Single Player Mode
You are Sergeant Matt Baker, squad leader of 13 men of the 101st Airborne Division “Screaming Eagles”. I’m not sure why you are never actually in charge of all 13 soldiers at the same time other than the constraints of game play. BiA tries really hard to involve you in the “feel” of war and I think it excels in this. The sights, sounds, drama, the fun and terror that you experience with your squad members draw you closer into the game, as though you are there in D-Day France. At the loading screens Matt Baker has some dialogue on how he feels about his squad, the situation at the moment, or the loss of a friend and this adds another element to the immersion.
There are no training missions in Brothers in Arms as in Medal of Honor, Allied Assault or Call of Duty where you go through weapons and movement exercises. Reading the manual to learn all the keys is beneficial. Hints are provided in several of the early missions in case you don’t have them all memorized. A hint box will pop up and tell you what key to press in order to crouch, jump or pick up enemy weapons. Remember the F key for weapons. Later on you’ll need it, as there is no armory to resupply yourself, although you can pick up ammo from discarded weapons, or swap weapons if you want to have a carbine instead of a Garand.
There are many reasons why what you’ll see in the single player game will keep you playing until the end. At the beginning of each mission you are all gathered around waiting for your briefing. Usually one character (Hartsock, Desola, Leggett, Allan or Garrett) is talking about what life was like back home or what happened in the previous mission. Each time you learn a little more about all of them. If you listen you almost get to know them. Whether it is friendly banter or discord you can’t help but feel something for your fellow soldiers. Some of the jokes were really not too bad.
If you’re used to looking for med packs forget it. No medics or packs in this game, so staying behind cover and laying down suppressive fire is necessary during maneuvers. Depending on the difficulty level you choose, you are not necessarily going to be killed with a single enemy round, but you had better be careful with your fragile body. You’ve only got one and bullets will hurt. I actually loved this feature; besides being realistic it stops you from those suicidal runs you may have practiced in other games.
Occasionally you will see some of your squad mates die in combat, then they are back, none the worse for wear, in time for the next mission. While this affected some of the realism, you really do need their help, and I’m sure this was a tradeoff in the game play decisions.
In some missions after you have completed your objectives you’ll see incoming gliders (better duck) as they come flying in low and fast. Had me worried the first time one came in. I spun around thinking there were more Germans coming at me. Another time, I planted a charge at an anti-aircraft site, and there was a dead German lying nearby. When the charge blew, his body flew up and away from the gun. In other games the soldier would just disappear. Seeing him blow-up added realism in my opinion.
There was an issue with excessive gun wobble in version 1.2 but this is almost eliminated with patch 1.3. Now it’s easier to get a hit and that’s a good thing. Also, in patch 1.2 a headshot would not kill the enemy but with 1.3 a headshot takes them out. And it seemed like I fired 8-9 body hits to get a kill in version 1.2 and now it only takes 2-3. Still seems like too many!
Speaking of disappointments, the biggest one I had with BiA was that the game seems on rails in some areas. Meaning you’re funneled into going a certain way or ways, because you always have some choices obviously, in order to be able execute a good flanking attack. But you’re not free to just roam around wherever you want to. For example, you may come upon an open doorway, but you’re not allowed to walk through it! Out in the fields, you might want to jump over a wall or a fallen tree that is blocking your path, only to find that isn’t gonna happen either. So you end up having to go around them as scripted in the game. It’s not noticeable enough to kill all that great immersion that is going on, but it is noticeable.
Squad members and enemy soldiers react in Brothers in Arms more realistically then in previous games. You will see or hear your squad mates moving to cover or they will yell out that they cannot hit the enemy from the area where you placed them. Pay attention to them, they’re not kidding around! Also, do not put them in areas without any cover, or those annoying machine gun emplacements will quickly kill all your buddies. A few times I restarted the chapter just so I would have a full squad in order to be able to finish the mission.
During game play you will not be able to save the mission wherever you want. Unfortunately you will have to complete the objective or wait for a save point built into the game. To avoid frustration, make sure you clear all distractions.
The game is written almost like a book. Meaning there are chapters for each of the different scenarios, 21 in all. Some of the later chapters are actually totally scripted, and although you can move around, fire your weapon, etc., you don’t have any influence on what is to be. It’s a unique device and one which I found to be quite effective. Many of the chapters are taken from real engagements as described by the veterans who were there. That includes descriptions of the fighting, maps that were drawn in the field and showing where the opposing forces were located and how the battle was fought. Impressive.
The weapons you will use in BiA are the standard set of WW II pistols, long arms, submachine guns, sniper rifles, grenades, anti-tank weapons like the bazooka, and heavy machine guns. And while you can quite often blow up enemy artillery pieces, you will not be able to use them. Likewise, you won’t be driving the tanks or firing the main gun, although you can use the topside .50 caliber machine gun.
After a few missions you will be able to control an assault team and a fire support team. They each have their own weapons and use different tactics, so use them wisely. The tanks are your greatest asset in the missions in which they appear. You’ll be fighting along side an M5A1 Stuart or an M4A1 Sherman. Look after them, you never know when a German with a Panzerfraust or an anti-tank gun is waiting around the corner. It’s great fun to be able to clamber aboard one of your tanks, direct its movement and fire on the battlefield and fire that big old .50 cal yourself. Sometimes a Thompson just doesn’t cut it, you know?
Did I mention the enemy has tanks as well? Well, they do, and you had better be wary of them. Sometimes you will be tasked with taking them out with a bazooka, but choose your target angle wisely, that frontal armor is tough! A really neat feature of the game is when approaching an enemy tank from the rear, you can climb aboard it and drop a grenade down the hatch. Works well if that slow Sherman can’t keep up with you.