Dubya Dubya Tew, the Second World War, the Great Patriotic War, the Crusade In Europe; World War 2 is known by many names but was it truly the last good war? Many gamers would say no, as is made apparent whenever I view the comments page for any FPS title set in World War 2. Reliably the pages are filled with an avalanche of comments like: "DUDE WW2 GAMEZ TOTALLY SUCKS BALLZZ" and "OMFG NOT ANUTHER WW2 GAME" or "ENUFF WITH WW2" etc, you get the picture. So the question is put to us: is the World War 2 FPS a genre past its prime?
Gearbox Software is betting that it isn't with their upcoming title "Brothers In Arms Hell's Highway" and I tend to agree. The reason I think that so many gamers feel rage, frustration and blind hatred for any game centered in history's most expansive conflict is not that World War 2 has been over-exploited, but rather that the same superficial details of it have been repeatedly rehashed to nothingness by some of the least innovative FPS titles to ever be published.
judge for yourself in this new walkthrough video hosted by GBX prez Randy Pitchford and series military consultant and Gearbox VP Col John Antal
In truth, how many times can we replay "Wolfenstein 3D"? Apparently most developers of the last 15 years or so would answer "endlessly" but sales figures would tend to disagree. Whether your are talking about the CoD series, MoH or their various lesser imitators, the core formula is invariably the same: You, Joe X, are a super dude fighting for god and country, through a Fortress Europa un-confusingly organized into narrow lanes, you slaughter conveniently staggered small groups of Germans with 10 different easy to aim weapon animations, heal yourself with the Medpacks and rinse and repeat all the way to victory. Sure some of these games have tried to mask their utterly mind-numbing blandness with generic cannon-fodder bots in American uniforms running into every available object (I mean "fighting") beside you, but innovation, unlike those wonders of modern science Medpacks, is a commodity in short supply in the WW2 FPS.
Lack of innovation is the real reason why most gamers view the WW2 FPS genre with disgust and also the reason why Hells Highway looks like it might just be the wonder weapon shooter fans have been waiting for. Think about it, how can history's greatest and most destructive conflict be expired in terms of game creation? Yes I agree, the 'Superman Fueled by Medpacks' story is certainly expired, but beyond that lies a vast unexplored country of drama, conflict, tragedy, suspense, villainy and heroism.
What makes the Brothers in Arms series so compelling, is that it actually tells the story of true to life soldiers from the 502nd Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 101st Airborne Division. Gearbox promises that as you play through the Hell's Highway as Sgt. Matt Baker you will laugh, cry, raise hell, get wounded, thrill to triumph and feel the bite of the eventual defeat of Operation Market Garden all with your fellow soldiers. Your friends have names, personalities, and back stories that are fleshed out through the narrative of the game: when they die, you will feel it. Portrayed graphically will be the deaths of your squad-mates, the executions of dutch resistance fighters, and even innocent children are not spared by the tempest of war. Hells Highway aims to do nothing less than portray the grimly sanguine reality of war like no game has ever dared before.
Beyond the story-telling aspirations of Hell's Highway is its immersive blend of RTS and FPS gameplay. As squad leader Matt Baker will have up to three elements at his command, an assault element, a heavy weapons element and a base of fire element. The gameplay is designed so that you must make use of these units in a strategic manner or you will die and die quickly. Baker is no superman and the medpacks seem to have never been given a production priority by this games version of the War Department. Often one shot can mean one kill, so you will need to move your squad from covered position to covered position in order to find, fix, flank and finish the enemy. These Germans aren't gray clothed cannon fodder either, they take cover, return fire and even counter-attack like real soldiers. If you try to flank them while they are un-supressed, you very likely will find yourself on the receiving end of an AI-engineered German flanking maneuver. Just like in real life, run and gun most often means a free trip home in a body bag.
Gearbox has certainly set out a difficult task for itself in winning over a very jaded gaming community, but as a long time fan of the Brothers in Arms series, I feel confident that they will succeed in reinvigorating a genre that has for too long done nothing but flog dead horses. Both Road to Hill 30 and Earned In Blood were excellent, well thought-out games; Im not sure why other developers ignored their innovations and continued to aggravate the public with ever more stale run-and-guns, but the newest release in the series looks very much like it might finally give World War2 FPS games the redefining they so desperately need. If Gearbox can deliver on their promises with Hells Highway it very much looks like World War 2 might being raging on consoles and PCs anew this August.[url]