Brothers in Arms: Road to Hill 30 Hands-On - Multiplayer

We get our first hands-on gameplay with the innovative and cool new multiplayer component of this very promising World War II shooter.

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After years of linear, heavily scripted first-person shooters in which the action unfolds the same way every time, Brothers in Arms: Road to Hill 30 may very well represent the next big thing in the action game genre. Brothers in Arms combines the fast-paced World War II action found in games like Call of Duty with the tactics and squad controls of last year's revolutionary Full Spectrum Warrior. What this means is that you will not only shoot at the enemy with bullets whizzing over your head, but also you'll have to constantly analyze the battlefield and issue commands to your computer-controlled squadmates. Brothers in Arms impressed us when it was unveiled last year, but developer Gearbox has kept the multiplayer component of the game a secret...until now. We recently had the opportunity to get our hands on Brothers in Arms' mutiplayer game, and we've got a full report as to how it plays out.

As members of the development team told us, what they wanted to do is avoid creating the same old multiplayer gameplay found in so many other shooters. It wouldn't have made much sense to shoehorn Brothers in Arms' innovative single-player gameplay into a conventional multiplayer game. So instead of the typical multiplayer modes, such as deathmatch, team deathmatch, or capture the flag, the yet-to-be-named multiplayer mode in Brothers in Arms will let up to four players battle it out, but in an entirely new way. Instead of just running around shooting at one another at random, in Brothers in Arms, each player will control a fireteam of artificially intelligent soldiers, almost like in the single-player game. The main difference is that in the single-player game, you're the squad leader. Consequently, you can issue commands to a fireteam (whose job it is to pin down the enemy) and an assault team (whose task is to maneuver to close range to destroy the enemy). In multiplayer, you'll only have command of a fireteam or an assault team. You can play as the Americans versus the Germans in a head-to-head game, or you can go two versus two, with each player controlling a team of his or her own.

The innovative fire-and-maneuver gameplay will give you command of an infantry fireteam.
The innovative fire-and-maneuver gameplay will give you command of an infantry fireteam.

We got our hands on the Xbox version of the game, and the good news for Xbox fans is that the controls are practically identical to those in Halo and Halo 2, which means you can pick up and play Brothers in Arms with relatively little effort. However, it will take time to figure out the tactical nature of the game. The only key difference is that the left trigger doesn't throw grenades: the black button does. Instead, the left trigger is used for calling up the context-sensitive command icon, which you use to direct your soldiers. For example, if you drag the icon behind a wall or a behind a building corner, you'll order you troops to seek cover there. Drag the icon over enemies and it will turn red, indicating that you want your team to fire on them. Meanwhile, the back button is used to call up the situational-awareness screen. In the single-player game, situational awareness allows you to pause the game to view the battlefield from a bird's-eye perspective. Obviously, situational awareness won't pause the game when you're in multiplayer, but it will let you see where your teammate may be, as well as the location of known enemies. You can also use the directional pad in situational awareness to pan to each of your mission objectives.

One thing that you don't really notice until you're in the game is that there are no aiming reticles or target cursors. This is a nice touch, because it no longer allows the hyperfast, run-and-gun-style shooting that's prevalent in most shooters. Shooting in this game feels incredibly realistic, because it's difficult to hit anything farther than 10 feet away by shooting from the hip. Instead, you need to tap on the right thumbstick to zoom in on the iron sights for each weapon, which makes it easier to aim. Even then, there's no guarantee of getting a hit due to the recoil of the weapon and the other variables that go into actually putting lead into a target. That just makes it all the more satisfying to see one of your shots fell an enemy.

Your soldiers will behave like real human beings, which means they can break under pressure.
Your soldiers will behave like real human beings, which means they can break under pressure.

When you're killed, you have a couple of options at your disposal. Assuming there are still surviving members in your fireteam, you can take control of one of them to continue fighting. But if your team is wiped out, you can use a reinforcement point to respawn at the original base. You only have a limited number of reinforcements per game, so you have to ration them out carefully. One neat touch is the way the server handles a player who drops out of the game. In other games, when a player departs, he usually leaves his team holding the bag. If you're playing a two-versus-two game in Brothers in Arms, and one player leaves, the departing player's reinforcements will be inherited by his teammate. In essence, the remaining player will get the spawns the departing player left behind. In addition, to keep things balanced, the remaining player may get an extra man for his fireteam, or the opposing fireteams will shrink in size to compensate.

