Summary: Okay, here's the situation. It's the night before D-Day. You're behind enemy lines. Your unit is scattered. You're outnumbered. You're outgunned. You've got 13 guys, ready to take the fight to the Nazis. Good luck soldier.
That's the premise behind Gearbox Software's Brothers In Arms. Back in August we visited Gearboxes offices to check out this WW2 shooter. See why this game has the potential to make Call of Duty and MOH: Pacific Assault look like child's play in today's article!
Call of Duty was one of the first first-person shooters to buck this trend. While your character certainly played a pivotal role in the game, you were fundamentally part of a team trying to accomplish a mission. Whether it was freeing POWs, destroying artillery positions, or capturing a certain objective (the beach in Stalingrad being one of the most moving examples), you directly or indirectly worked with NPCs (non-player characters) to ultimately defeat the Germans in World War Two.
While Operation Flashpoint and other titles came before Call of Duty with teamplay elements, none had done so as fluidly as Inifinity Ward’s shooter. It was this teamplay element that played such a large role in Call of Duty’s success in 2003.
But Call of Duty’s teamplay system was rather mundane. In many missions, NPCs often lacked initiative, following you around as you engaged the enemy, moving from position to position. In other words, your NPC teammates rarely engaged the Germans on their own, your character basically brought the fight to the enemy, while your teammates provided valuable backup. Fundamentally you were still the Rambo character found in older games, only now you had a dozen or so friends coming along with you. While this is certainly an improvement, this is hardly the way battles are fought in the real world.
Brothers In Arms: Road to Hill 30, takes the teamplay elements found in Call of Duty to an entirely new level, as you’re in complete command of your troops. The game essentially merges the action and gameplay found in a first-person shooter, with the strategy elements found in a real-time strategy game such as Warcraft. However, rather than commanding an entire army, air force, or navy, as you would in a traditional RTS, Brothers In Arms focuses on squad-level tactics and warfare, similar to what you’ve seen in Steven Spielberg’s “Saving Private Ryan”, or the HBO miniseries “Band of Brothers”. In fact, each of the game’s 20 missions begins and ends just like an episode from Band of Brothers.
The game is based on the real-life missions of the same unit as in Band of Brothers, the famed Screaming Eagles of the 101st Airborne Division. Whereas Band of Brothers was based on the exploits of the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, Easy Company, you’ll play the role of the 502nd, Fox Company. The 502nd proved themselves in battle, fighting in battles ranging from the D-Day invasion to the Battle of the Bulge, and have two Congressional Medal of Honor (our nation’s highest military award) recipients among them, which were the only ones awarded to the 101st.
SIDEBAR: Gearbox Brothers In Arms website
In Brothers In Arms, you’ll play the role of Sergeant Matt Baker, a fictional character Gearbox created for the game. While Sgt. Baker isn’t real, everything else about the game is, including the missions you’ll lead, and the terrain you’ll fight on. Gearbox scoured through the National Archives, studying the same maps and photographs real 101st soldiers used during the D-Day invasion. In fact, the Gearbox team has actually made several trips to Normandy, and has accurately recreated the battlefields and surrounding countryside to look just as it did in June 1944.
For insight into squad-level tactics and the weaponry of that era, Gearbox enlisted the help of Colonel John Antal (U.S. Army, retired), who is an accomplished military historian and author, and the former director of the U.S. Army’s armor school at Fort Knox. With Colonel Antal’s access, Gearbox developers were also able to practice field and training exercises as well as fire the weapons that are used in the game.
But enough about the basics behind the game, how does it actually play?
You’ll start on the night before the D-Day invasion, as the 101st begins their airdrop into German-controlled France. Just as in real life, you’ll start the game separated from the rest of your unit, with the early portion of the game dedicated to linking up with the rest of your unit as you learn the game’s controls. This is important, as the squad-based warfare Brothers In Arms uses will likely be completely new to most players and will require some time to get acclimated to it.
In the game you’ll command two squads, a base-of-fire team, and an assault team. The base-of-fire team is responsible for pinning the enemy down, and accomplishes this with the use of heavy weapons (machine guns) such as the M1918 Browning Automatic Rifle (BAR). Once the base-of-fire team has the enemy pinned down, the assault team moves into the enemy’s flanks, surprising them, and ultimately killing them. To perform these maneuvers, the assault team carries lighter weapons, such as the M1A1 Thomspon submachine gun.
Technically, you could play the entire game without firing a single shot, merely commanding both teams from a safe position, or you can directly lead the assault team’s charge; it’s all up to you. You can carry up to two weapons, in addition to grenades, and can pick up weapons off the battlefield, including German weaponry.
For added realism, the game by default doesn’t have a traditional crosshair, instead you zoom-in to look down your gun’s sights, just as you would do in Call of Duty. There are also no health packs, nor is there a health meter; take a few hits and you will die. This also applies to your teammates, so you won’t be able to send your assault team head-on into enemy fire without taking significant casualties. You’ll have to use real tactics if you want to survive on the battlefield.
SIDEBAR: Steven Spielberg actually met members of the Brothers In Arms design team at E3 last year.
While Gearbox has a long running relationship with Valve, dating all the way back to the original Half-Life, the Source engine isn’t used for Brothers In Arms. Instead Gearbox relies on a highly modified version of Epic’s Unreal engine. In terms of complexity, think somewhere between Unreal Tournament 2004 and Unreal Engine 3.
Like the single-player campain, Brothers In Arms multiplayer is different than traditional first-person shooters. Rather than employ conventional deathmatch, multiplayer in Brothers In Arms centers around the teamplay and NPC elements found in single-player, with each team given an objective. Say for instance, blowing up a bridge. Up to four players can connect simultaneously, so in this case two guys would play as the Americans, with one person commanding the NPCs in the base-of-fire team, and the second American player leading the NPCs in the assault team. The two other players would play as the Germans, with each person leading his own team. Each of the four players controls three NPCs, for a total of 16 “men” fighting it out on the server simultaneously.
If you’re into more traditional me-against-the-world type shooters like the DOOM series, Serious Sam, and the original Medal of Honor, then Brothers In Arms probably isn’t for you. But if the idea of mixing in a little bit of strategy and tactics with the action typically found in a first-person shooter sounds enticing, then you’ll definitely want to check out Brothers In Arms: Road to Hill 30. The game has gone gold and is now available for Xbox. Already Xbox user reviews online are overwhelmingly positive. PC gamers will have to wait a little longer though, as the game won’t be released until March 15th. Until then, gamers looking for more information on Brothers In Arms should check out Gearboxes website.
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