As we noted upon its release in January 2009, Gameloft’s original Brothers in Arms: Hour of Heroes was an ambitious but somewhat clunky World War II adventure — a first-person shooter trapped in a third-person shooter’s interface, giving you a view of your heavily-armed soldier as he advanced through the European countryside. Since then, Gameloft has released Modern Combat: Sandstorm and N.O.V.A., two first-person shooters that clearly learned a lot from Brother in Arms’ mistakes, and now Brothers in Arms 2: Global Front ($8) has arrived to show how far this earlier series has come.
First, the good news: the new Brothers in Arms 2 is generally a major improvement over its predecessor, liberally borrowing both the first-person perspective and richer color palette of Modern Combat: Sandstorm, plus other 3-D graphics tricks found in both Sandstorm and N.O.V.A. The result is a World War II shooter that places you in European, Pacific, and North African/Arabic surroundings—often with a lot more color, for better or worse, than the brown-washed original Brothers in Arms—yet constantly surrounds you with so much action that you’ll feel like you’re actually in the midst of a pocket-sized war.
A lot of this is due to the new graphics engine, which makes very good use of Apple’s devices. Planes strafe and bomb your position from overhead, tanks and jeeps roll out on both sides, and foot soldiers appear in clusters rather than as individual targets. Most of the time, you’re carrying a rifle or submachine gun capable of taking out one person at a time, so using grenades and the occasional heavy machine gun to “cut down everything that moves”—the game’s words, not ours—is necessary to keep from being killed, particularly as you make further progress through the game’s 13 stages. Though Brothers in Arms 2’s levels don’t have the same taut, Goldeneye-like designs of Modern Combat: Sandstorm, they’re impressive in other ways, providing you with views of cities under siege and even a full-on aircraft carrier attack scene, viewed from the sky. Frame rates are generally smooth, and polygon counts impressive; apart from the cinematics, which are occasionally surprisingly detailed, the game looks better in motion than in screenshots.
More good news comes in the form of the controls, which dispense with the first game’s touchscreen wonkiness (“slide two fingers apart to aim”) in favor of the same simple virtual joystick and context-shifting button controls found in Gameloft’s more recent shooters. You’re still offered similar moments—taking cover behind walls, sniping, and taking out enemy tanks—but they’re handled quickly and intuitively, without the need for mastering complex touch-based commands. Platform jumping notably isn’t part of the action, but there are other sequences that break up the standard walking and shooting: piloting a gilder mid-game requires little more instruction than to use the accelerometer for steering, flying through hoops to avoid flak from enemy artillery, while riding in a jeep is as simple as sitting back and operating the turret by turning and shooting. There’s a lot to do here, and it doesn’t get old, though only one full day of play should be expected for serious gamers; others can consume the missions in bite-sized chunks.
Two of Brothers in Arms 2’s weaknesses are in storytelling and checkpointing. Gameloft has grafted a “what happened to your dead brother?” plot onto the action, and used extensive voice narration before and during levels to tell the story, which has more unanswered and frankly not-so-interesting questions than the second season of Lost. Other than the fact that your soldier keeps getting shot and wounded throughout the game, you have little reason to care about him or the reasons why his brother lost his medal of honor; though the dialogue is copious, none of it is actually interesting. On a related note, a fine, vaguely heroic score plays in the background as a distant accompaniment to the dialogue, explosions, and screams of battle.
Additionally, the checkpoints in the game are constructed a little awkwardly, so depending on how and when you die, you’ll find yourself treated to the thankfully skippable cutscenes multiple times. If you’re interrupted mid-game and come back, you’ll lose your progress through a stage and need to start at its beginning, and in some stages, you’ll find yourself dying repeatedly through failures to stick closely enough to the green intermediary checkpoint zones: getting run over by your own tank as you’re guarding it, dying instantly for failing to stay within a very narrow path while retrieving documents during a mission, and so on. Brothers in Arms 2 affects the illusion of an open-ended world, but in reality, it’s both extremely linear and unusually strict about the path you follow through it.
Except in multiplayer mode. Though Brothers in Arms 2 is a little more expensive than its predecessor, it does include a six-player online multiplayer mode, six-player local Wi-Fi, and a two-player local Bluetooth mode, with several types of play spread across five different open maps, and limited face/army-choosing customization before you play. Players are rated primarily on the number of kills they achieve, and even though the game’s only a day old, multiple people already have tallies in the thousands. This isn’t extraordinarily hard, as the maps have a lot of open space, offering plenty of room to get hit by a sniper rifle or a bazooka. More and better maps would be helpful to justify the $8 asking price.
Overall, Brothers in Arms 2: Global Front is a very good game—had it been released a year ago, it would have been amazing, but by today’s standards, it falls a little short of the wow factor that Modern Combat and N.O.V.A. previously offered, and rests on the fine edge of our B+ and A- ratings. Some players are going to feel that it merits the higher recommendation based solely on the diversity of the missions, but as we played the game, we felt that the pacing was a little off; a firefight interrupted by a “did you know my brother?” discussion, a first-person headshot cam that moved a little too quickly and without satisfaction on the random occasions when it did appear, and a lack of gravitas in the action. This is an entertaining title, and a big step up from the original Brothers in Arms, but enhancements to the multiplayer and extra polish in the single-player mode could make it truly awesome.
Company and Price
Company: Gameloft S.A.
Title: Brothers in Arms 2
Compatible: iPod touch, iPhone/3G/3GS