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Game Profile
Gearbox Software
GENRE: First Person Shooter
PLAYERS:   1-8
March 01, 2005
Brothers in Arms: Hell's Highway

Brothers in Arms: Hell's Highway

Brothers in Arms: Hell's Highway

Brothers in Arms: Double Time

Brothers in Arms DS

More in this Series
 Written by Troy Matsumiya  on January 31, 2005

Final Glimpse: Call it ?Band of Brothers: The Game?.

There was a time only a few short years ago when World War II shooters were king of the gaming world; Medal of Honor: Allied Assault, Battlefield 1942, Call of Duty ? heck, even Return to Castle Wolfenstein ? it seemed that anything that involved killing Nazis struck gold. But all good things must pass and soon the genre grew stale. Developers then moved on to the Vietnam War, which unfortunately resulted in games ranging from poor to just plain awful.

A few developers know a good thing when they see it, however, and as a result, WWII games are making a comeback. Late last year, Spark Unlimited kick-started the revival with Call of Duty: Finest Hour. Now Gearbox Software and Ubisoft are putting the final touches on perhaps the most highly anticipated WWII shooter in years, Brothers In Arms: Road to Hill 30.

Naturally, the game is promising a lot of heart-pounding action and intense battles, but what will set BIA apart is its almost rabid dedication to authenticity. BIA is based on the true events spanning the eight days between the D-Day Invasion on Normandy to the brutal battle for Carentan. To call this game ambitious would be a gross understatement; Gearbox spent an entire year researching old army archives and the National Historical Archive to study actual photographs, maps, and aerial reconnaissance photos to accurately reconstruct the battlefields down to the finest details. They even visited Normandy to photograph the landscape and get a feel for what it was like those many decades ago. Several veterans were interviewed to learn the things you can't pick up from military reports or books, such as their emotional state of mind, how they dealt with the physical and mental stress, and of course, frightening first-hand accounts of the war.
Gearbox consulted with historians, military experts, and even hired a retired US Army colonel as a full-time military advisor. This was all done to ensure that BIA is the most historically accurate and authentic WWII game ever made.

The title of the game not only takes a cue from the stellar Band of Brothers mini-series, it is also similarly based on the experiences of the men in the 101st Airborne, this time 3rd squad, 3rd platoon of the 502 (Band of Brothers followed the 506). The fictional characters in the game are based on actual members of the 502, and each one has their own unique personality. As the game progresses, you will be able to see each of the men undergo physical changes over the eight days of fighting, ranging from facial hair growth and accumulated grime to tired, stressful looks on their faces.

You will play as Sgt. Baker, the leader of a 12-man squad. Just like the actual D-Day invasion, you will begin by parachuting behind enemy lines. Your squad is scattered in the confusion, so you must quickly find your men and regroup. Although you have 12 men, you can only control six at a time, split into two fireteams of three men each. Your Base of Fire Team is equipped with two M-1 Garand rifles and one BAR, and your Assault Team carries two M-1 Garands and one Thompson. Like in real life, you and your men can only carry one primary and one secondary weapon, plus grenades. If you run out of ammo, don't worry; you can pick up and use any weapon, including the Nazis' if that's your preference.

Like other squad-based shooters, you command your teams to move, attack, defend and so on. However, the commands will be context sensitive, so you don't have to worry about scrolling through a big confusing menu when people are shooting at you; you simply point and issue the command. Simple.

Rather than run and gun like a standard FPS, you will need to use Fire and Maneuver tactics. Position your Base of Fire Team to lay suppressing fire while you take your Assault Team to flank the enemy. You can see how successful your Base of Fire Team is performing by viewing the enemy's ?suppression state? via an icon floating over their heads. If the enemy is sufficiently suppressed, they will not shoot as frequently and will be less accurate when they do; as well, they will be more vulnerable to your flanking maneuvers. But be careful, because the enemy AI is smart enough to use the same suppress and flank tactics on you. So if your team is pinned down, you'd better expect some unfriendly company knocking on your back door real soon.

Using your squad effectively will be the key to completing your missions and staying alive. You can run and gun if you want, but will quickly figure out that may not be a good idea because you won't have your trusty little friend, Mr. Aiming Reticule. That's right, that beloved set of crosshairs FPS gamers have come to take for granted is nowhere to be found. This was done to discourage the standard shoot-from-the-hip fragfest gameplay. In order to shoot accurately, you have to raise your gun and look down your sights, just like you would have to do in real life. It's a cool idea and will definitely challenge players into playing smart rather than run around like a maniac.

The battles play out in real-time, so while you're cowering under a bush, Nazi soldiers will continue to press their attack. Each of the 21 single-player missions are based on actual battles, so if you want to gain an upper hand against the enemy, you'd better brush up on your history books.

Of course, too much realism can ruin gameplay, so the developers are trying to balance things out. For example, enemy tanks are going to be a real pain in the butt to take out. This shouldn't be surprising, since throwing a rifle-toting bag of flesh against a hulking armored vehicle isn't going to get you much progress. You'll have to use bazookas or composition B charges to take out tanks, but you will have to get unnervingly close. Alternately, you can try and immobilize them by taking out their treads, but don't forget that their guns will still work. To help balance this, you can reduce the tank's effectiveness by killing the commander who rides in the turret hatch, but if you miss, he will drop down into the tank and seal the hatch. When you finally do destroy a tank, enemies will often use the smoking wrecks as cover, so don't turn your back on them. On the flip side, you will be able to control your own tanks and give the enemy a taste of his own medicine.

To give you a tactical advantage, you can toggle your Situational Awareness View, a bird's eye view of the battlefield that displays the location of your objectives and enemy positions. It sounds a bit cheap and distracting from the realism, but of course you don't have to use it if you don't want too.

If all of this single-player goodness wasn't enough, we will have the pleasure of fighting multiplayer battles via two-player split screen or four players over System Link and Xbox Live. Although the number of players is limited, each one controls three AI squadmates just like in single player, so you will need to use the same Fire and Maneuver tactics ? except this time, you have to try and outsmart another human being. When your AI squadmates are killed, you can replace them from a limited number of reinforcements. Needless to say, you're going to be in a world of hurt if your reinforcements run dry, so use them wisely, not as cannon fodder a la Star Wars Battlefront. And don't worry if your cowardly human teammate drops out of the match; if that happens, you are automatically given his AI squadmates and reinforcements. Nice.

To stay consistent with the game's realistic squad-based design, all multiplayer games will be objective-based, so don't expect to find any deathmatch gamemodes. As an example, in one mission the Americans must blow up a truck while the Nazis have to defend it; whoever accomplishes their goal within the time limit wins. And yes, tanks will make an appearance in multiplayer. There are 12 multiplayer missions in all, each one based on real locations and battles ? including Utah Beach.

Final Thoughts
Whether or not you're a fan of WWII games, it would be hard to not get excited about Brothers In Arms; not only does it look beautiful, but the ambitious attention to historical accuracy and realistic detail alone should be enough to grab gamers' attention. Despite several delays, Brothers In Arms is finally due for release at the end of February, so we won't have to wait much longer to get a taste of what it was like to fight with the heroes of WWII.

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