War is hell - but it can be fun

Has D-Day reached the saturation point more than six decades after it took place?

brothers in arms 88 (photo credit: )
brothers in arms 88
(photo credit: )
Brothers in Arms: Road to Hill 30, a CD-ROM in English by Gearbox Software for Ubisoft, distributed by Hed Artzi Multimedia with a 32-page Hebrew-language user's manual, requires Windows XP and a 1 Mhz Pentium III PC and up, for ages 17 through adult, NIS 199 to NIS 219. Rating: 4 1/2 stars Has D-Day - the theme of countless full-length films, plays, TV movies, books and computer games - reached the saturation point more than six decades after it took place? Apparently not, based on the vitality and special niche of this highly authentic first-person shooter. Software companies have produced many games on World War II, either specific campaigns or large chunks of the action in Europe, North Africa and the Far East. We had several versions of Medal of Honor and Call of Duty, to name only two of the best. But in these games, the player had to fight the enemy mostly on his own. Here, you take the role of Sergeant Matt Baker of the Fox company, a paratroop regiment, who goes through eight horrible days following his drop into Normandy on June 5, 1944, the night before the momentous event. "Nothing in my life mattered until now," says the semi-fictional hero at the outset. Baker often speaks from the heart during the game, which takes about 13 or 14 hours to play, and expresses his fears not about his own survival, but over his responsibility for the lives of his "brothers" in arms. When pursuing the missions at any of four levels of difficulty, you cannot wipe out the Wehrmacht on your own, but only with the full synergism and teamwork of all your soldiers. Each of those on your team has a name, a face, personality and a personal history, and he is a full partner, not just someone who follows the commander around. The user's manual, presented as a "Soldier's Guide" with pictures of Allied commanders such as General Dwight D. Eisenhower and Lt. Colonel Robert Cole, notes that the game is "dedicated to the veterans of the 101st Airborne - the Greatest Generation - for having the courage to stand against evil and win the war against Fascism, and all those who have fought and died in the defense of human freedom." The manual also provides accurate details on Allied weapons, from the M1911 semi-automatic pistol and M1A1 sub-machine gun to the Browning automatic rifle and light machine gun A1 fragmentation grenades. But you can‚t use many at the same time, only the one in your hands and one hanging on your back or a pistol strapped to your leg. Enemy soldiers, who are not named but described by the US soldiers mostly as "krauts," are divided among conscripts, infantry, Panzer grenadiers and paratroop divisions. A tutorial provides the basics, and from time to time during missions you will be asked to practice, such as by shooting a scarecrow in a cornfield dressed in an enemy uniform. The aim is not just to fire at the Germans, but also to flank or pin them down with suppressing fire. Baker's tactical decisions in real time determine whether the mission will succeed or whether he and his teammates will be killed; in the latter case, the mission must be restarted from the point when it was last automatically saved. Unlike most first-person shooter games, you don't ordinarily look directly through the weapon's crosshair to aim at a target (unless you go into the options menu and insist on enabling crosshair targeting); instead, you aim where you think the bullet or grenade will land. This makes the fighting more difficult but much more challenging and realistic. The developers intentionally left out "medic" kits that heal wounded soldiers, so if your soldiers are badly hit, they will die (at least temporarily). Although the program does provide bird's eye views called up by activating "situational awareness" buttons, it doesn't make it easy by showing you whether a "kraut" is hiding behind a building or a nearby wall. This is war, after all! You must be dedicated and determined, especially at the higher levels (called "difficult" and "authentic"); if you're not, you'll never reach and survive the assault at Hill 30. The graphics engine is very good, although not excellent, however, the realistic missions and the outstanding background noises make the play highly credible. Unlike most computer war games, this one does not offer musical accompaniment to the missions, but this didn't bother me, as it intensifies your ability to concentrate. Brothers in Arms is designated for a "mature" audience because of the language (there are four-letter words, as out on a real battlefield) and the blood (spattered and realistic, but not gore in the form of butchered bodies). I was disappointed that there was no option for sensitive souls to minimize the visual horror of battle - but after all, war is hell.