'Hell's Highway' is a polished, engaging shooter

'Brothers in Arms: Hell's Highway' is a laborious yet rewarding shooter.


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Haven't killed enough virtual Nazis in your lifetime? Good, because apparently a few more need mopping up. Just like a real war, however, "Brothers in Arms: Hell's Highway" doesn't tolerate loners, and your brain is just as essential to victory as the gun in your hands.

The third installment in this series tries to bring first timers up to speed with the events of Sgt. Matt Baker and the 101st Airborne from the first games, but the explanations are purposely vague, and no one will blame you if you've forgotten the story after three years between new games. Germans died, Baker's comrades died, innocent people died. You know, World War II.

Remembering every character's name might not be especially easy, but the game presents an ultimately worthwhile and engaging story, no thanks to the abundance of well-voiced cut scenes and an appropriately sweeping orchestral score. Baker and his squad remain the focus throughout, and he experiences moments that change his character drastically.

I suppose you could label "Hell's Highway" a first-person shooter by literal application of the definition, but you'll probably spend more time hiding behind cover and thinking about strategic maneuvers than firing your MP40. "Hell's Highway" replaces the traditional two-step process of "point and shoot" with "find, hide, suppress, flank and then shoot."

Ninety percent of the time, Baker has a squad to command, but racking up kills is Baker's job while the squad mates provide a distraction. The Germans are crack-shots who will gun down anyone in the open longer than five seconds. Each battle presents itself as a puzzle, with available cover and backdoor paths as the pieces. Your various specialist teams will keep the Germans pinned down with infinite ammunition, allowing you to maneuver around the enemies and eliminate them.

Before running to the next cover spot, you'll have to wait for your squad to suppress the enemy. The game does a great job of visually indicating the location and status of your targets: A red circle means they'll gun you down without hesitation, while a grey circle means they'll be too reluctant to come out of hiding to attempt to stop you. Turing those circles grey is the first step of every battle.

Even though this same process must be carried out for the entirety of the campaign, no battle ends especially quickly. The control scheme doesn't help speed up the process either. Combinations of held down and double-tapped buttons govern most of your squads' actions. The finicky aiming also complicates the process of picking off Germans (though pulling off a headshot rewards you with a zoomed-in, slow-motion rendition of your handiwork).

Gaining a few meters of ground or taking down a single German could take as long as three minutes, but the payoff for your hard work is that much sweeter. Shooters rarely make killing a single enemy feel like an accomplishment quite like "Hell's Highway." This is truly a tactician's shooter game.

The multiplayer mode of "Hell's Highway" offers similar complexity and depth, supporting up to 20 players in territory-capture modes. Those willing to communicate benefit the most, but plenty of lone wolves populate the online multiplayer realm to sour the experience for everybody else. Imagine the single-player campaign, only your squad mates never follow any of your orders.

Some aspects of the visuals look rough and the occasional solo sections of the campaign feel awkward, but the solid core gameplay makes this 8-10 hour shooter particularly engaging despite the faults. Good things come to those who wait, and those who embrace the slow, tactical nature of "Hell's Highway" will find a polished and rewarding WWII experience.

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