Genre: First-Person Shooter
Developer: Gearbox Software
Release Date: September 23, 2008
With the glut of WWII-themed games littering the store shelves, it's getting harder and harder for people to figure out what sets each franchise apart. One can only bomb so many bunkers, kill so many Nazis (wait, actually that never gets old) and make the "difference" in the war so many times.
However, the Brother in Arms series has at least attempted to break from the pack by emphasizing actual storytelling, complete with unique characters, plotlines, cinematic shots and relatively meaningful conversations. While other series use the concept of story as primer before splashing on coat after coat of visual and gameplay color, Brothers in Arms: Hell's Highway is about how the game connects with the player just as much as what it asks the player to do.
As the name could suggest, you're in command of a small squad of soldiers, each of them with varying personalities. However, this isn't your typical potpourri of GIs — Ubisoft has taken the liberty of adding some historical perspective.
It's September of 1944, and the game takes place over 10 days in the life of your squad. The plot is built around the true story of Operation Market Garden, which was the largest-scale airborne strike in World War II. One of the game's chief designers actually wrote a book for the game to give players even more backstory into the people they're going to be controlling. Not only did that show a commitment to character development, but it also sets the tone for the game world.
If you've played stuff like Full Spectrum Warrior or Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter before, you'll have an idea of how Hell's Highway handles its business from a gameplay standpoint.
As the man in charge, the onus is on you to critically think of what you want your squadmates to do in various situations. Do you want them to draw fire away from that machine gun nest so you can sneak around the back and wipe out everyone? Or do you want them to concentrate on that nest and simply rain fire upon them until all of the enemies are killed? Both options could work, but some are obviously less painful than others. You'll be glad to know that this game's squad interface isn't nearly as complex as the one for something like GRAW — no glowing circles, looping arrows or litany of action icons. Here, we get a simple point-and-click system, with minimal button work required to tell your fire teams what to do.
Another point of emphasis for Hell's Highway is destructible environments. Like Mercenaries, Battlefield: Bad Company and even Earth Defense Force, a lot will be made of things that can be destroyed in the heat of battle. In past games, you mostly had to worry about cover for yourself, but now you have to think about the collective hides of your squad. In other words, putting them behind a wooden fence isn't going to help them (or you), and you'll witness said fence start to splinter into pieces before those bullets start finding flesh. In some instances, you'll be surrounded by only temporary cover, which adds a bit of extra timed tension in firefights.
On a final note, Brothers in Arms: Hell's Highway uses the Unreal 3 engine, and uses it well. I worry that so many shooters are using this engine that everything is going to start looking the same, especially in the already watered-down WWII genre. However, of the WWII games I've seen recently, this one could be among the goriest. Case in point: I launched a grenade to weed out a Nazi gunner and ended up watching pieces of the guy fly, with his leg ending up about 20 yards from where the grenade landed. And as I mentioned earlier, killing Nazis never really gets old. Perhaps other gamers will feel the same way come late September.
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