Brothers in Arms: Hell’s Highway
Weren’t Saving Private Ryan and Band of Brothers refreshing? After years of wispy Hollywood portrayals of World War II, we were finally given a real, gritty and terrifying cinematic experience. Hanks and Spielberg opened our eyes to the realities of the war and gave a more fitting testament to the men who fought in it. Until a couple of years ago, the same Hollywood style dominated World War II games, particularly Medal of Honor and Call of Duty. That was, of course, until Gearbox came along with Brothers in Arms.
Brothers in Arms: Road to Hill 30 corrected so much that was wrong with the World War II shooter sub-genre. It didn’t seek to just recreate Hollywood moments, but to define its own instead. It focused on tactics instead of gung-ho heroics and gave the soldiers you fought with their own personalities. Above all, it was the most authentic portrayal of the conflict yet.
Brothers in Arms: Earned in Blood was released a mere seven months later, expanding on what the first game accomplished. Developed so quickly off the back of Road to Hill 30, it wasn’t a true sequel and that’s where Hell’s Highway comes in.
Picking up from where the last game left off, Hell’s Highway follows Matt Baker, Joe Hartsock and the rest of the 101st Airbourne Division in September 1944 as they take part in Operation Market Garden. The largest airbourne assault in history, it sought to secure a quick way through Holland and into Germany, bringing an early end to the war.
Hell’s Highway seeks to expand on the gameplay that has become the series’ signature, heavily orientated on squad based combat. As before, a press of a button brings up a circle which you move around the battlefield. Let go and your selected squad goes there. Move the circle over an enemy position and they’ll open fire on them. You can’t really get much more intuitive than that.
One of the major changes is the addition of different stances to the game. When you begin your mission, the enemy won’t often be aware of your presence, so you and your men adopt the stealth posture. You sneak around, whispering commands, figuring where and when to attack, until you open fire. Then you go into a normal combat posture, with soldiers shooting and shouting as chaos ensues. It might not sound like a huge addition, but allowing you to scout out and plan your assaults makes each skirmish that much more authentic, and that’s what Brothers in Arms is all about.
Hell’s Highway also introduces other Allied squads to the combat, which fight along side you but aren’t under your control. Your men now carry more weapons too, so you can use bazookas to take out enemy armour and buildings. The A.I. has been again refined, so soldiers will make natural mistakes in the heat of the battle, falling over as they cross obstacles and so on.
All of these fine tweaks and adjustments are designed to provide an even more realistic experience, but what really enables that is the audio and visuals. The previous games looked and sounded fantastic, but with next-generation hardware, you can expect even better. Hell’s Highway will also make greater use of graphical effects, such as motion blur, to recreate the sense of disorientation in the heat of the battle.
While the single player is no doubt the jewel in the crown, Hell’s Highway returns with an improved multiplayer mode that will no doubt seek to add the the replay value of the game. “Dozens” of players will be able to fight on each side online, while the two player co-operative mode will also return.
Brothers in Arms: Hell’s Highway is certainly on track to do the series justice this autumn. Gearbox have had time to refine the gameplay and take advantage of the next generation of hardware, and what we’ve seen so far is looking promising. With Halo 3 around, it might be easy to forget about other first-person shooters, but miss this one at your peril.