Come Hell or Highway
April 1, 2008 – I walked into a somewhat out-of-the-way building in San Francisco not knowing what to expect. After a short elevator ride, I’m ushered, along with others, into a cozy theater complete with a huge HD projection screen and a phenomenal surround sound system. The room grew dark as the screen illuminated, revealing what I came to see. Although this may sound like a movie screening, it was actually the kickoff of a press event for the upcoming Brothers in Arms: Hell’s Highway.
The Brothers in Arms series has always put a major emphasis on its storyline and characters. Hell’s Highway will be no exception, filled with interesting characters and a compelling story. While in the theater, we were treated to a new trailer and quite a few of the game’s story based cutscenes. These cinematics looked amazing on the big screen and should elate fans of the previous Brothers in Arms titles.
Without giving anything away, the story will continue the story arc of the previous games and answer quite a few questions that have been eating away at fans for years. The dialogue between characters feels very natural and genuine while giving you insight into each character’s individual personality. The subject matter, as always, will be quite serious in tone, but there is definitely a fair amount of comedy appropriately implemented to lighten the mood.
Although it is the third game in the series, the creators likened Hell’s Highway to the Empire Strikes Back of the Brothers in Arms series. The game takes place during Operation Market-Garden, which was actually one of the Allies biggest missteps in World War II. This will create a good change of pace from most war games that usually only cover successful military operations. Aside from the storyline and setting, the game also plays extremely well.
After the video presentations, we were finally able to play through a couple levels of a near-finished build of the Xbox 360 version of the game. Hell’s Highway plays similarly to previous titles with a good mix of strategy, squad mechanics, and, of course, shooting. Your squad is controlled using the left trigger. The commands are context sensitive so if you pull the trigger and aim at the ground, your squad will move to that position. If you do the same and aim at an enemy, they will lay suppressing fire upon them.
Suppression will work basically the same for enemies as it will for the player. Enemies have a gray circle above their head; the more fire directed towards them the more the circle will fill in with red. Once fully red, the enemy will be completely suppressed. This means they will fire less frequently, and when they do, their shots are far less accurate. Similarly, when you are fired upon, your screen will begin to grow red as the potential danger of being shot grows. The redder your screen, the more danger you are actually in. When this happens, you will need to find cover quickly or risk being picked off by your German adversaries.
Cover will function differently this time around. Instead of all cover being impervious to damage, as in the past, it will instead react realistically. Hiding behind an overturned table will only buy you a few seconds before it is completely shredded by enemy fire. Covering behind a pile of sandbags will afford safety from most gunfire, but a grenade or rocket could still send the cover flying. The destructible cover makes this game feel a lot more realistic and immersive than in any of the previous titles in the series. You’ll no longer just be able to crouch behind a damage immune haystack and plan out your attacks at your leisure. This change forces players to constantly think on their feet about what to do next.
Graphically this game is gorgeous. The cinematics look exceptional, with tons of detail in character’s faces such as scars and eyeballs that change shape as lighting changes. While not quite as sharp as the cinematics, actual gameplay looks great as well. Richly detailed characters and environments are made even better by great effects such as fire, explosions, camera grime, realistic lighting, and the red that fills your screen when in danger. The game also includes a slow motion death camera that will spring into action when appropriate. If you lob a grenade into a group of three foes, you will likely be treated to a cinematic view of their corpses, often missing limbs, flailing realistically through the air. Headshots can also trigger these events if spectacular enough, having brain matter splattering beautifully on nearby walls, buildings, and grass.
Fans of the previous Brothers in Arms games will surely not be disappointed by Hell’s Highway. All of the improvements that have been implemented should make this the best Brothers in Arms title yet, if not the best World War II shooter on the systems that it will be gracing. Unfortunately, Gearbox was unable to tell us anything about the multiplayer aspect of the game other than that it will exist. If their past outings are any basis for guessing, the online gameplay of Hell’s Highway should be excellent as well. We’ll just have to wait a couple of months to find out first hand.
War is Still Hell
May 24, 2007 – Going through a rough, dangerous situation together bonds individuals like few other experiences can. That is the concept behind the upcoming FPS, Brothers in Arms: Hell’s Highway, which places you in the shoes of a soldier in Operation Market-Garden, the largest Airborne invasion ever.
One of the goals of Hell’s Highway is for the player to establish a rapport with the other soldiers in your unit. Each soldier has a distinct identity, and the game is actually based on historical events. You control the squad and give each team orders, such as where to go or whom to shoot. Orders are contextually based, so sending a group of soldiers to wall and they’ll creep over to it, stealthily if they haven’t been seen by the enemy yet. Highlight a door, and the team will open or smash the door in. You also have the option of using a tactical map to plan your strategy and give your orders. Your team also has great A.I. from what I witnessed, as they take orders and react realistically and don’t blindly follow orders. Order them into an exposed area and they’ll find the closest cover regardless of your orders and without waiting to be told.
