Games For 2008 – Brothers In Arms 3

By Alec Meer on February 7th, 2008 at 10:44 pm.

Physics!

If there’s one thing that came out of all the hoo-ha around our Age of Decadence interview (other than that willful antagonism can be an awesome promotional tool), it’s that there’s something of a split between people who believe mainstream games are justly and necessarily slicker of interface than their more fiddly ancestors, and people who think that no, they’re just getting simpler, because gamers are getting stupider.

Brothers In Arms is fine example of this division. It does squad control – something that in so many older military-themed shooters involved memorising several dozen hotkeys – with great grace. Context-sensitive, just point, click, and your men go there, shoot that, shelter here. Easy? Stupid?

Not a bit of it. It just knows what’s important.

An Armed Assault replacement it isn’t, of course. It’s almost as pop as any Medal of Honor game, and for the more hardcore soldier sim heads, that just isn’t good enough. Well, each to their own. For my money, it’s a natural meeting point between trad. FPS and the tactical cleverness of squad-based games past. Freed from complexities of interface, I have all the more headspace to assess the environment, to strategise and counter-strategise.

So what else can second sequel Hell’s Highway (which still sounds like a Meatloaf album to me) do with point’n’squad, beyond spankier graphics? Well, what with it having suffered a couple of mostly unexplained delays – it was originally due in late 2006 – we don’t know quite what manner of beast it is. It’s made some exciting promises, and I’m curious to see how many of them have been realised. There’s rumours we may see it before March is out, so perhaps the answers aren’t far off.

First, here’s the stuff that worries me. Apparently 10-15% of the game is played solo – just the player character without his trusty squad. This suggests an increased focus on conventional FPSiness – which previously was something I played BIA games as an escape from. Then there’s the heavy-handed-sounding “Bro-Mos” – Brotherhood Moments, which involve the game snatching control away from you when your mates cop it and showing you catching them as they fall – apparently to demonstrate how close such soldiers were. Brothers In Arms, quite literally.

It all sounds a little melodramatic, and possibly at odds with BIA’s traditional respect for genuine historical occurrence. Then again, so was Call of Duty 4, but it approached it with relatively subtlety, and when it did force you into experiencing something beyond the scope of its interface but essential to the story, it neatly tricked you into thinking you had some control over it. Cutscenes are yesterday’s news for high-budget shooters. Let’s hope Gearbox realise that.

What they certainly have realised is that there was always something a little mechanical about the BIA games, for all their blessed escape from the ludicrous fantasy of One Man Versus All The Nazis. Restrictive paths through the environments, pointless limitations on what you could jump over… As Gearbox head Randy Pitchford himself admits, “We were so interested in pushing the tactics of fire and manoeuvre, of flanking, that we created a lot of mathematical systems to almost force that. Every combat was a puzzle – there was one solution, and it was our solution.” This time, it’s to be your solution.

An interesting comparison that occurs to me offhand is Hitman: Blood Money. While unquestionably a Hitman-formula game, it relaxed its rules enough to allow organic success. If you ballsed up, you could find an inventive way out of it. While finding the ‘right’ way had the satisfaction of precision, I felt proudest when I pulled off a mission my own way entirely, causing merry hell but reacting on the fly to problems, snatching vitory from the jaws of defeat. While Hell’s Highway isn’t going to let you steal SS uniforms or inject Panzer commanders with sleeping serum, it will, Gearbox claim, allow you to carve your own path through a mission, with tactics or straight gunplay.

Ingeniously, the artificial signposting of objectives is also for the axe – you’ll need to judge where to go based purely on visual cues. The demonstrated example is locating the flak cannons you need to disable by observing their smoke puffs, or spying their spotters on nearby rooftops. The degree of balancing needed to pull this off is fearsome to contemplate – every scenario needs to hit a sweet spot between too obvious and too oblique. If Gearbox can pull it off, it should be infinitely more satisfying than the tiresome Find The Door challenges so many other FPSes default to.

It’s hard not to reach for Gears of War as a touchstone. While on the one hand Epic’s successful escape from Unrealtown is built upon relatively prehistoric values, it’s also become one of the de facto standards of the Xbox 360 FPS generation. That dash’n'hurdle mechanic is going to crop up everywhere – we clocked it in The Club just this week. It and BIA have something in common in terms of necessary use of cover, and I hope they turn out to have even closer ties – specifically, co-op.

BIA: Earned In Blood was a fantastic co-op game. Each of two players controlled their own squad, constantly communicating to offend and defend, to stage pincer movements, to flank and out-flank, to use brains to outwit a foe of impossible numbers: this was true co-operation. For no good reason, it wasn’t possible across the main campaign though – just special co-op skirmish missions. I want to be able to play through the entirety of Hell’s Highway with a chum, as I did with GoW’s campaign. That’s my kind of Bro-Mo.

