Every veteran has a war story to tell. Thanks to a recent glut of films, TV shows and indeed games (including predecessor Road to Hill 30), we're more than a little familiar with the Normandy D-Day landings, but developer Gearbox wants us to experience more. And when it's as compelling and exciting as this, we're not complaining.
Taking place at the same time as Road to Hill 30, Earned in Blood intertwines storylines and characters with the first game, though it takes in new battles and impressive set-pieces through the eyes of Sergeant Joe 'Red' Hartsock. The most notable and important addition to such a strategic shooter as this is the improved AI. Whereas before it was just a case of positioning your team in a suppressing position, then battering the enemy enough to let you sneak up their flank and snipe them down, Earned in Blood shifts up a gear.
The Situational Awareness function is still present, letting you take a step back from the action and assess your surroundings. It's more vital to use this then ever, such is the ramped-up AI and difficulty. Characteristically, EIB is rock, rock hard.
Sure, the same fundamental rules of engagement apply here, but you can no longer count on an enemy digging in until they're flanked. Now they'll actively move to seek better cover, or attempt to flank you, even if your squad is on the offensive. This completely changes the way you have to tackle each scenario, and ensures no two encounters are ever the same. It's still just as simple to use the intuitive interface to order your squad to move to a certain area, concentrate its fire on an enemy position, or assault a dug-in enemy, yet players have to think of every consequence of their actions between each firefight.
It may sound difficult, but the intelligent level design gently leads you between safe cover points until you're assessing the situation and engaging the enemy like a battle-hardened Screamin' Eagle.
Players have access to better weapons (machine guns, grenades) early on in this sequel, and it definitely makes for a much more exciting experience. The action appears more frantic and dynamic (especially the hard-as-nails set-piece where Red and two fellow riflemen must defend a church from an onslaught of attacking Nazis), yet this is only a good thing.
Red's company has buffed up its boots as well. The twilight and dusk missions boast awesome lighting, and both urban and countryside textures are more detailed and impressive. Speaking of which, the multiplayer has been fleshed out as well - two players can fight through co-operatively in split-screen, while up to four can duke it out, either together or against each other, over a staggering 20 different Link and Live maps.
More than just a mission disc, EIB expands on the tactical difficulty of the original, and drops in behind enemy lines to spearhead a fresh assault on the squad-shooter genre.
Earned in Blood is harder, tougher, and smarter than its subordinate. Fall in for this incredible squad shooter.