A Must-Have...At A Discount Price.
If BiA is anything, it's a great on-the-go-gaming companion. When comparing it to something like Metroid Prime Hunters (MPH) – a game with which BiA shares control similarities – BiA is a lot more considerate to a gamer's schedule. Whereas in MPH you were required to return to Samus' ship in order to save your game – and that could take a while, depending on various things – in BiA the game auto saves for you at various checkpoints and there are many of them as you progress through a mission. If you die mid-mission and decide you'll come back to the game later, when you do come back, you can begin that mission from the checkpoint you last left off at; a very nice feature, indeed.
Unlike MPH, however, BiA has no real story that you follow. The anonymous soldier you play as simply follows orders through a series of missions, which are chosen from the main menu. As you complete one mission, the next is unlocked. There is a progression, yes, but you don't get any character development. However, that actually works for this type of game. You're in the middle of a war and everything about the game makes you feel like you're right there on the battlefield, putting your somewhat insignificant life on the line.
The gameplay varies from on-foot missions that require you to gun your way through a village or snipe enemies from afar. There are also entire missions in which you'll be controlling a tank, and those missions offer a wholly different feel and experience. Some missions will be a mix of various elements, including one mission where you're controlling an armored Jeep part of the way through, and then sniping enemies on foot for other parts of the mission. You'll be lobbing grenades, blasting bazookas, dropping explosives into tanks, and so on. There is a lot of variety to the missions and, for the most part, they're pretty exciting and fun.
I compared the game, initially, to MPH – as I'm sure many folks have – because the controls are basically the same. I'm a southpaw (lefty), so, for me, I use the X, Y, B and A buttons to move my character or vehicle, the stylus to aim, and the R button to fire. The touch-screen also allows you to zoom in when using your sniper rifle or bazooka, as well as lob grenades, or reload and select various weapons you have on-hand. The controls themselves – as with MPH – work great. But the flaw is in the game's graphics. Though the game looks great, the frame-rate is rather choppy. This causes the gameplay to be a lot less smooth than MPH, and it's just not as easy or enjoyable to shoot enemies. The collision detection is also kind of spotty, and you'll find yourself sometimes caught up on a wall or other environmental object(s).
Even with all that said, it's still a very enjoyable game because the missions are very exciting. The settings are dire and desperate. The look, sound and feel of every mission is very authentic, and the issues with the gameplay almost add to the real frustration you could imagine would be present on an actual battlefield. And though the game is forgiving in the sense of how it creates checkpoints every few steps of the way, it can also be quite a difficult challenge to get through each mission. You might find yourself playing through a mission segment four or five times before you fully grasp what it is you're required to do in order to progress. There's an officer who's always spouting out commands at you (via text onscreen), but it flashes by so fast and there's so much going on that you often miss what the current objective is and end up caught in a crossfire of tank blasts. It can be frustrating, yet you'll want to keep coming back for more.
The sound in BiA is really atmospheric. There is almost no music within the actual missions, and this is the first time I can say that it isn't really missed either. All you hear, for the most part, are the sounds of men dying on the battlefield, tanks rolling through a town, and rounds endlessly firing. Considering the frame-rate of the game's graphics, the sound in BiA does a lot to help keep you on track and identify certain enemies who might not be easily noticed otherwise. My only gripe with the sound would be, when scrolling the menus and / or the mission selection -- or at the end of a mission, when there is music -- the music gets abruptly cut out upon selecting a mission. A small matter for most, but with a game like this it's all about the mood. I would have enjoyed a smooth, faded transition into the missions etc. Nitpicking? Perhaps. But you could otherwise really get lost in the mood of this game, and little things like that can easily break that mood, in my opinion.
While I'm on the subject of gripes, I would like to mention one other big one: Multiplayer. It's there, but only in the form of local, multi-card gameplay. That's not going to extend the life of this game for most DS owners. The simple fact of the matter is it's just not that easy for most folks to find others nearby who also own the same game and are available and willing to play. Online play is where it's at, and I suspect this game would have fared wonderfully in that area. The single-player gameplay is surprisingly fulfilling, though, and it's probably worth the buy even though that's really all most people are going to get from BiA DS. But there's just no denying, this is the sort of game you'd love to get some multiplayer pwnage with.
Bros. In Arms DS isn't a perfect hit. It does a lot of things right and is probably the best thing Ubisoft has done on the system. If you look at the publisher's track record with this handheld, you'll notice they haven't been doing anything great. But BiA is certainly a good start. If we can perhaps see a little polish here and there, as well as a bit more time put into the overall project, I'm sure, in the future, we could see a stellar title from these guys. The main changes I'd make to this particular game would be to up the frame-rate, iron out the collision detection, and add online multiplayer with some good, solid options. It's hard to not want more for your money where this game is concerned, yet there's still a lot to enjoy. So, I'd say it's a must-have at $20, but is certainly lacking at the full retail price. Of course, it's a World War II shooter, so please keep that in mind when considering this game. It's probably not everyone's cup of tea.
Overall: 7.5 (Look for this game at a discount price, and you should be very happy to have it in your collection.)