Fire and Maneuver

We had the chance to play on a couple of different multiplayer missions. We're told the game will ship with 10 multiplayer missions, though there will be support for downloadable content on Xbox Live, so it's a safe bet we could see new missions available in the future. The Xbox version will also support split-screen multiplayer over Live or system link. The game will not feature cooperative gameplay through the single-player campaign, and, due to historical sensitivities in certain countries, the multiplayer missions are loosely based on actual battles. The first mission we played was Crossroads at Pellerin. Basically, a German supply truck has broken down in the middle of a village, and the Americans must locate explosives and then blow up the truck. The Germans, on the other hand, must stop the Americans. If the Americans plant the explosives, the detonation timer will commence. However, the Germans can halt the timer if they reach the bomb in time. If they do, then the Americans can try to battle back to the truck to restart the timer. The Americans need to blow the truck up or eliminate the Germans to win, while the Germans need to defend the truck for 10 minutes or eliminate the Americans. This is a fairly simple level, so it's a good introduction to multiplayer gameplay.

The action got off to a quick start. We, playing as the American fireteam, maneuvered to the left side of the village, while our teammate, leading the American assault team, maneuvered to the right. One German team deployed in the middle to guard against an advance up the road, while the other German team deployed to its left to engage the oncoming American assault team. This left our fireteam with an opening to advance on the left side, ducking behind haystacks and stone walls as we moved up. We maneuvered, undetected, into position on the Germans' right flank. Then, leaving the bulk of the fireteam behind to provide cover, we swung behind the enemy's rear and engaged him. The Germans, thinking our entire fireteam had maneuvered around to the rear, then tried to break out to their right, thinking they could then flank the assault team to their front. However, the Germans ran right into the artificially intelligent soldiers we had left behind. The Germans were cut down (to their surprise), and we managed to plant the bomb and subsequently protected it long enough to detonate it successfully.

The game rewards good use of tactics. Find the enemy, fix him in position, flank him, and then finish him.
The game rewards good use of tactics. Find the enemy, fix him in position, flank him, and then finish him.

The second mission that we played was In the Trenches. The Americans must destroy two German antiaircraft guns in a field. The field is dominated by trenches, so it's less of a job for short-range weapons, like submachine guns, and more suited toward rifles. Poke your head out of a trench for too long, and someone will draw a bead on it. The Germans can decide whether to defend both guns equally, or they can concentrate their defenses around just one of them. The Americans can try to push their way through the trenches, or they can have one team provide a distraction while the other leapfrogs around the perimeter, which is dominated by thick hedgerows. It makes for a pretty intense game, especially with the Germans falling back in desperate defense of the gun while the Americans try to charge in, guns blazing. Both sides will likely throw lots of grenades in this mission, so you'll encounter huge clouds of dirt in the air, as well as smoke, from the explosions. This can make the final assault pretty chaotic...and fun.

Other multiplayer missions will present different challenges. One, called Darkness, will have the American players parachuting solo into German-held Normandy. In other words, the Americans won't have any AI-troops to control. Meanwhile, the Germans will have their standard fireteams. Under cover of night, the Americans, each armed with a sniper rifle, must work together to locate explosives to blow up a bridge. Meanwhile, the Germans must try to stop them. It'll be important for the Americans to cooperate, so one sniper must fix the enemy in position while the other flanks him.

The graphics are beautiful, and the sound effects sound just as good.
The graphics are beautiful, and the sound effects sound just as good.

Brothers in Arms is a beautiful-looking game on the Xbox, and there's a wealth of detail packed into the character models, environments, and weapons. While you won't see this in the multiplayer game, during the single-player campaign, you'll see your clean-shaven paratroops jump into France. And over the course of the campaign, you'll see more and more facial hair and dirt on their faces. While the Xbox version of the game still needs a little more graphical tweaking (the textures on buildings in the background seem to be missing), there's still a lot to be impressed with in the game. One particularly memorable sight is the way little pieces of dirt "stick" to the screen as if your character is wearing glasses when an explosion goes off nearby. The game is also packed with a soft light bloom, though it accentuates the graphics nicely rather than overpowering them, as it often does in other games.

All in all, Brothers in Arms looks very sharp. At this point, the game is pretty much complete, though Gearbox admits that it's got a whole lot of bugs to fix and other little tweaks to make before signing off on the game. Gearbox will spend the next couple of months wrapping up development, so we can expect the game to ship for the PC, PS2, and Xbox sometime in late February or early March.

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