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E3 06: Brothers in Arms: Hell's Highway Impressions

We head back to Europe with the 101st Airborne in Gearbox's new Brothers in Arms game.


LOS ANGELES--We got a chance to get another demonstration of Brothers in Arms: Hell's Highway, running on an Xbox 360. Gearbox president Randy Pitchford led the demonstration, playing the game while explaining the details to us. As the subtitle suggests, the game will once again put you in the role of a sergeant in the 101st Airborne Division as you make your way up Hell's Highway, a series of missions relating to Operation Market Garden in 1944. The road was used as a conduit into Holland as the Allies made their push toward Germany near the end of the war. During the game, you'll play as squad sergeants Matt Baker and Joe Hartsock while controlling squads in small-scale pitched battles.

The first thing we noticed about the game is that the graphics engine has clearly been redone from the ground up to take advantage of the Xbox 360 hardware. The game is slated to come out on that platform as well as on the PlayStation 3 and the PC, so there's no legacy hardware to worry about as a low common denominator. We immediately noticed highly detailed texturing in the environments, with wood grain clearly visible, as well as cracks in the pavement and individual stones on what appeared to be a cobbled, brick road in the Dutch city of Eindhoven. Facial details, like the stubble and scars on Baker's face were easy to spot as well, and the other characters exhibited some emotion on their faces as they conversed inside of a toy shop. The midday lighting was also very realistic, with shadows cast on the ground by buildings and trees. Also, we saw smoke emanating from lit cigarettes, curling up just so and dissipating slowly into the air, with the cherry-red end flaring up as characters took their drags.

The lively conversation at the start of the demo was interrupted by an abrupt explosion at the front of the shop, which blew glass out of the window and knocked the soldiers off their feet, including the player character, Baker. As Baker staggered to his feet and out the door, a squadmate pointed out the nasty-looking shard of glass sticking out of Baker's bloodied arm. The audience in the theater winced as he savagely removed the glass from his arm, before directing his troops across the street and into an alley leading to some backyards. As in previous Brothers in Arms games, you'll use the analog stick to move a command ring around the environment. As the squads moved down an alley, civilians popped into view, something we haven't seen much of in previous Brothers in Arms games. Pitchford led the squad deeper into the lush gardens of the Dutch town, directing troops in stealth mode (one of a few different combat stances you can set for your squad in the game), so as not to arouse the attention of any of the many German Wehrmacht crawling around.

Upon moving toward a two-story Dutch house, we happened upon a German soldier who was facing away from us on top of the house, directing flak fire from nearby antiaircraft guns that were shooting up at the periodic appearance of American C-47 planes. The mission objective was to take out those AA guns. After directing troops out of sight, Pitchford aimed down the iron sight of his Garand, taking out the German spotter on top of the house, who then tumbled backward and slid down off the sloped roof.

Pitchford then directed his troops behind some more cover, before crawling underneath a truck to observe the German flak guns that were firing from behind some houses just down the street. Still staying in stealth mode (which means your troops will not automatically fire on German troops in sight, and that all soldiers in the squad stay low as they move), Pitchford led his squad across a street to flank behind one of the German flak crews. After setting up behind a near wall, he directed both his squads to fire, cutting the AA crew to pieces as they were caught completely unaware. This, in turn, caught the attention of some other German soldiers, so Pitchford went back around the other side of the house to take on the other AA crew from the street side. Upon reaching the street, though, a mortar hit the house across the street, which caused the chimney to fly up in the air and land in the middle of the street. While this explosion was nice and dramatic, the chimney also made for a useful bit of coverage, which Pitchford used to hole up behind before bringing up a bazooka team to aim and shoot at the German flak gun. After ordering the shot, the game shifted to some kind of cinematic camera, which followed the rocket as it homed in on its target, after which time the demo ended.

We're a little doubtful on how much that little rocket cam reflects actual gameplay, but it was a good demonstration of the different types of squads you'll be able to bring to bear in Hell's Highway, including the aforementioned bazooka team, as well as machine gun teams. Pitchford assured us that we'll be able to control tanks in Hell's Highway as in previous games, and we'll even get to drive jeeps with mounted machine guns for a small portion of the game. There's still a good amount of development time left in Hell's Highway, as the game is tentatively scheduled to ship in the first quarter of 2007, but Pitchford noted that the date isn't firm, as Gearbox is going to take all the time it needs to get the game just right. For more on Brothers in Arms: Hell's Highway, stay tuned to GameSpot, or see our previous story.

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