Brothers in Arms: Hell's Highway Preview - 13/06/2008

So you can have chainsaw duels in Gears of War 2 by pressing B, big deal. Fable 2? Nah, Molyneux talks a good game but come on, when a man gets more excited over annoying little canines than military hardware he seriously has to question his testosterone levels.

So why, in the hubbub of summer and autumn releases, is Hell's Highway not set to cause a massive videogame pile-up? The first Brothers in Arms game, Road to Hill 30, re-established World War 2 as a genuinely frightening and exhilarating scenario while introducing some of the freshest game mechanics this side of the lock-on system from Legend of Zelda. But in comparison to Medal of Honour, a game which unashamedly steals from war movies starring the likes of Ben Affleck, it was criminally ignored at retail. Well, BIA is back, and it's here to show you that there's room for more than one WW2 shooter on the market.

Built from the ground up on the same Unreal 3 Engine that made Gears of War so playable, HH is set to add new angles to military warfare – literally; this has always been a game of utilising a team of 3 men to pin down your enemy while sending another squad to finish them off (or, as war advisor and endorser of 'the three F's' colonel Antil says, find, flank and finish). This time, the central mission in Hell's Highway is to clear a stretch of road so that the Allies can move armour and infantry through to the frontlines. Given the Nazi's never-failing penchant to drop a wrench directly into your machine of war, it won't be that easy as the area is saturated with German forces. The narratives of Sgt's Baker (Road to Hill 30) and Hartsock (Earned in Blood) run parallel as you fight to keep the narrow corridor from collapsing and preventing your retreat.

Teamwork will play an even more vital role in Hell's Highway.

A few next-gen features keep the action fresh. Firstly, cover can be destroyed and while this has admittedly been done to death in other shooters it's genuinely thrilling here as realistic health bars coupled with many objects built from wood (this is the 40s after all) ensure you stay on your toes. While camping behind impenetrable bales of hay and sending your fire team to pop bullets into the enemy sometimes felt a bit of a cop out on the Xbox and PS2, the same cannot be said here as you'll be constantly scanning the terrain for shelter. Cover even forms mid-play; one sequence (which might've been scripted but it was so well done, no-one should care) saw a chunk of church spire torn off by an explosion and land in the street - just fitting enough for one man and a rifle to duck behind. When you combine the forcing out of enemies into open territory with the new sprint button, combat becomes more fluid and a whole lot more vicious. Needless to say, Gearbox hasn't given you a bazooka team this time around for nothing.

Secondly, the presentation looks the absolute business and is vital to creating the harsh, intimidating world you'll be glad is confined to your telly. Little details, such as doodles on the helmets of your comrades and the banter that goes on between them make the world believable and as a result all the more terrifying. One aspect that made the first BIA great was that the levels were accurately modelled on real-world places and there was a tangible feeling of being backed into a remote corner of the world and being ordered to fight your way out. Those rolling French countryside's and labyrinthine villages are back to offer even more realism in a game which is, essentially, one giant war recreation. Unless you want to settle into an early grave in the land of wine and cheese and surrender monkeys, you'll have to consult your recon map from time to time to plot routes that don't cut straight through the enemy's line of fire.

It's a beautiful looking game, in a 'war is horrific' kind of way.

A few nifty aesthetic details will beef up the intensity of your play sessions. When you score a headshot or prime a grenade to land at the feet of an unsuspecting Nazi, a new ‘action camera' will slow down time and focus in to get a closer look of the explosion, just like the death camera from GTA IV. However, while seeing a limb detach in mid-air is undoubtedly cool, there are a few concerns whether this will impede the flow of the game. Also, the lack of an onscreen HUD means that when you're shot the sky turns blood red as the game's way of telling you to get the hell down. While such a feature might not look out of place in a first person shooter wherein you look through the eyes of the character, such a stylised effect contrasts with the overall realism gearbox are striving for. Surely a bit of blood splatter on the uniform of your soldiers would serve as a less intrusive visual indicator?

There hasn't been any word on the multiplayer yet, but expect the ability to wield you're own teams of 4 in game types such as Deathmatch and Capture the Flag, as well as large-scale, Resistance 2-style multi-team objectives. Also, with co-op being a recent trend in games from Kameo to Fable, don't put it past Gearbox to allow you and mate to coordinate separate squads in the campaign, offline and on.

Cover is crucial, just make sure you don't try to hide behind a wooden fence.

The game is set to inject a next-gen dose of realism into WW2 combat this August, and while Hell's Highway seems content to borrow a few next-gen features from its competitors it also looks set to employ them tactically and tastefully. Don't be a Nazi; buy the game or the team behind Hour of Victory will bring out a trilogy. And that's a threat.

- Ben P. Griffin


Gearbox Software
PC - PS3 - 360