The World War II shooting-action genre has blown up to gargantuan proportions since we heralded 3D graphics that were able to do history justice. What made the original Brothers in Arms (BIA) stand out from the influx was the impression of working within an intelligent regiment. Your team mates were not just attractive decorations that provided cannon fodder to the enemy; they would actually help you mow down enemy lines, give you cover when you attempted to make a burst, and draw attention away should you choose to take the indirect and sneaky route. This DS edition retains all of these elements, but it is missing something that played a huge part in the progenitors: NOT having YOU as the team leader!
Instead, you are placed in the unassuming role of ‘just another soldier’, this time playing a mere pawn in the grand scheme of things. With the director’s cap in the hands of the on-board artificial intelligence, this means you are told what to do, when to do it, and if you don’t follow orders... *bang*. Okay, so your commander doesn’t exactly blow one into your thick skull, but if you ever deviate from what the game is instructing you to do, the game is over. Being linear is one thing, but the degree of freedom here is so strictly limited, even retreating two steps too far will see you tagged as having gone AWOL.
And so this story is all about you following orders as the 101st Airborne Division storms its way through 3 campaigns, 16-odd levels of running, gunning and driving around in jumbo Panzer tanks.
BIA DS is a conversion of the popular mobile phone game - BIA 3D. The same pick-up-and-play gameplay is translated well across the platforms, and what we end up with is short bursts of World War II action, 10 minute chunks per mission on average. While this is acceptable for cell phones, a DS port with hardly any single player additions means a DS cash-in that will only last the better part of 2 hours. This is a pretty short ride considering the incredible background accompanying it. The main reason why you can fly through it so quickly lies in the linearity of it all, and the fact that you are always held by the hand and guided towards your next objective without any time for some R & R.
The typical battle plan usually involves defending a fortress from a Kraut assault, advancing past enemy lines and breaching their territory, or hightailing after some German soldiers in a recon car. Of course, your objectives are highly volatile, and as the enemy re-strategizes, so too will you. As with your average war game there are plenty of scripted scenes, from Panzer tanks smashing through your barricades, to low swooping bombing crafts that casually drop a load to take out the bunker you were previously occupying a second ago. There is also plenty of destructible scenery around the place that a handy bazooka or tank will be able to poke or smash holes through. It adds a lot of intensity to the incessant buzzing of stray bullets and frantic explosions tearing up the battlefields. However, with so much going on, the framerate is hit from all sides. And so every time something so much as wavers, the constant slow-down takes away what realism could possibly be extracted from such a down-sized experience.
When the good war has been fought and the remaining soldiers can finally rest on their laurels, there is much to be said about technical achievement, but little with regards to overall accomplishment. What we have here is a game that looks like a mighty impressive adaptation of ‘big’ BIA, but that has the trappings of an overly ambitious project that could have gone a few more rounds in the washing machine.