I don't think that it's hyperbole to say that Gearbox's Brothers in Arms series completely changed the game for military shooters. From its first incarnation in Road to Hill 30, it reinvigorated a tired genre through a combination of tactics, smarts, and storyline to introduce a stellar new franchise into the gaming lexicon. Somehow it made the done-to-death World War II army game feel new and exciting. Randy Pitchford, Col. John Antal, and the team at Gearbox completely blew up the "corridor shooter" model that so many of the genre's games had become, and introduced wide-open battlefields with squad-level command and amazingly adaptive and smart enemies. By the time that the follow-up hit in the name of Earned in Blood, the multiplayer mode had caught up to the single player game to create what most fans hail as one of the smartest combat titles ever made.
As we wait with bated breath for the first next-generation franchise title from the good people at Gearbox Software, a lovingly styled combination of the first two game arrives on the PSP in for form of Brothers in Arms: D-Day. Despite desperately devilish controls, some unavoidable slowdown when the action gets hot, and a rough translation from the big screen to the small, D-Day still packs a powerful punch to the proverbial gut that any fan of the series will immediately appreciate and enjoy as an appetizer for the big guns that'll be firing across the virtual European battlefields later this year.
D-Day still packs a powerful punch to the proverbial gut that any fan of the series will immediately appreciate and enjoy...
To be sure, D-Day is not really a new game. As I mentioned earlier, it mashes together the storyline and many of the battles from the first two titles in the series to form a standalone portable disc portrait of Life in Hell circa 1944. Revisiting the dynamic duo of Matt Baker and Red Hartsock, you're led back through the challenges that their airborne unit faced in the deathtraps of D-Day beaches, hedgerows, and farms of coastal France those hellacious early days of Operation Overlord. All the characters serving under Baker and Red that you'll remember fondly are back, such as Leggett, Allen, Garnett, and Mac. You won't be changing history here, either, as the two main characters' destinies remain firmly where they were the last time you visited them.
As it stands, D-Day is best described as a fan service for those of us who hold Gearbox's creation in such high esteem. All of the game's best facets are clearly on display, including the tremendous level of tactical strategy needed for success, punishing difficulty (although it never, ever feels cheap), adaptive AI with seemingly no scripted enemy movements, and combined command of squads of men and armor. Even the haunting music has made its way onto the little UMD disc.
Unfortunately, the problems that lie therein may ultimately not be the best way for gamers to get their initial exposure to Brothers in Arms on the PSP. There are noticeable audio hiccups during the cutscenes where the characters will talk over each other. On other occasions, you'll seemingly be taking dead aim at a Nazi soldier's head with no noticeable damage ever happening. However, these are relatively minor issues that are easily overlooked. The two biggest problems, however, can at times cripple the enjoyment of the game – the controls and the slowdown.
From a control perspective, it's just too easy to bash the PSP configuration, so let's just say that it's far from optimal for a first-person shooter. Gearbox does their absolute best with what they have to work with, but despite their almost superhuman efforts there will be times that you'll die because you just can't get into position or, when in close combat, you're fatally unable to draw a bead on an enemy who's right in front of you. In fact, the only reason that this doesn't happen more often is because it appears that the developers have loosened up how vicious the Germans can be, sometimes having the soldiers a lot easier to pick off than those on D-Day's console brethren. This isn't to say that the living's easy – not by a long shot – but let's just say that a couple of those Wehrmact fellas I nailed with a sniper rifle were a lot more exposed than last time I met them.
The other big problem is the slowdown. There's no way to get around that when the action gets hairy – which it will plenty of times – that the screen gets choppy. Sometimes, you'll even think that the whole game may crash around you. It definitely becomes hard to maintain your composure and save yourself from a bloody death when you can't really tell what the heck is going on around you. I suppose that Gearbox took out as much as they could without sacrificing the overall game structure, but the sacrifice is tough to get through sometimes.
Despite its faults, the core gameplay still shines through, and diehard Brothers in Arms fans such as myself tend to be pretty forgiving of these issues simply because of the joy that the series has brought to a tired genre. Gearbox certainly didn't have to put their superior franchise out on the PSP, and also didn't have to pack it with over a dozen "greatest hits" missions from their two sublime games from the past 2 years. However, they did, and I for one am better for it. Carrying around Baker and Hartsock in my PSP and being able to relive some of the fiercest single player battles I've ever experienced in my gaming life is undoubtedly a good thing. If you've never played either of the original console games, though, start with Road to Hill 30 (preferably on the Xbox) before you pop D-Day into your PSP. One should certainly come before the other.