On the night of September 19, 1944, 85 German Luftwaffe bombers released their payloads over the Dutch city of Eindhoven. More than 200 people were killed. Amid the rubble stirs Staff Sergeant Matt Baker and his squad, right in the crosshairs of the first significant German counterattack to Operation Market Garden. Baker's mission: to sift through the burning ruins of the city, link up with an underground resistance bunker, and bail out two British squads pinned down by German machine gunners. It's not going to be easy, but nothing is on Hell's Highway.
In our latest look at Brothers in Arms Hell's Highway, we jumped into Baptism of Fire, a chapter midway through the game that picks up with Baker fighting through Eindhoven. The city is burning as a result of the German firebombing. At your disposal you have a base-of-fire team and an assault team. Before you can link up with the Dutch resistance, a team of Germans on top of a hill pin you at its base. The Germans were armed only with rifles, so Baker ordered his base-of-fire team to break out the machine gun and suppress the enemy. This freed up Baker to flank right around a nearby shed and creep up the hill, picking off enemy soldiers with his M1 Garand.
It's a familiar formula if you've played Brothers in Arms before. The squad-command system at this point is largely unchanged, probably because it has worked so well in the past. You simply cycle through your fire teams and point them at a location. As trained soldiers, they'll automatically take cover and fire at enemies, rather than stand out in the open and wait to get picked off. The command system is contextual, so if you point to a location, the team will move there; point at an enemy and the team will lay down suppressing fire; point at a piece of destructible cover like a bunker of sandbags, and your squad will, predictably, destroy it. It's these realistic squad mechanics that separate Brothers in Arms from its competitors, and it's impossible to play the game without suppressing your enemies, flanking them, and going in for the kill. If you're not suppressing Germans, they're suppressing you. And one bullet in BIA is enough to get you killed.
After we took out the Germans on the hill, an additional enemy squad took cover inside a Dutch gas station. That's a bad idea when your city has just been firebombed. The Germans were obliterated by a huge, booming explosion as the gas tanks ignited. (No word yet on what effect the explosion will have on gas prices, although the Germans were clearly not happy.) We soon ran into a machine-gun nest and a pair of German assault teams. Our machine-gun team pretty much cancelled out theirs, so it was up to the assault teams to duke it out. Baker tried to flank around a wooden fence that the Germans quickly shot up. Although the environments are not completely destructible--you won't be demolishing any buildings any time soon, as in Battlefield: Bad Company--bullets will crash through wood, and bazooka shells will make quick work of sandbags. After retreating to more solid cover, Baker emptied his Tommy gun on an empty position. The intent was to turn the red circle above the Germans to gray, which indicates that they are suppressed and trembling with fright. Rather accidentally, one of the bullets hit a German in the head, triggering a slow-motion action camera in which the soldier's brains left his head and landed on the well-manicured Dutch lawn. Coincidentally, Hell's Highway is rated M for Mature. We flanked, fired, and moved our squads to the resistance bunker.
After starring in two equally bloody Brothers in Arms games in which most of his, um, brothers in arms were killed, Matt Baker is a haunted man. He often has flashbacks of their deaths, and as he moves through the ruins of Eindhoven, the lifeless faces of the fallen briefly appear on the screen. It's a disturbing effect of the kind that you would expect from the likes of F.E.A.R., but Gearbox is making a deliberate effort to convey the horrors of war in video game form. This would seem gimmicky and shallow had Gearbox not fleshed out Baker and his squadmates as complete characters, each with his own personality and imperfections. Baker's friend Joe "Red" Hartsock is worried about Baker's mental capacity, moving forward. Baker takes any death very hard, whereas Hartsock knows that it's all a necessary part of war. Meanwhile, Corporal Corrion is obsessed with earning a promotion, young Private Frankie "Beans" LaRoche dreams of being a hero even if it means rushing into action against orders, and Private Dawson continually pesters Baker and Hartsock about old battles that are better left in the past. These men, along with many others, are part of your squad and will fight beside you. Some will die. But that's what makes Brothers in Arms what it is.
We don't want to spoil any of the story, but know that in Eindhoven, Baker is not all there mentally. Nevertheless, he has to lead his men out of the resistance bunker and rescue two British squads pinned down by the Germans. Despite being deeply affected by the war, Baker has always been able to snap back to action in the heat of the moment. Moving from building to fiery building, the squad engages in close-quarters combat. Here in these cramped confines, maneuvering for shots is even more difficult, and suppression plays an even more important role.
After clearing out several buildings, the squad reaches the central town square and the two British squads. Using the battle map that you received from the Dutch freedom fighters, you can plan your assault on the courtyard. The German machine-gun nest has the entire eastern half of the courtyard pinned down, while two German fire teams have taken cover behind bunkers on the left side. The British soldiers will fight alongside you now that the Allies outnumber the Germans, but it's still slow moving though the courtyard. We ordered the base-of-fire team to lay suppressing fire on the German machine-gun nest, and then bounced from cover to cover until we found a safe flanking position by the statue in the center of the square. After rolling a grenade toward a German assault team, we triggered another action-camera sequence in which an enemy was blown into the sky, losing a leg in the process.
With the left side of the square cleared, we flanked the German machine-gun nest and took it out with one last grenade. And just as the town square was finally cleared, at which point Baker could've taken a breather, off ran Frankie into a burning apartment to save a young Dutch woman. Baker, screaming after his 19-year-old machine gunner, followed Frankie into the fire. There's no rest for a squad leader. We'll have more on Brothers in Arms Hell's Highway after E3.