Hands-on with Brothers in Arms: Hell’s Highway (Xbox 360)

I am so sick of World War II games. Every time it’s just a mindless run and gun, kill the Nazi scumbags and be the one-man army. I’ve had enough of this so I was obviously skeptical going into Brothers in Arms: Hell’s Highway. By the end of the night, I found myself attached to the main character’ and wanting more from Hell’s Highway. I want to experience the full story but have to wait until the game comes out now.

Brothers in Arms breathes such a giant fresh air into the extremely stale World War II scenario. The game is heavily focused on the storyline unlike so many other FPS games. Hit the jump to get some detail on the first couple of missions of the game and find out the extensive research Gearbox Software took into bring us an authentic game and story.

Before we could play the game, Gearbox Software gave the press a demonstration of the game. There’s going to a be a little “Previously, in Brothers in Arms” video recapping what happened in the first two games leading up to Hell’s Highway in 24 fashion.

After that recap, one of the Gearbox team members starts playing through the first level of the game. You play as Matt Baker, Sergeant and commander of a squad in the 101st Airborne Division. The game starts off with a cut scene as Matt comforts a dying soldier in a war torn hospital. A Nazi soldier starts to sneak up on Matt but is taken out by Corporal Joe Hartsock, Matts squadmate. The cut scene ends with the fallen soldier dying and flaming rubble falling on his body. That’s when the game kicks in and you take control of Matt Baker. 

Right before you start the Unreal Engine 3 powered game, it will ask you if you need some quick basic training. Yes was selected and Matt starts to move out. The game will periodically freeze at specific points and tells you how to use your characters abilities. 

The first thing we saw was the ever popular regenerative health system. It’s a little different than other games where you just run away and wait until your health recharges. You can actually still do that, but your health recovers a lot faster if you hide behind an object or hug a wall. The more hits you’re taking that redder the screen will get. It gets to a point where you can’t actually see what’s going on in the game. Either pray that you can get to some cover fast enough at that point or kiss your life goodbye. 

After this tutorial, we progress further on in the war torn hospital and find out that there are Nazi soldiers all over the place. The assistance tutorial kicks in again and tells us to dig into cover and start popping out from cover and shoot at the Nazi. As I just mentioned, players can hide behind cover in the game. Be careful where you hide though, as some covers are weak like wooden tables. The cover can get destroyed and you’ll be left exposed. Lucky the Nazis will also hide behind weak cover so you can do the same to them.

It’s at this point that the new suppressing tactic is revealed. All enemies will have a small little red circle appear above their head and when you shoot at them, the red circle starts to deplete until it becomes completely gray. When the circle is grey, this makes it so the Nazis won’t pop out from their hiding for fear of getting shot at. Suppressing fire is a great tactic here. As I was causing this soldier to cower in fear, Corporal Joe Hartsock went ahead through another room and took out the Nazi. These red circles can be turned off for a better experience but the effects will still be the same. Keep shooting at the Nazis and they’ll hide from you. The circle does however start to fill back up quickly so you yourself have to be quick on the draw.

After about five more minutes of Nazi killing, you get to a room that triggers another cut scene. At first you’re not sure what’s going on as Matt is just looking around the room. For whatever reason, Matt looks up and you can see the night sky through this big skylight. BAM! The next thing you know, a big ass bomb comes bursting through the window. It takes a few seconds for Matt, and myself, to realize the only reason the bomb didn’t explode is because it got caught on the steal beams that were holding up the skylight. As Matt tries to regain his footing, three Nazi soldiers appears in front of Matt. They draw their guns and the scene cuts to Joe Hartsock who enters the room as three gunshots ring out causing Joe to have a shocked look on his face.

Did Matt just get gunned down?! Or did some U.S./British forces come in in the nick of time? That question won’t be answered until later on in the game. The screen goes black and the words “Three days earlier” appear on the screen.

I was ready to yell out a giant “FUCK!” but kept myself cool as I was surrounded by a ton of people in the little theatre. Plus, I already made a little scene by showing up late. And then my phone of course goes off during the presentation.

Anyway, Gearbox takes a break from the game at this point and starts telling us some of the back-end work that has gone on in the game. Brothers in Arms: Hell’s Highway is extremely well researched. The game is based around operation Market Garden. Operation Market Garden was a real mission during World War II. U.S. and Allied forces wanted to secure a set of roads and bridges so tanks forces could easily roll on through and hammer the Nazi forces. The plan started to work at first, but the Nazi’s quickly caught on to the plan and attacked various points along this highway. This operation eventually failed causing lots of lives to be lost and causing this highway to earn the nickname, “Hell’s Highway”. 

