by Chris Davis
reviewed on X360
Krauts in the Open!
In 2005, Gearbox Software, famous for their various Half-Life expansions such as Opposing Force and Blue Shift, truly came into their own with the creation of the Brothers in Arms franchise. The first game in the series, Road to Hill 30, was notably different from your typical World War II shooter, introducing a tactical edge with squad commands and a gripping story. Earned in Blood, the second title in the series, launched just a few months later and introduced a story that paralleled the events in the previous game while refining several key elements.
Now, after three years of development and numerous delays, the third title in this franchise, Hell's Highway, has finally used the exit ramp. But is it a successful drop or should you take cover in your foxhole?
I Never Asked to be Squad Leader
With Brothers in Arms: Hell's Highway, players are reintroduced to Sgt. Matthew Baker, a paratrooper squad leader in the 101st and survivor of the Normandy invasion. While he may have come out of the Normandy campaign in one piece, he didn’t quite make it out intact. Burdened by the deaths of several of his comrades, Baker is slowly starting to go insane from the constant fear for the lives of his men and from his hatred of his supposedly "cursed" pistol with which everyone who has ever wielded it has died. The game even incorporates this beyond just cinematic sequences. It is not uncommon for Baker to get flashbacks of his departed friends while alone or even seeing their ghosts fighting alongside you just a few yards away.
The game occurs during the daring September 1944 campaign dubbed Operation Market Garden, in which American paratroopers dropped into Holland to secure key bridges across the Rhine and, with British armor support, hopefully create a highway right into the heart of Germany. Those who are aware of their modern history probably know what happened next. After the paratroopers dropped in, chaos ensued with missed deployment points for the British. The Germans counterattacked and forced the Allies to withdraw after nine days of torrential fighting. The events of those nine days came to be known as Hell’s Highway.
The events of the game follow Baker and his men through those nine days and the end result is nothing short of being stellar. The story is the best part of the entire Brothers in Arms experience and, thanks to the power of the Unreal 3 engine, is a visual feast. Watching Matt Baker slowly begin his descent into madness is startling and parallels some of the best television shows and movies of the past twenty years. There are no unimportant characters in the story either; every person in the game is fleshed out and they all feel like actual people. In keeping with Gearbox’s devotion to creating a realistic experience, everyone ranked lieutenant or higher was an actual person who was involved in those locations and times. When a character dies no one is left unaffected by their death and by the time you get to the end of the tale you will feel similarly affected.
Corrion, Get to That Cover!
Gearbox Software, while being in the business to entertain and make money, prides itself in creating a realistic experience that few other developers have ever been able to accomplish. Unlike the Call of Duty and Medal of Honor series that have been more about creating cinematic moments than a realistic depiction of what transpired, the Brothers in Arms series devotes itself to balancing fun with realism. The end result does indeed meet such a balance and is never tiring.
Hell’s Highway incorporates the same type of squad tactics that were employed by the Allies and the Germans in World War II. Called “fire and maneuver”, the rules of engagement usually involve two or more teams. One team, dubbed the fire team, would take up a position and provide a base of fire to suppress the enemy with. When the enemy has been suppressed, another team, dubbed the assault team, would maneuver around to a position at the enemy’s flank and wipe them out in the ensuing confusion. Roughly 90% of the Brothers in Arms experience has worked this way with the small exception of the main character going off alone or with the addition of armor support such as tanks.
No Pros and Cons at this time