After cranking out the PC port of Bungie's ubiquitous Halo, Texas-based developer Gearbox came into its own in early 2005 with Brothers in Arms, a World War II first-person shooter that added a noteworthy tactical element to its core run-'n-gun action. Now the company is hard at work on Hell's Highway, the third entry in the Brothers in Arms series and the first to make the leap to next-generation hardware, with forthcoming Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and DirectX 10-based PC versions. Gearbox president Randy Pitchford recently gave us a look at the first concept footage of Hell's Highway (using in-game art assets) and filled us in on the direction Gearbox is taking with this new sequel. Also, we have an exclusive look at the game's characters running in real time, as compared to their last-generation counterparts--don't forget to check out the new video.
The game will again put you in the unenviable boots of Joe "Red" Hartsock, a member of the famed 101st airborne division. As history buffs will have already surmised from the game's subtitle, Hell's Highway focuses on the famed Operation Market Garden of September 1944, during which the Allies orchestrated a concerted but tumultuous aerial push into Germany itself. As you'd expect, the designers are fleshing out Brothers in Arms' trademark on-the-fly tactical action, so you'll potentially play a more active role in this large-scale mission than ever before. In the first two games, you had two teams at your command, one for assault and one for enemy suppression. What could be better than two teams? Three teams, naturally. Unlike the existing two teams, your third team won't be assigned to one specific role; rather, you'll be able to choose from a number of duties based on the particulars of a given situation. A heavy-machine-gun team can lay down a withering blanket of fire against well-fortified enemy positions; the bazooka team is most effective against enemy armor, such as tanks and APCs; and a mortar team can launch explosives into hard-to-reach places, such as through windows or over low barriers.
The designers are making a number of other gameplay tweaks to the established Brothers in Arms formula to make it a more fully realized experience. When you're laying down all that offensive power against the Axis, you'll have a greater effect on the environments, many of which will be urban. For instance, launching a mortar into a second-story window in which Nazi soldiers are entrenched will not only take out those foes, but also blow out the windowsill itself, sending brick and wood flying. You'll also have more freedom to pursue open-ended attack solutions, thanks in part to the flexibility of your third team. For the first time, your squads won't preemptively attack enemy positions as soon as they're found, as long as you've instructed them to remain in stealth mode. This will let you move your full force into position and set up a planned attack strategy before turning your boys loose to wreak havoc.
Gearbox is focusing just as much attention--perhaps more--on Hell's Highway's level of realism as it is on the improved gameplay mechanics. To that end, they've devised a new "bro-mo" system to emphasize the human element of the combat. Wait...what? Bro-mo is short for "brotherhood moments" and refers to a number of cinematically styled camera and character flourishes that will turn the player's character from a generic perspective with the attached gun model into what Pitchford described as a "first-person actor." As you can see in the concept footage, you'll see Hartsock's body from his perspective as you do things like vault over a low wall or reach down to grab a grenade. Moreover, the game will occasionally take over some control during extra-dramatic moments, such as when your character catches a wounded soldier as soon as he's hit. Pitchford said these sorts of bro-mos won't be hard-scripted into the action; rather, they'll trigger dynamically based on where you are in relation to events as they happen.
Lastly, as online play is obviously going to be a big part of next-gen console gaming, Gearbox is understandably "resetting" Brothers in Arms' multiplayer component. Unfortunately, Pitchford wasn't ready to give us many hard details about what will be included in Hell's Highway's online mode (or modes), though he did say that it will include more human players than in past games. As for the always-interesting Xbox 360 achievements, those naturally haven't been fully planned out yet, but Pitchford said many of them will likely task you with approaching given missions from different angles and finding specific, possibly unusual ways to solve certain problems.
It goes without saying that Hell's Highway will look a whole lot better than the first two Brothers in Arms games, though Gearbox is putting a lot of effort into beefing up the visuals for the series' next-gen debut. As mentioned, the graphics in the first "concept" trailer for the game are indicative of what the final product will look like, and purportedly, the real-time graphics may even outpace that video by the time development wraps. Luckily, Mr. Pitchford and crew were kind enough to provide us with the first real-time footage of Hell's Highway, showing off the contrast between the past games and the upcoming one. Check out this new footage, and stay tuned for more updates on the latest Brothers in Arms from the Electronic Entertainment Expo 2006 and beyond.