By Nate Adcock on Sat, 03/21/2009
This game has been out for awhile, but I have been so engrossed playing it, I’m just getting round to posting on it. I often find games that have 1-2 star ratings that are decent, and games with 5 star ratings that disappoint, so I think ratings are a bit, ahem, overrated. Reducing an in-depth review to a single score is self-defeating in my opinion, because many people will consider only the rating (I do the same thing). However, once in a while a game is so impressive that I must break with my tradition and give a rating. Brothers in Arms from Gameloft is that game, and it gets 5 stars and 2 enthusiastic thumbs up!
I won’t waste time on my usual install and setup rigmarole. Go get BIA at the App store or in iTunes, etc. The full name is Brothers in Arms: Hour of Heroes. It’s a first person shooter in the category of WWII action. IF YOU LIKE MILITARY style action games, just go get it right now…seriously. If you don’t like the game, come back and tell me why here on the blog, but I’d be willing to bet there are few complaints (currently at 3-1/2 stars in the App store). The game is only $5.99, which is cheap in my opinion for a well-done game like this. Compatible with iPhone and Touch, it requires the 2.1 software update.
Graphics and Sound
The game starts with an awesome sequence of game vids (see above). When the scenes first rolled, I thought I was watching a movie, and then wondered if maybe I was seeing the iPhone/iPod version of the game! I was like, yeah right!? I’ll bet the real game is not even close to that realistic. It wouldn’t be the first time the promo scenes did not match a product I’ve tried.
Of course, the iPod Touch graphics are not quite up to competing with a PC graphics card/processor combo, but they are very good for a mobile device. This game really shows off this capability. The animated actions and effects are smooth, and the shading especially is quite realistic. From plumes of smoke to an enemy being shot, the game graphics are simply amazing. That’s not to say that a 3-D gaming purest won’t find things to grouse about, but it is the highest quality I have thus far seen for touch or iPhone. The mobile version is NOT quite as real as the promo, but it's incredibly close. The sound is—and you will hear this word a lot—very realistic. You can hear your squad buddies yelling and shouting as well as the German Army units doing the same (in German of course), all amidst the crack of small arms fire and the rumble of armor and artillery. The graphics are a tad blocky up close, but that is a minor gripe comparatively, and the usual proximity issues apply (stand too close to a tank and become part of it, for example). There is a bug somewhere that can cause your guy to get pinned into certain locations, and can hang up a sequence until you get unstuck. Moving back and forth for awhile will usually unpin him (provided you don’t get shot down graveyard dead first).
Moving, running and shooting is admittedly difficult at first, but I cannot place all the blame on the developers. They give you plenty of control options. The iPhone/Touch screens are not responsive enough in my opinion for this kind of game. BIA is fast paced, and even on the normal hardness settings, sliding one finger to move around and then the other to pan (and also shoot) is not easy. The game also makes use of the accelerometer to do things like move sideways (very effective for sweeping fire across an enemy) and to signal a clip reload (tilt motion), but this is often too sensitive. For example, a problem occurs when you are trying to crouch behind a barrier for cover. If you tilt the phone, your guy stands up and starts sliding right or left. This can make you an easy target.
The screen layout does an exceptional job with the heads-up display and control placement. The camera view is essentially the view around you, and you can adjust the methods for panning by selecting one of three options. I found option one "Cam move" to mostly work the best (other options are: Sight move, and 2 pads). I tried the other 2 options, but didn't have as much luck with them. Trying to use two on-screen motion pads almost made me throw my iPod out the window.
Option one also works reasonably well with the tank, but the motion dynamic changes somewhat, as dragging the camera slews the turret around relative to your view. It takes practice to navigate and shoot without getting stuck somewhere.
The recon vehicle which is basically a jeep with a mounted Browning machine gun is probably the easiest to use (if you keep it in auto-mode). You simply drive, and let the gunner do the rest. I put it in auto which keeps you going forward, and used the motion sensor to steer. The upper left icon indicates your health in a meter across the top, the weapon you have selected and ammunition level. To me, the steering wheel pad shown above was practically useless.
When you are low on life (and/or being hit), a red hue is indicated in the health meter in the upper right corner, and if you simply rest behind a barrier for a short period, you will rejuv automatically. It might be more realistic if they added medics with the squad, such that you have to get to one in order to treat your injuries. Next to the weapon icon, instructions will appear, and to the right side of the screen, warnings or orders also appear from your superiors and squad mates. The firing stud is in the lower right of the display, and could be a little bigger, IMHO. As you move through each objective, enemy targets are highlighted as red icons. Red arrows also help guide you to the next enemy position/target. A large directional red arrow will help to locate the source of incoming fire from enemy units.
Green icons indicate checkpoint areas/rendezvous points, which allow you to progress through to the next objective. There are also denoted by a shimmering on the ground. In the upper right corner of the display is a grenade icon, which activates grenade-throwing mode.