Trailer:

Thanks, Gametrailerbros

And here’s Randy Pitchford taking a Fragdoll on a guided tour down Hell’s Highway. I tried to find a way to say that without it sounding like bad innuendo. I couldn’t.

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26 Comments »

  1. Andrew says:

    Bro-mo?

    Good grief.

    The game itself looks quite good, but… bro-mo. Jaysus.

  2. rb_lestr says:

    The graphics look very….
    Cartoony.

    And the gameplay seems a bit un-refined.

    I think i’ll stay with Hill 30 and Earned in Blood for now thanks.

  3. John P (Katsumoto) says:

    Bro-Mo. I’m with Andrew. What… the… hell. To be honest, as much as I enjoyed the first two, I think their claims on historical accuracy are kinda dampened by the fact that they resorted to every single Saving Private Ryan/Band of Brothers cliche imaginable whenever possible. The commanding office always has to sound a bit like Tom Hanks, there always has to be a wisecrack Italian called Gianello or whatever, and they always have to be paratroopers or arriving via the beachheads at D-Day. I long for a WW2 game which isn’t a Band of Brothers game!

    Bro-mo??? At least its not in Normandy this time. Anyway, as I said – ignoring all that, I did enjoy the first two. We’ll see how this ends up!

  4. Jonathan says:

    If we really must have World War 2 games why is it always Market Garden? Where’s Tonga or the whole African campaign? It’s getting more overdone than the D-day landing, always Omaha natch, or Hoth.

  5. Mustache says:

    the excitment of being able to shoot through wood…tell me aboot the ai, that is what the fun come down to.

  6. Dracko says:

    The last two games in the series were exceedingly good, in spite of their more glaring flaws. It was also refreshing to see a more sober – and accurate – take on WWII than the glorified excesses of the likes of Medal of Honour or Call of Duty. It’s not like the Brothers in Arms games couldn’t pull off the whole sturm und drang in between the pregnantly silent or solemn down-time, and they were all the more effective for it (Though I’d hardly be averse to a revisiting of Medal of Honour: Resistance, personally).

    This sequel is shaping up nicely, and the gameplay footage of solo instants didn’t seem any more “gamey” than previous incidents where you found yourself alone. If they pull it off right, they could very well be the more stressful moments, rather than pure lionisation.

    The one thing I’m concerned about, other than the indeed seemingly gratuitous and jarring Bro Mos, is there take on slow-motion. They’ve been reasoning it as opportunities to demonstrate that even in war, there were moments of sick glee or sadistic pleasures, in contrast of the horror of it all. Fair enough, but surely there are more elegant ways to show this oft-controversial aspect of warfare?

    If anything, it should be worthwhile for updated physics and cover and all that. It would be nice if they did take more lessons from their old collaborators Valve and Modern Warfare as far as story-telling goes, but they’re attempting something quite different regardless, so it should be interesting.

  7. Stew says:

    All these comments and nobody’s made a bad Fragdoll Rock pun.

    I’m ashamed.

  8. Michael says:

    Am I the only one who is sick in the stomach of all the WWII themed games? This one looks pretty and interesting, but I think I’ll vomit if I have to shoot yet another German.

    I understand that war settings are interesting, but how much can we beat a dead horse? There were other wars, you know. How about a game set during the Boer War? Or the Crimean War? They had guns, cannons and explosives back then as well.

    There is only so much WWII one’s body can take before becoming violently allergic to it.

  9. Necros says:

    Dracko, I’m sure you will be able to turn off the slow-mo thing if you don’t like it. :)

  10. Dracko says:

    Michael: They should make a WWI game! Then you’d die quasi-instantly at the behest of spittle-headed officers! What fun!

    WWII isn’t a dead horse, in my eyes, but the themes games’ based around it are completely overdone. Brothers in Arms, though, I can guarantee you, is a different beast.

    Necros: One hopes. The way they’re spinning it though, I wouldn’t be all that surprised if it was obligatory. Not that that would stop me from playing the game, though. I just find their argument for it unconvincing.

