Looking back, I think I can say with confidence that Brothers in Arms: Road to Hill 30 was one of the finest shooters I’ve ever played. It balanced the realism and gameplay well – so much that the devs insist on calling it ‘authentic’ so as not to piss off both crowds – and most importantly, it makes sure the player doesn’t get into the Rambo mindset. “You charge machine gun, you die.”
My sudden nostalgia is why I’m writing this up – basically, a complaint about the game market these days. Couple years back, I saw one of my favourite games of all times, Ghost Recon, turn from a first-person squad-based tactical infantry game to a watered-down third-person console shoot-em-up. It was saddening to hear that Ghost Recon is now going for the ‘wider-audience’ approach. When Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter came out, I was overjoyed that the PC version would be first-person – only to be severely disappointed by the AI, presentation, and the gameplay overall.
What made Ghost Recon one of the greatest shooters of all times was the fact that you were a soldier. The fact that you can jump between your soldiers meant that none of them stand out; your entire hand-picked squad was equally special. This feeling of being a faceless grunt but also something of a veteran leader was very unique, and I have yet to play a game that has replicated this feel. Most shooters place you in a rank different from the AI guys – your squadmates may be standard-issue US/Russian/etc. soldiers, but you are not, even if your wear the uniform – but Ghost Recon constantly reminds you that you are not ‘better’; you are a regular guy, even if your command the squad. It’s not your job to get medals (though you do get quite a few of them) but to do missions and keep your mates alive.
Advanced Warfighter, however, tried to ‘stylized’ the presentation of the game. You were a named grunt, a squad leader, and the role is fixed. Your squad is no longer just a band of infantrymen, but all with their own names and faces. Your job is no longer to just help the war effort (e.g. in one mission of GR, you had to protect a NATO base from a Russian column) but to do ‘special missions’ like rescuing VIPs, etc. You were no longer a soldier – you were a hero, and that killed the experience.
Brothers in Arms, while it did not have as good an effect, is also quite good in its presentation. Though your character is named, and your squad is named, and everything is basically fixed, it still does not feel like your character is the most important or powerful. Though it sounds lame, in that game, your squad really is your greatest weapon – they can fix and finish enemies as well as you can, so long as you give the proper orders so they can get at them.
As I’m writing this, I’m ‘getting’ Earned in Blood (unfortunately, it’s rated M, so I can’t buy it) and I expect it to be on my hard drive for a long time. Hopefully, long enough to last me until the next Brothers in Arms comes out (Hell’s Highway, I believe, focusing on Operation Market Garden and the Arnhem drops – aka, “A Bridge Too Far”) or until Ghost Recon – or hell, Rainbow Six – reverse-jumps the shark and goes back to miltary-tactical mode.