Brothers in Arms: Earned in Blood Hands-on

Gameloft's dialing in the World War II action, from the North African coast to the beaches of Normandy.

If you think the world's a mess these days, studying World War II will make you feel a lot better. The 20th century's biggest conflict was also its deadliest by far, due to the advent of motorized warfare, strategic bombing, and atomic weapons. However, despite the war's grand historical scope, the average grunt could only see what was happening right in front of him; he fought not for political reasons, but to keep his friends alive. That has been the driving idea behind Ubisoft's Brothers in Arms series of first-person shooters, and a new sequel--Brothers in Arms: Earned in Blood--is anticipated for October. Gameloft's got the mobile rights to Earned in Blood (as they do for all Ubisoft properties), and it looks like they're doing a bang-up job of bringing the game to phones.

This game plays almost like an overhead Metal Slug.

For the mobile version, Brothers in Arms: Earned in Blood is making a smooth transition from a first-person shooter to a third-person overhead action game. You control an individual soldier who has to run a gauntlet of German soldiers, all the while confined in tight, mazelike corridors of trenches, streets, and sandbags. Each level has a different objective to satisfy. For instance, on one level, you'll be asked to provide cover for a medic carrying a wounded comrade, and on another, you'll have to hijack a German tank and blow up an entire camp. The most interesting level we played during our preview was probably the reenactment of the Normandy landing. Gameloft's done a marvelous job of capturing the chaos of the moment--bullet tracers are streaming from the top of the screen, artillery is pounding the beach, and your fellow grunts are dying all around you.

This game's controls are about as simple as they get. While on foot, you can move in eight directions, shoot people, lob grenades, and take over gun emplacements or tanks. Your guns will auto-aim if you're facing the right direction, but you have to take care not to run out of ammo at an inopportune moment. You can pick up tank-busting bazookas and antipersonnel flamethrowers along the way, although you only get a few uses of each. Grenades are great for taking out multiple enemies at once, clearing minefields, or demolishing buildings, as necessary. They serve as a kind of instant equalizer, so it's a good thing that they're frequently hidden in crates on the battlefield. The tank's controls aren't quite as intuitive--you can only move in four directions, and you must manually rotate your cannon turret--but your machine gun auto-fires and has unlimited ammo, so it's not too bad.

Artillery? Check. Tanks? Check. Flamers? Check. Yep, this is WWII, all right.

We really liked the way Brothers in Arms: Earned in Blood plays on the LG VX8000. Obviously, the graphics aren't anywhere near the photo-realistic standard of the PC games, but they're very sharp, make good use of color, and run at the speed a video game should. Plus, the game offers lots of visual feedback, like indicators telling you where to go next, pointing out cover you can crouch behind, and highlighting things you need to destroy. You start as a lowly private, but as you kill enemies and rack up points, you'll gain ranks and earn medals. It's unclear what effect this will have on gameplay, if any, but it's a neat feature nonetheless. The game's sound also looks like it will be up to par, with a solemn opening theme and plenty of war noise during combat.

Overall, we're very impressed by the way Brothers in Arms: Earned in Blood is shaping up. From what we can tell so far, this could be one seriously classy action game--it even throws pithy quotes from Gen. Omar Bradley and Albert Einstein at you between levels. This game will be out in a month or so, and we'll have the full review for you at that time.

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