Brothers in Arms: Earned in Blood
Developer: Gearbox
Publisher: Ubisoft
Release Date: Out Now
Players: 1-4
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Itís not even been a year since the release of the hugely popular Brothers in Arms: Road to Hill 30 and Gearbox have already cranked out a sequel just in time for the Christmas rush.

Personally, I loved RTH30; I thought it was the most realistic WWII FPS Iíd ever played. It was great how you actually had to use your squad if you wanted to survive, rather than them feeling like tacked-on gimmicks. The atmosphere was overwhelming too; it really felt like you were in wartime France, squatting behind a rotting cow carcass or in a mortar crater and Iím happy to say that EiB has the same atmosphere and intensity that made the original great.

What strikes me most about the BiA series is how youíre given the choice on how to proceed. Iíve been playing this and the amazing Call of Duty 2 and you can see the difference in freedom immediately. This not only gives you more independence but creates a sense of fear that no longer will the computer Gods hold your hand and tell you where to go. If youíve watched the excellent Band of Brothers series youíll remember after Bastogne they retake a town called Foy and an incompetent lieutenant cowers behind a hay bale as his troops are getting slaughtered and shouting at him for orders. That sense of helplessness is what this game creates and in one sense makes this game better than any game Iíve played to date; no other game has stirred up the same emotions that the BiA games have.

Although there hasnít been a long gap between RH30 and EiB, to their great credit Gearbox have used every minute to fix the problems of the original. In RTH30 your squads would frequently get killed because they would run wherever you told them to go across open ground rather than hugging the wall for cover and then only when they started getting shot at would they stop and fire back! Sometimes theyíd also move up to the corner of a wall and hedgerow and then jump out from behind it and start moaning when they were shot by the enemy!

This ruined what was an excellent game and itís good to see the problems with the AI has been addressed and tweaked. Soldiers now find the nearest cover (wall, fence etc) and move along that until they reach their objective and if you accidentally order them into the middle of a field theyíll find cover rather than stand about and get shot. The enemy AI has also been given an intelligence injection. Instead of staying behind the same cover and waiting to be flanked theyíre constantly watching where you and your squads are and will change positions if they start to get flanked. This means that no longer do the same tactics work every time and youíll have to think harder to get past each group of enemies. This is refreshing but sometimes falls on its back when they retreat to new cover right where your squads are suppressing and walk right into a barrage of bulletsÖ

There are still a couple of problems that are still hanging around, though. The left trigger order system for movement and firing is still too fiddly and imprecise. If youíre hiding behind something and want your squad to suppress the enemy in front of you it can be a harder task than youíd think. If an enemy is in front of you when youíve got the command cursor up it changes from a movement to suppress order. It gets tricky when youíre behind cover and Iíve frequently ordered soldiers to run towards the enemy rather than shoot at them because the game hasnít changed the icon.

This ties in with only being able to order your men to areas in your line of sight, even though you can look around the whole battlefield with the Situational Awareness view. If youíre going to have the option of seeing all of the terrain then you should be able to issue orders via the map system, which would make things a lot easier Ė and whilst it might sound like that would make things too easy, itís really only the videogame equivalent of an officer getting spotter information and then pointing to a spot on a map and telling his men to go there.

The online multiplayer mode is a lot more expansive than in RH30, spreading the action across four modes: Objective, Tour of Duty, Defence, and a timed assault mode. These act to break up the heavy gameplay of the story mode and in defence mode itís turned on its head as the Germans try to flank your positions. You also get the opportunity fight as the Germans which adds a bit of diversity to the game and takes it further than the simple skirmish mode RH30 had.

In the originalís story mode you followed Matt Baker of the 502nd battalion of the 101st Airborne, this time you play as Sergeant Joe ďRedĒ Hartsock. Red was part of Bakerís company but got scattered in the D-day drops so you follow a storyline that links with RH30ís (and youíll meet up with Baker a couple of times). The story this time around seems a little less involving, though. It might be because most of the best moments from Band of Brothers (which both BiA games are obviously based on) were in RH30, although you do get to assault Carentan. It might be because the story, like the game itself, doesnít feel all that different from the original. Youíve got the same characters and although the towns are different youíre still running through French fields and hamlets and hiding in the same mud.

Despite all the improvements that have been made Brothers in Arms: Earned in Blood feels more like a BiA 1.5 add-on rather than a complete sequel. I loved the original despite the aforementioned problems and where it set the standard so high, I donít mind having more of the same, but some will be a little turned off by the lack of significant changes to the game. I doubt those who didnít like the original will get any pleasure from the sequel, but if you didnít buy the first game and have ever wanted a FPS with a bit of brains and a challenge then sell your gran for bus money and go buy it now!

Best Bits

- As atmospheric as ever
- More tactical
- Improved online mode
Worst Bits

- Tactical controls still a bit fiddly
- Damn tough

by: Crazypunk

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