The first two games in the Brothers in Arms series distinguished themselves among the crowd of WWII shooters on the strength of their smoothly integrated first-person squad control and gritty, moving portrayal of a band of Allied soldiers. Brothers in Arms: Hell's Highway sticks to these strengths, and commanding your squads through Nazi-occupied territory is more thrilling than ever thanks to the vibrant, beautiful scenery and the brutal, exhilarating action. Sergeant Baker (your character) and his squad are all nuanced, sympathetic characters, though the story doesn't quite live up to the promise of its protagonists. Despite a few irregular beats, Hell's Highway is an exciting, intense shooter that is sure to quicken your pulse.
This go-around finds Sergeant Matt Baker and his crew carrying the memories of their fallen brothers and welcoming replacements into the fold. As they get set to drop into Holland as a part of the ambitious but doomed Operation Market-Garden, you meet the men whose lives you will be responsible for. The story isn't so much a narrative as it is an exploration of the relationships between soldiers; it's a mature look at the way bonds can be forged and broken in the emotional furnace of war. Through engaging cutscenes and lively battlefield communication, you'll find yourself developing an attachment to these characters. Many great moments, both comic and tragic, resonate with an admirable emotional clarity that unflinchingly evokes the turbid reality of war, where triumph and tragedy walk hand in hand.
The grenade reticle helps you gauge how effective your throw will be.
Unfortunately, some of these potentially great moments will fall flat if you're not well acquainted with old characters like Leggett, Allen, and Garnett. Hell's Highway often tries to lean on emotional pillars created by traumas from the first two games (both released in 2005), but the "previously on Brothers in Arms" segment isn't solid enough to support these references, and the framework crumbles a bit as a result. As the game progresses you'll gain the knowledge needed to prop up these references; this makes a second play-through more appealing, but it's a shame this understanding isn't established earlier.
Once on the battlefield, your comrades become potent weapons at your command. Hell's Highway offers a tutorial on the proper way to manage your squads, and you'd best pay attention, since going it alone will get you into trouble in a hurry. Strategy boils down to firing on German positions to keep them suppressed, then flanking around to a better angle and finishing them off. Your men are capable soldiers and will shout advice at you if you seem to be stagnating. They will also do their fair share of killing but are still occasionally liable to run on the wrong side of a wall when ordered to a different position. It hurts to lose one of your men in battle, regardless of the fact that he'll be patched up at your next checkpoint. You are their commander and they are entrusting their lives to you, a weight expertly transferred to your shoulders by Sgt. Baker's cutscenes and voice-overs. Hell's Highway motivates you strategically and emotionally to be a smart leader, and it's surprisingly engaging to focus on something other than yourself in a first-person shooter.
Battles become even more complex as you take more squads under your command and incorporate machine gun and bazooka units. The former is excellent at suppressing enemies, while the latter can destroy sandbag barriers and elevated enemy positions in houses and towers (particularly awesome). As you get the hang of squad command, you'll begin wielding your men as extensions of yourself and moving through battlefields as an elite, coordinated unit. Taking apart and dispatching a field full of entrenched German units is immensely satisfying, and this feeling of power is what makes Brothers in Arms so rewarding.