  11. Necros says:

    If I remember correctly, one of the devs said that the red screen can be turned off (don’t know if it has been changed since, though it wasn’t such a long time ago, but who knows), so I wouldn’t be surprised if they made this an option too. :)

    About WW2 FPSs: I think there aren’t too many of them (MoH, CoD and BiA series, that’s about it -not counting budget class or pure crap ones) and there’s still a lot to show from that era. I hope the BiA series will remain in WW2 for a long time and we’ll see more of them. And I’d love to see CoD 5 on the PC too because it will return to WW2 as well (while IW continues with the Modern Warfare, I guess). I think there aren’t more WW2 shooters than those that are set in the modern era or in the future, i hate it when some people are bashing games only because of their setting…

  12. anarch says:

    im sorry to say this but since everyone thinks ww2 games are far over done. id like to point out that every other kind of game is far too over done, fantasy shooter(halo), mmorpg, strategy, and yes, even modern warfare shooters. everything has been done before, over and over again. open your eyes, it doesnt mean that the genre is ‘burnt out’. if that were the case then every popular genre of game is also burnt out. as for why choose d-day or market garden as the game type, its because they can be well conveyed through gameplay, unlike that of the Africa campaign, the boer, Crimean,Korean, Vietnam or even Iraq wars no regular person would want to buy a game thats based on the Crimean war, even if it was perfectly accurate, hardly anybody knows it exists. a game is a game people either play it or dont play it, just dont bitch about companies making more. its not like their gonna stop making a certain type of game because you ‘dont like it’.

  13. Solario says:

    I’d like to see a WWI game, where every single level is you, trapped in a Trench, lobing granades and just generally shoting what you see emerging through the fog. The game will be 48 hours long and you win, when you progress more than one foot.

    Seriously though, how about some diversifying? Like others mentioned, the African campaign or prehaps play as a Russian or a decent Underground Rebellion/Saboteur game?

  14. Nekkid says:

    Pandemic is doing an open world French resistance Saboteur game called, um, Saboteur.

  15. Piispa says:

    The question isn’t how many more WW2-games can they make, the question is how many more WW2-games can they make with American Paratrooper or Omaha beach-header crushing the Nazi regime…

    You know, the war didn’t start at ’44. And Overlord wasn’t an American-only operation. How about a WW2-game with German Paratroopers on the lead throughout the whole war, for example? I’m sure one could find a german paratrooper unit with combat experiences from all the fronts from Holland, Norway, France, Russia, Balkans, Africa.. Stuff for a dozen Band of Brothers spin-offs before even reaching ’44 and Normandy.

    There are whole fronts, countries and over 5-year conflict to cover and they make the same game over and over again.

  16. Dracko says:

    When do I get to play as a Nazi in my shootung game?

  17. Devin says:

    You know what we really need? A Winter War FPS. Some of those Finns had FPS-like kill counts, there’s one fellow in particular, Simo Hayha, who racked up 500 confirmed kills in 100 days over iron sights (!) and had around 200 more unconfirmed with a submachinegun.

    It’s all Finnish and Russian equipment, so it’s not the same old guns from every other WWII game. And since the Finns started with basically no anti-tank weapons and then gradually got access to captured Soviet and purchased German gear, you have a historical reason why you don’t get a rocket launcher until halfway through the game (I think we’re mostly past worrying about that today, but even so)

  18. Winterborn says:

    Simo Häyhä, the white death! I’d read about him somewhere before but had either forgotten or never read his kill count. It’s insane. Apparently he averaged a kill for every daylight hour he was active in. Which when you consider the short days of Finland is pretty scary.

    On the front note I no longer have any interest in WWII games set in the same western Europe theatre. I don’t play them, don’t care how good they are. It numbs my brain. The last I tried was CoH and even the change to RTS did nothing.. so very overdone. So yeah, give us Winter War or Eastern Front.. hell, give us the war in the Pacific, so much action over such a large area which is barely ever touched by games.

  19. The Leif says:

    Piispa! You stole that comment from me!
    But, seriously, yes sometimes it seems that the war started in 44 and that it was a not a WW but a americo-german war over the rights to french wine distribution.

  20. Josh says:

    IIs that supposed to be a BAR in one of those videos, the thing that sounds like a silenced pea-shooter?

    ‘Bro-Mo’ makes me rage. I’m not buying a game with ‘Bro-mo’s in them.

    This better be a seriously unfinished game.

    And wow that Randy is a complete dork, he got onto Star Wars comparisons and I fucking cringed.

  21. John P (Katsumoto) says:

    +1 to the “WW2 started in 1944″ comments. Grrr. Also, WW1, despite the popular CONCEPTION, wasn’t all sitting in trenches doing nothing. It was a WORLD war after all, not a “West-Europe” war, and there were plenty of places without the trench stalemate.

  22. Piispa says:

    Yeah, though the Eastern Front in WW1 was basicly the only main front with non-trench warfare of the war and that was due to the great lenght of the front.

    Italian front developed quickly into trench warfare also, and African and Pacific fronts were basicly conquest of German colonies with little, if any, fighting.