If you do buy BIA, take time in the first mission (tutorial) to fully try all the control options. Practice with them and get proficient with one before continuing to the harder levels. You will get frustrated with this game quickly if you do not do this. Most of the complaints I have read (which I disagree with pointedly), are related to the control scheme. I felt the same way for the first several days until I started to discover a routine/strategy that worked.
There are 3 control options, and you can turn on/off the motion sensor as well. They are all variations of sliding finger touch controls and accelerometer combinations. What I found worked best was to use (Control mode 1) my right trigger finger for panning and firing by keeping it stationed just north of the firing button. Then I used my left thumb for forward/back, left and right overall movement. Some missions require you to drive a jeep or tank, so the control modes vary somewhat. Throwing a grenade was the touchiest as it relies soley on tilting of the iPhone. You might want to adjust the sensitivity and test this during the early missions.
Gameplay and more tips
The game has only a campaign mode, and I was disappointed that I couldn't find a way to go back and play single missions without quitting the campaign (after finishing a mission, that is). At any time during a mission, you can tap on the weapon/life icon in the upper left during play (to get to options/settings) and reload the gameplay from the last checkpoint or even the start of the entire mission.
There are three main mission theatres in the campaign, which include Normandy, Tunis, and Ardennes. Each theatre has the expected scenery/terrain of the respective geographical area, replete with urban and rural settings that are nicely rendered. The desert fighting was probably some of the funnest, but then I just recently graduated to the Ardennes, and it’s pretty lively already (the Ardennes Forest fighting is legendary in World War 2 battle lore). The action is non-stop, and it pays to listen to the chatter going on around you as well as watching the screen for messages, because you will undoubtedly miss some of the instructional pop-ups that appear during the game. They tell you to do things or warn of enemy actions. Each checkpoint usually includes a quick summary vid of what is expected next.
On-screen cues help to lead you from checkpoint to checkpoint, and through the mission objectives, but if you miss some important information, there is no way that I could find to get it to appear back on-screen. The game could use a "message center", but then they didn't have e-mail back in WWII. If you missed some important information during a battle, you would likely get your head shot off.
The backstory is that you are an enlisted grunt in a typical U.S. Airborne infantry unit. You and your unit move from objective to objective set in the background of WWII Europe and North Africa (starting with the Normandy invasion of France). The objectives are a broad spectrum that vary from blowing up gun emplacements and missile sites, destroying an airfield, and even a brief bit of trench fighting. There is plenty of skirmishing along the way.
Your standard issue weapon is a Thompson sub-machine gun, but you pick up additional weapons that greatly help you to complete your missions, to include bazooka anti-tank weapons, sniper rifles, even commandeer an enemy tank. When you are taking fire and getting hit--if you don’t happen to notice the bullets whizzing by or the shells exploding around you—your guy on-screen will make noises, and probably someone will be shouting to take cover (also displayed on the screen). You can simply hide behind a barrier or structure and wait it out while you get an idea where the threat is coming from. Simply steer your soldier to the nearest obstacle, sandbag berm, etc, and he will usually crouch automatically. You will note when he is in mortal danger from wounds, because he will pause and sort of lean forward and pant from time to time. If you don’t find protected shelter for him soon, and he takes more damage, you are likely to die. If you hear the sort of squeaky sound of the Panzer tank treads (and don’t have a bazooka handy), look for cover or run straight for the tank as fast as you can.
When you get there an action icon will appear that will allow you to climb the tank and chuck a grenade into it (which will destroy it). Tanks kill unprotected infantry in a hurry.
I’m ex-military myself, so of course I love this game (and this kind of game) very much. It lives up completely to it’s hype IMO, and frankly I was blown away (no more puns, I promise). It’s actually more than that, though. My Dad was an enlisted combat infantryman with the U.S. 90th infantry division during WWII. He went ashore at D-Day, fought across France, and at the battle of the bulge (Ardennes). He isn’t around today to comment on how realistic the action/scenarios of this game compare to the real thing, but then he probably wouldn’t even want to talk about it. He had a lot of respect and compassion for the German people (my family is German on my Mom’s side after all). My older siblings always said he never would say much about the war and fighting. He got 2 purple hearts during WWII: One from sniper fire while getting water from a stream, and the other from shrapnel to the leg from a mortar round. He will always be a real hero to me. It’s silly to say, but somehow I felt maybe I could understand a little of what it must have been like for him over there. I know it’s just a stupid video game, and there are no replays in real war. You can’t help thinking of the computerized Germans you are gunning down gleefully during the game, though. How grave that must have been in real life. Blood in the snow, and corpses piled up all over. You versus the enemy in sometimes very close quarters combat. There’s no blood and guts scenes up close in BIA, but plenty of corpses litter your path at the end. If you want to relive some of the scariest times in world history, and get a taste of what it was like for a WWII infantryman, this game is for you.