When Brothers in Arms: Road to Hill 30 was released earlier this year, it was lauded for its nearly seamless integration between first-person-shooter control and squad command mechanics. While clearly not as twitchy as most shooters, Brothers in Arms focused on the tactical aspect of small-squad infantry combat in World War II and packaged it with a cinema-quality presentation reminiscent of HBO's Band of Brothers. Fewer than seven months later, Gearbox has churned out a sequel. And as you'd expect from a sequel turned around so quickly, Brothers in Arms: Earned in Blood offers a rather similar experience to its excellent predecessor, with improved enemy artificial intelligence and additional multiplayer options. The novelty has worn off just a bit, though.
If you loved the first game, Earned in Blood offers a lot more of the same great gameplay.
For those who aren't familiar with the first game, Earned in Blood puts you in the shoes of an American corporal in World War II named Joe "Red" Hartsock. Hartsock was one of the thousands of US Airborne troopers who dropped in behind enemy lines the night before the Normandy landing in France. The story and the campaign are based on the real-life stories of Hartsock and his mates as they fought across the French countryside in those critical first two weeks after the invasion. For those of you who did play Road to Hill 30, Hartsock's name might ring a bell. That's because he was a character in the first game. The storyline in Earned in Blood overlaps that of Road to Hill 30, so you'll get to see Hartsock's point of view, as well as his experiences during the same time frame. As you'd imagine, much of the game is played from a flashback perspective as Hartsock is debriefed on his experiences by a superior officer. The in-engine cutscenes used to advance the story before and after missions are as heartfelt and impactful as they were in the first game, with the voice actor depicting Hartsock doing a fantastic job of conveying the emotion you'd expect from a war-weary soldier.
The interface of Earned in Blood is pretty much the same as it was in Road to Hill 30. You play as Hartsock from a first-person perspective and have the ability to walk, kneel, fire, aim down the iron sight of your gun, and throw grenades. You'll also have up to two different fireteams, or one fireteam and a tank, at your command. You can direct each team to follow you, move to an area, open fire on enemies, or charge enemies in an all-out assault. In general, your teammates are intelligent about contextually evaluating their surroundings and finding the proper cover in a given situation. If you direct them near a low wall or log, for example, they'll take up cover behind it. Move them to the side of a building with windows and they'll sidle up between the openings and peer through the windows so they don't leave themselves vulnerable. Once in a while they'll do something stupid, like take themselves out of cover or set up in a bad place. Usually this happens if you plant yourself in the spot you told them to move to.
The enemy will actually maneuver and retreat in response to your movement.
The primary gameplay conceit in Earned in Blood, as in the first game, is to "find, fix, flank, and finish" the enemy. The enemy soldiers you encounter in the game also move in small fireteams. But unlike most other shooters, the enemies in Earned in Blood can be suppressed by firing at their position. Their level of suppression is measured by a red-and-white circle above the enemy position, but these indicators can be shut off for a more realistic experience. Enemies that are suppressed won't fire back as often, and when they do, they're less accurate. The general idea is that you or one of your teams first engages the enemy with a hail of suppressing fire. Then you direct your other squad element (or yourself) around to the side, where you can get a clean shot at the suppressed enemy and can possibly kill him.
What's new about the enemy artificial intelligence in Earned in Blood is that it's more likely to retreat to another position if it spots you flanking, even if it's suppressed. Enemies in the previous game were more likely to sit tight. At the higher difficulty levels, the enemy may even act aggressively, moving to flank you and putting pressure on your squad. It also seems as though you have a smaller opportunity to kill off suppressed enemies that you attack from a flanking position in this game. The return fire you get comes faster and more accurately than before. This all makes Earned in Blood somewhat more difficult than the last game, but overall, veterans of Road to Hill 30 should find that this game is remarkably similar. Enemies behind cover are still not invincible to enemy fire. If you're a very careful shot with a rifle, it's possible to pick off enemy soldiers who are poking their heads up from behind cover. But in general, flanking maneuvers still work better when the situation allows for it.