If anyone was in any doubt about the power of the PSP then they need look no further than Brothers In Arms' handheld debut. The game looks remarkably close to its PS2 forbearer and even the most hardened PSP cynic, or DS fan boy, would have a tough time arguing that D-Day fails to make quite a striking visual impression. The big question remains though: is a near pixel perfect rendition of BIA really what handheld gamers want? Is a game so hell bent on demanding intense concentration from the player ideal for gaming on the go? Shall I stop asking rhetorical questions now? Yes, okay, I'll move on.
You certainly can't fault Ubisoft's ambition in bringing one of its most beloved franchises to a handheld and it's a genuinely heart warming experience to boot up the game and discover it has survived with most of its gaming arsenal intact. Battle torn Normandy landscapes, enemy soldiers that know how to use cover, challenging missions that test the grey matter as much as the trigger finger; everything you expect is here and ready to do its bit for Queen and country (or whatever it is the Yanks wanted out of the war, like lots of impressionable French maidens).
Combining some of the finest missions from the critically acclaimed original Brothers In Arms: Road to Hill 30 and its semi-sequel Earned In Blood, D-Day gives players a complete Normandy campaign to work through from the dual perspectives of those games' stars, Sergeants Baker and Hartsock, as they fight there way to Carentan and St Sauveur respectively. If, like me, you are a veteran of the other BIA games, don't be too shocked when you encounter some very familiar missions - like the dramatic storming of a farmhouse and the tense siege at an enemy outpost. Although the levels have been streamlined to work better on a handheld, with more checkpoints and less objectives, they still retain their visceral, nerve jangling edge even in this cut down form.
Brothers in Arms: D-Day is never an easy ride but it's still a rewarding World War II romp that sucks you in with a heavy emphasis on comrade characterisation (a trademark of the series) and constantly demanding challenges. You never know what enemy encounters lie around the corner and a heavy part of BIA's charm is apparently facing insurmountable odds but then, through a combination of on-the-fly tactics and true grit, steadily gaining the upper hand.
Success normally relies on the series' main hook: flanking. Rather than running gung ho into enemy fire and blindly spraying machine gun bullets into the air, with the hope they will encounter some enemy flesh along the way, BIA requires you to outthink and outmanoeuvre those nasty Nazis. You will have to use whatever support is allocated to you, from a small band of determined brothers to a tank or bazooka team, to suppress the enemy from a distance, while you sneak around the side and pick them off while they're not looking. Cold blooded it may be, but it's certainly an effective strategy and one you will have to master pretty early on if you want to be able to progress through the generous 10 hour-or-so main campaign.
I'll admit to being dubious about how BIA's mix of tactical and FPS controls would adapt to the PSP, but the development team has done an admirable job of making the game work on a handheld. All the system's keys serve a function, such as ordering your team to fall in or advance to a new cover point, and once you can remember which does what it starts to feel pretty natural. Shooting itself can be quite fiddly (especially when you encounter more than one bad guy) but I found aiming down the sights considerably improved my accuracy. There is even a target lock function added, so you can strafe around to avoid enemy shots. Things can still get quite frantic in a full-on fire fight but, if you remember to hang back and pick off soldiers from a distance (the sniper rifle is invaluable here), then even the most intimidating of scenarios can eventually be bested. Just don't be too surprised if you regularly find yourself facing the depressing Restart Checkpoint screen though.
With D-Day you certainly get value for money. Outside of the main campaign, there are solo Skirmish missions to complete and there is the option to link up with another PSP for a lengthy series of co-op challenges. All of this makes Brothers In Arms an attractive handheld proposition, comparing favourably with other shooters on the console like Syphon Filter and Medal of Honor. The only drawback, aside from the fact it requires maybe a smidgeon too much concentration for a handheld title, is that fans of the series will suffer from a fair bit of déjà vu if they invest in this game.
While it's an impressive technical achievement, Brothers in Arms: D-Day remains little more than a spirited attempt to milk a bit more cash out of a successful franchise. If you are a rookie to the series then by all means sign up for combat, but everyone else should probably just wait to stroll down Hell's Highway if they want a new experience.