peril in every moment and every decision you make. Rather than being able to power your way through a problem you had to be very thoughtful in how you took on an obstacle. If you were sloppy you’d lose men and the more men you lost the harder it was to move forward.

    Some levels did drag though and seemed painfully stagey in difficulty. Rommel’s Asparagus could be very annoying having to run back and forth to put down respawning enemies on every side of the fields while the linearity of Purple Heart Lane simply felt frustrating in how obvious the respawning of the enemy worked and basically kept you from making much progress while offering few tactical options compared to the other levels.

    Still, participating in Cole’s Charge was a singular moment of excitement in WW2 FPS gaming for me, far greater than any set piece from a CoD WW2 game barring perhaps the Bastogne set piece battle from CoD:UO. I also loved the fear and urgency when charging across a field as mortar fire rained down randomly taking out or avoiding your men as you searched for the source.

    For me what attached me most to the story though was how it reminded me of how my grandfather spoke about his experiences in WW2, in Normandy and elsewhere with the Canadian army. It being so personal meant I was very much into the conceit that your men are valuable and you shouldn’t suffer their losses easily.

  16. Sound says:

    One of my all time favorites. It ended up boiling down to a geometry puzzle, but I think that this potentially a good thing. You could lean into this, and still feel it’s applicable to the idea of commanding a squad, preserving your immersion.

    I hope that some other company steals these game concepts and makes their own title. BIA has a lot going on that doesn’t need to languish with the IP.

  17. Niente says:

    I liked the series, especially Hell’s Highway, but I hated the fact the enemy were bullet sponges.

    When I’m playing a modern FPS I sometimes think of a particular level from those old WWII FPS’s and more often than not it turns out to be from one of the Brothers In Arms games.

  18. wodin says:

    Anyone remember Hidden and Dangerous?

  19. mitthrawnuruodo says:

    Yes. Played and loved it, back when “Tactical Shooter” did not mean “co-op clickfest”, and had actual tactical commands.

  20. DerpyPerson6 says:

    THIS GAME WAS MY JAM WHEN I WAS LIKE 5 I BARELY REMEMBER IT

    But it was very fun. And hard for me at the time. I like the whole irritate-suppresion system. Felt so real. And the flanking. So much flanking. And squad controlling. But thats all I remember or used.