Hot on the heels of Brothers in Arms: Road to Hill 30 comes Earned in Blood, yet another attempt at recreating some of the terrible conditions that men from around the world had to contend with during WWII. Earned is not a full fledged sequel in terms of a storyline that immediately follows that of Hill 30, as the two storylines intersect at times, and at times you’ll be speaking or hearing about things that took place in Hill 30, or things that are about to take place.
Earned in Blood has you taking control of Sgt. Joe “Red” Hartsock, a man who only recently was granted the title of Sergeant because of his actions and leadership on the field. The story is advanced not only through the action sequences where you control Red and his squad, but also through the short cut scenes where Red is discussing events with his Commanding Officer. However, it’s not going to be the story that will keep you interested in playing Earned in Blood, it’s going to be the tactical action that’s going to suck you in.
Because this is a follow-up to an already established title, developers Gearbox didn’t stray too far from what made the original, which was a critical darling. They didn’t cave to the desires of some players and make this a run-n-gun title (although easy mode is treading awfully close), and chose to keep the game high on tactics and true–to-life squad takedowns. In early levels, you’ll be working with one small fire team that you’ll have to use to either pin down unlucky enemy squads while you flank and destroy, or vice versa. As the game progresses and you gain access to both a fire team and an assault squad, your role changes to tactician rather than a team member.
Controlling your teams is very easy and intuitive — just pull the left trigger to enable the targeting reticule and move it to where you’d like your team to be, then release. The selected team will then intelligently move to this location, firing on enemies if spotted and putting down covering fire for one another to make it to the destination. To order them to suppress a target is equally simple, and to force an assault, a quick tap of the right trigger will order a rush on the selected location. This basic formula is one you must grasp very quickly as it is the only means for you and your adopted brothers, to make it through Earned in Blood in one piece.
Something that is actually quite remarkable is the level of AI in this game; both for enemies and your own squads. Your teams will make their way to waypoints in a manner which all but ensures their safe arrival; but if you tell them to stay out in the open, no amount of suppressing fire or evasive maneuvering will prevent them from being riddled with bullets since the enemy AI isn’t dumb enough to pass up a free ticket to the shooting gallery. Once at a specified location, your units take cover and fire on any enemy positions that they see, even to the point of pinning the enemy down without your direction. Enemy units thankfully are equally as smart as yours, evading the stifling gunfire of you and your teams, and even pulling the same tactics you’re trying to employ.
Aside from the story mode where you take the role of Sgt. Hartsock, you also can play in a single player Skirmish mode. Skirmish comes in a few flavors, such as timed assault, defense, or objective mode. The better player will find more of a challenge in the Tour of Duty mode, in which you are challenged to take a team through five missions unscathed. Successfully completing a tourunlocks a new difficulty level for the next tour. Wimps need not apply.
Online is where the game should really shine, but getting into a game is tougher and more frustrating than it should be. For starters, it seems either nobody is playing this game online, or tons of people are playing and hogging up the open slots – as whenever I tried to get online to play , I could only find a total of four available games. Even when an open slot appears, actually connecting to the game is a lesson in frustration. After selecting a game to join, you’re treated to a loading screen which takes around a minute to finish, and by then the game has long since launched, which results in you getting bounced back to another loading screen before arriving back at the Live lobby.
Online games are limited to four players, so more often than not you’ll be doing a lot of waiting, or enjoying a boring round of one-on-one against another human. Naturally, multiple modes of play are here with you choosing the side of either the Americans or the Germans, so you’ll be either defending a position or attacking another with variations such as “destroying the ammunition stashes.” The overall online experience leaves you feeling unsatisfied, especially due to the small number of players allowed in any given game.
The tactical action and intelligent game design really set the game up to shine, right? Well, I thought so too initially, until spending a fair deal of time with Earned in Blood. After a short bit of time, the bugs really started to really irritate me. There’s a substantial amount of audio clipping and dropout while playing the game. Along with these audio drops, I bore witness to plenty of framerate slowdowns or out-and-out stalls in the graphics engine. It becomes frustrating to the point of wanting to throw the controller, or for the more mellow players out there – simple turning off the game.
Brothers in Arms: Earned in Blood looks great on paper. The tactical combat is well executed, and the production values seem great…on the surface, After a bit, the visual and audio stuttering become nearly painful, and are both showstoppers. If you’re one of those people who can tolerate slowdowns, stalls and stutters when you’re doing your best to flank an enemy, then maybe you will love this game. Otherwise, it’s just an exercise in frustration.
- Gameplay: 7
- Conceptually, the tactical aspects of the game are a blast, but nasty, but the buggy nature of the game makes it difficult to actually bugs make it almost impossible at times to execute those tactics.
- Graphics: 7
- A pretty game marred by graphical glitches.
- Sound: 8
- Solid voice work and the surround speakers get a good work out during firefights.
- Replay: 6
- Technical issues aside, the online multiplayer lacks an interesting hook, and the single player story gets frustrating due to bugs.
- Overall: 6
- Looks great on paper, but is so buggy, it’s hard to recommend to anyone.
– Jeff Paramchuk