I’ve recently played through Brothers in Arms and I was disappointed. Brothers in Arms is a tactical shooter in a WWII settings with a storyline that’s based on true events. The gameplay is centered around flanking the enemy. You normally have two squads at your command, where on squad is used to pin the enemy down and the other is supposed to flank him.
The game has lots of good ideas and is technially very good. You have the feeling that the developers really made an effort to make a realistic game. It has up-to-date graphics, a good unit AI, an immersive storyline, realistic weapons and tactics, and lots of small and good ideas. I especially liked the extras system: After completing each chapter at one of the four difficulty settings, an extra is unlocked. This extra is normally either historical photos, in-development material, or background material. This really makes you want to play through each difficulty level. Part of the immersive storyline is your familarity with your own squad. You not only get to know your men during the cut scenes, but during the game you can approach people and they will look at you and smile at you. They also call the names of people that are wounded and your character shouts the name of the team leader if you give commands.
But all this good stuff is of no use, because there is one area were the game really sucks. Unfortunately it’s probably the most important aspect: level design. All levels are extremely linear. You often have only exactly one approach to move on. The game plays more like a puzzle game than a military simulation: You have to find out where to best position your men to defeat the enemies with the fewest losses on your side. The tactical aspect of this game is basically limited to finding the tactic the level designers intended you to find and then to follow it. Compare this to games like Operation Flashpoint or Far Cry: In this games you usually have an objective and how to reach this objective is up to you. You can approach your objective from all sides, but finding the best approach is part of the game.
Also, earlier I talked about the immersive storyline: You start off the game with a black screen with only the name of the chapter displayed and a voice over from your character. When the game begins, you awake from a shell shock and are inmidst a fire fight, having no clue what to do. A really frightening scene. Unfortunately this immersion in the game is also destroyed because of the level design. If every road is blocked by a barricade, if every street is lines by unpassable bushes, and if every other way is unpassable due to a (low) fence, it’s really frustrating. The first time you try to jump over a fence to approach an enemy from behind and can’t and are forced to take the open main road, you get frustrated. You really don’t feel in command of the game, you know that the game is forcing you to take the road you are supposed to. Again, compare that to Far Cry, where levels often are, in fact, linear. Only, you don’t feel like that, since the borders feel natural. Also, the areas in which you can walk are vast enough to give you the impression of freedom. They also allow you to approach an objective from different sides.
In summary I was disappointed. Partly because I expected another Operation Flashpoint (i.e. a military simulation) and got a puzzle game with FPS elements. It’s sad to see that games like that are obviously what most gamers demand. Why make the effort to make a realistic game, if it doesn’t feel realistic or authentic, because the level design really sucks?