Author and soldier Colonel John Antal is the game’s consultant for authenticity and from the few minutes of the demo I witnessed, it showed. Weapons sound like their real-life counterparts and the game feels like you’re actually in a warzone. One way that this is expressed is in the fact that cover is destructible. At one point in the demo, the character targeted an enemy soldier stationed behind a wall and shot him, the bullet piercing his makeshift cover effectively. This means that neither the player nor the enemy can take cover indefinitely, as the weaponry, including bazooka and mortar crews, have the option of destroying nearly anything used as protection.
There are also other little touches to enhance the gameplay. One is the inclusion of a circle above the heads of the enemies that show their state of suppression. Effective covering fire keeps the enemies from being able to retaliate, and the circle above their heads shows how well you’re doing in that respect. Conversely, whenever your character is out in the open and vulnerable to fire, the screen takes on a blurred, red tint that indicates that you’re in danger, which does a good job of recreating that exposed feeling for anticipation of danger. Another addition is the superfluous but extremely cool explosion effects. If you throw a grenade or call in a particularly potent bazooka attack, either of which creates a spectacular kill, the game zooms in on the action, showing your foes propelling from the blast in slow motion. It almost seems like an ESPN slo-mo replay, but with explosion and death instead of slam dunks or homeruns.
The close of the demo had the protagonist making his way into an building and battling foes within. Eventually he makes his way to the upper floor, where he finds a mounted turret. He mans the turret and takes out the reinforcements advancing on their position, sometimes destroying the sandbag cover they hid behind. After beating back the enemy, an explosion drives the protagonist to the ground, and the screen shows a mysterious bespectacled figure watching him. This is where the demo and presumably the stage ended, but it obviously shows that the game will have a story behind the gameplay.
Even at this early stage, Hell’s Highway is looking great. There is a lot of detail in the character models, and they all animate realistically. When undetected, your squad moves stealthily but swiftly, with everyone whispering the orders or the confirmation. During firefights, the squad moves much more dynamically.
Hell’s Highway is also promising online multiplayer as well as a stunning single player campaign. Although the multiplayer wasn’t shown, the game will have a number of game modes, including free for alls and squad based battles as well.
Overall, Brothers in Arms: Hell’s Highway is looking like a great and immersive gaming experience. Combining its realistic, tactical gameplay, squad based combat, next-gen visuals, historical accuracy, and intense firefights, Hell’s Highway is definitely shaping up to be a game to watch this holiday.
Feb. 15, 2007 – It’s certainly true that game stores are currently being flooded with World War II games. The popularity of first person shooters is on the rise and with today’s modern cinematics and story telling, gamers want some depth and character development in their games. WWII games help deliver both incredibly realistic first person experiences and in-depth, often true stories.
With each new game, we see a new perspective on WWII and we see how different developers handle telling the story. Gearbox, the developers of the Brothers In Arms series, wants to use next-generation technology to help make a WWII game that not only feels more realistic, but delivers far more believable A.I.
You will be playing as Joe “Red” Hartsock, the main character from the first two Brothers In Arms games, and newcomer Matt Baker as they lead troops over Hell’s Highway. This highway is the nickname for Operation Market Garden of September 1944 in Germany. Unlike the previous two games, Joe will command three teams of troops instead of only two. This gives you much more strategic options than in the other games, but luckily, the tactical action plays out faster than in the previous games.
Two of your teams will still have assigned missions, but your third team is your key to creative maneuvers. The third team will be assigned any role you give them based upon the particular situation. You can command the third team to attack any building you choose and use any weaponry you have on hand or you can have them reach a building and wait in stealth for further orders.
The commands you can give them can be quite helpful in the fight, such as attacks that effect the environment in a massive way. In one instance, you may tell your third team to throw grenades or launch mortars in a building to take out snipers. Not only will the explosions kill the snipers, the raining pieces of debris will wound or kill the enemy troops below the building. Such environment effects will be found throughout the game and will most likely be caused by the third team, but the amount of realistic effects and intelligent A.I. is vast.
Unlike some next-gen games that retain their current-gen graphics, Brothers In Arms: Hell’s Highway will deliver breathtaking graphics with unbelievable detail. If you actually have time to stop and look around without getting shot at, you’ll notice small details such as cobbled roads, the grain in wood, and more.
The realism doesn’t stop with the graphics as Gearbox delivers a true Hollywood cinematic experience by using unbelievably realistic animation. Whenever you have to cross something or throw a grenade, you may see Joe’s legs climb over walls or his hands gripping a grenade. Also, during movie scenes, you’ll see incredible acts such as Joe pulling shards of glass out of his arm so he can continue to lead his troops into battle. It’s understandable why WWII stories make such good games. They show incredible acts of heroism and care for others at all times during battle.
The graphics and the character animations aren’t the only treats on the table. The voice acting is Hollywood quality, and the gameplay appears to surpass the Call of Duty series, as they use a similar system only with better targeting. It is unknown at this time how the command system works on the 360. There is no info on the multiplayer system either, but Gearbox does state that they are scrapping the old system and that most likely, this sequel will feature a larger number of players in the multiplayer mode.
I know this game will definitely appeal to WWII game fans, but for those who don’t normally approach them, I believe every non WWII gamer will appreciate the quality and realism of this title. Rent it or buy it on April 2, 2007 for an unbelievable experience.