Matt Bakers missions are based on real mission that took place along Hell’s Highway. The team flew out to the location and documented all the areas for the game. Furthermore, Gearbox actually bought aerial reconnaissance pictures from the British Government to help them add a lot of realism to the game.

They also had some help from a real soldier that was a part of Operation Garden. They would consult him throughout the game’s development and get his first hand recounts of the war. The soldier even wrote a book on this mission, which was called Hell’s Highway too.

This just goes to show you that Gearbox wants to give players a real authentic representation of how this battle/war took place. They really want to capture the war and show human emotions the soldiers felt in the game.

Which is why Hell’s Highway is so heavy on the storyline. These soldiers represent real soldiers that fought in the war and they want to convey to the player this took a toll on everyone. After we got details on some of the research that went into the game, it was finally time for the press to play the game.

The first couple of levels were opened up to us in the hands-on preview. After getting through the first level we just witnessed, it was time to see what happened three days earlier. Before that could happen though, an extensive cut scene took place with Matt Baker’s troops. The cut scene would bounce back and forth between all of Matt’s troop members as they would deal with their duty at hand. Some were gearing up, some were relaxing by playing cards, all in all, they were all anxious to get to the battle.

The cut scene then cuts to the troops inside a wooden plane that’s being towed by a real airplane. I had no idea that this was even an actual real tactic the U.S. Army used. These wooden planes had no engines so when they were disconnected from the real planes; all the soldiers could do was ride the wind. The planes looked to hold about a dozen soldiers plus some of them carried jeeps. 

The cut scene then goes to show Matt’s wooden plane landing safely stopping inches from ramming into a tree. The squads pile out, regroup and then the game gives control back to the player. 

On thing I noticed about this level as I first started walking through it was how extremely colorful and vibrant everything was Holland still looked. I’m so used to seeing war games all dark, gray and with buildings all but destroyed everywhere I look. Then I noticed the three sheep eating some grass. I’m sorry, but any game you play that has animals around automatically requires you to kill them. And just like every time you’ve killed animals in other games, this was equally hilarious. Try killing the sheep with just one grenade when you get the chance.

After some sheep killing, you walk up to a house where you meet up with a local citizen, which completes one of the objectives of that level. You then move out and see that the village is populated with Nazi soldiers. The first group of Nazis have no idea you’re there. When your troop members haven’t engaged the enemy, they will automatically go into stealth mode and will wait for you to engage the enemy.

You also have control over your troop members now and can tell them what to do. It was at this point where I told my guys to set up a machine gun placement right behind the Nazis. As soon as they did that, I threw a grenade at the three Nazi’s feet and my guys open up with their machine guy. Their backup is valuable, but I found myself frequently forgetting that I actually could control my troops and get some assistance. 

I started to move on to the next section but stopped at the bodies of the fallen Nazis. I noticed one of the guys had a missing arm. As it turns out, you can blow off your enemie’s limbs causing for some gruesome scenes. I also noticed that one of the guy’s skulls was cracked open. War is hell indeed. 

I guess I was starring too long though as I started getting hit with gunfire. Luckily, there’s a new sprint option, which I used to quickly dart for cover. I then popped out from my cover and started to blindly shoot at the Nazis until the red circles turned gray. Then, I hoped over the wall I was hiding behind, threw a grenade at where the Nazis were taking cover and quickly sprinted across the road. I then took cover behind a wall, and took out another Nazi right in the face in front of my position. The game went in a little slow motion mode at this kill. Some kills you get will cause the game to slow down causing for a dramatic effect. This only happened to me once during my playtime so it doesn’t look like this will be overly used.

You will eventually make your way to large house where a sniper continuously takes shots at you. You can take the sniper out from the distance, but a new sniper will take the fallen Nazis place. The only way to stop this for sure is by charging into the house and taking him out right in front of your face. 

It was about at this point where the demo stopped. You could keep going, but I felt satisfied by this point. All in all, I think Gearbox has set up a really epic story here. Fans of war movies like Saving Private Ryan and Band of Brothers will truly love this experience.

Brothers in Arms: Hell’s Highway will be coming out for the PC, PS3, and Xbox 360 sometime this August. Stay tuned for a video interview with a couple of the Gearbox team members that’ll be up later today.

Hamza Aziz