IGN Review of Brothers in Arms DS
Ubisoft's Gameloft division has been there on the Nintendo DS since day one, producing dual-screen renditions of a few of its mobile phone game designs. They've been mainly hit or miss DS properties -- mostly miss, admittedly -- but fire enough rounds and you're bound to hit the target on occasion. And that's Brothers in Arms DS: a moderate hit on the Nintendo handheld. I say "moderate" because it's more a "show off" piece of what the Nintendo DS can pull off if you manage to put a lot of time and effort into the product. Brothers in Arms is so well produced that we're almost able to overlook the game's little quirks. Almost. It's a great looking, intense wartime action game that's actually a whole lot of fun, but yeah...it has a few issues mostly due to the technical side of developing such an elaborate design on not-quite-capable hardware.
Even though we've accepted that the DS isn't quite the system to go to for intense World War II battles, Gameloft shakes things up and goes all out with a production that's almost overwhelming: incredibly detailed 3D environments. Large battlefields. Destructible structures. Computer controlled teammates. Scripted events. Voice-recorded commands from your troop. And some of the most energetic action seen on the Nintendo DS. This is Saving Private Ryan stuff, people, in a production that you'd never really expect on the Nintendo portable.
The game's changed from the console's first-person perspective to a more behind-the-shoulder view so players can see the character they're controlling. So, yes, it's no longer a "first person shooter." But that doesn't make the game bad; in fact, it opens up the game to be a more tactical action game. When players push up against a wall, for example, their soldier will press their back against it for cover -- sidle over to the wall's edge and you'll be able to target enemies before leaping out to shoot them in the open. Same thing when ducking behind a low-rising bunker -- you'll automatically lower yourself (mostly) out of harm's way so that you can target enemies.
Brothers in Arms DS is entirely stylus and D-pad driven, and the Gameloft team's finally figuring out how to use the touchscreen to the best of the system's abilities. The entire screen will be used much like other DS "mouselook" style controls, but there's the added ability to swap weapons using a cool pull-down menu that rarely gets in the way. The ability to throw weapons is also pulled off really well: tapping and holding the grenade in the corner of the screen will shift the top-screen's perspective so you can see your grenade's reticule. Slide the stylus up or down will adjust how far you'll throw the grenade. There are some qualms with the stylus control, like the inability to adjust the "mouselook" sensitivity -- I honestly wish I could tweak how fast (or slow) I could aim, but instead we're stuck with a set sensitivity that probably not adjusted to any player's liking.
There are definite limitations in place, mostly in the game's level structure. While Brothers in Arms tries to give an "open environment" feel, it's mostly a "follow the points" design: run to the glowing point, take out the German soldiers, run to the next point, place an explosive charge, run to the next, shoot more Germans. Later in the game you get seated in a fast moving Jeep or behind the cannon of a tank, but mostly this is an on-foot action game with the occasional vehicular stuff to shake things up. The three different campaigns of about a half dozen scripted missions each will take about five hours to plow through -- the added Veteran difficulty level extends the play further, as does the multi-card multiplayer deathmatch.
And with all that's going on, it's hard to believe that Gameloft could shove this console-level production without any problems. Truth is, there's a lot of little things that got through. The artificial intelligence of both teammates and opponents are a bit on the "dumb" side, and it's easy to confuse the German soldiers shooting at you simply by deviating from the path the game expects you to go. Stray outside the level layout -- like, run around a structure in a different direction than the game wants you to go, and you can simply take out the enemy soldiers while they're looking away...even when you're shooting at them. Some of the scripted events can also get a little confusing, simply due to the game's inability to clarify what needs to be done -- I was frequently stuck for several minutes in different situations repeating a mission trying to figure out why it would end in failure.
But man, does the game look and sound great. The framerate had to take a bit of a dive to push the amount of detail in Brothers in Arms DS, but because the game focuses on a "slow and steady" design, the fact that it's not running quite at 30 frames per second is an issue that's easily overlooked. This is one of the best looking 3D games on the Nintendo DS, without a doubt. And the audio's no slouch either -- music's kept at a minimum, more focusing on the battlefield sounds blasting throughout the course of the war. Excellent stuff.
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