Since publishers started taking a serious look at the iPhone and iPod Touch platform for mobile games, the types of games that land on the platform are either very good looking but with simplistic gameplay or not that great looking with more sophisticated gameplay. Brothers in Arms: Hour of Heroes manages to mix some serious gameplay with compelling graphics and sound that for a moment, you would think you’re playing a game on a DS or PSP gaming console. On the balance, however, Hour of Heroes attempts to do too much and feels too ambitious for an initial outing on the iPhone platform.
Hour of Heroes takes place on the western front pitting Allied American forces against Nazi Germany in the days after D-Day. You’ll be fighting in forests and fields of the Western Front. For an iPhone/iPod title, the visuals are decent and do a good enough job to draw you into the game. Sound effects, except for footsteps, are done well and during the cacophony of battles, you’ll find yourself riveted by all that’s going around you. Gameloft comes up trumps in presentation.
On the other hand, the controls are equally ambitious. I’ll take a recent game, for example, with Star Wars: Force Unleashed. Here’s a game where you have clearly defined gameplay points while the rest of the time, the game will shuttle you from one gameplay hotspot to another. The intention is to minimize the intricacies of moving around a character on the iPhone while at the same time doing battle. Other mobile games do the same. Many, for example, feature an auto-walking function so you don’t have to press that extra button to keep going. Hour of Heroes, however, gives you full control. Through an on screen analog pad, you can control the movement of your character with your left finger. With your right finger, you’ll be aiming and firing your weapon. The end result is a game that plays more or less like a first person shooter on a PC or gaming console only with the touchscreen interface. Does it work? Not perfectly, and the game’s steep difficulty level exacerbates any frustration you’ll have with the control scheme.
There are 13 missions in Hour of Heroes. Some of the missions call for use of vehicles such as tanks and jeeps. Personally, I found the vehicular missions a real source of frustration because having a vehicle means you’re relatively invulnerable but that also meant the game designers thought it’d be good to have you wade through wave after wave of ambushes. The game is scattered with time driven objectives. You might punch through and flank an enemy only to be outflanked in the rear while also having to demolish some building to stop a train. It adds up to too many dependencies for a mobile game and the unfortunate part is when you get killed, you end up starting the entire sequence over again. I found the infantry section more palatable to my tastes. It’s slower. The enemies don’t number as many and so the need to master the control interface isn’t as high.
Fans of Brothers in Arms might be scratching their heads at this point. Wasn’t the whole franchise built on squad level tactical warfare of no more than say twenty people a side? Yes – the PC and console franchises certainly were built like that. You had to move squads up in tandem and lay down cover fire. The mobile game also features some smart enemies who fall back and try to flank you. But for whatever reason, the designers thought they’d lift a page out of Call of Duty and pepper the maps with an insane stream of enemies that sometimes defies all logic. And again, when this happens, it exaggerates the faults of the control scheme.
In order to be successful, Hour of Heroes needed to temper its ambitions. It has to either focus on infantry combat or vehicular outings. Right now, the control scheme and in some ways, the level design, just isn’t at a maturity level that you can mix both together. To get around some of the intricacies of maintaining a fully controllable FPS control scheme, it would be best to slow the game down into a more methodical tactical game rather than an arcade style one a la Call of Duty. For now, Hour of Heroes can only be recommended for the most tenacious of action lovers. Anything less and you’re likely to throw your hands up in frustration. When it works, it works like magic, but when it doesn’t, you’ll be pulling your hair out after dying for the eighth straight time.