Platforms: PS3, Xbox 360, PC - PS3 version reviewed.
The world thought it was done with the World War II shooter, but Gearbox Software wants to prove the world wrong. Brothers in Arms: Hell's Highway valiantly attempts to make the case that there are still new ways to approach the old Axis vs Allies battles, and new stories that are still worth the telling.
While the rival Medal of Honor and Call of Duty series have always paid a sort of lip service to respect and historical realism while using the 1939-45 conflict as a springboard for boys-own cinematic action, Brothers in Arms has always been committed to creating a more authentic brand of World War II adventure. Of course there are limits to how far you can take this without losing the mass market audience, but this is as close as gaming gets to an interactive Band of Brothers, not just in terms of superficial style and story, but in terms of character and feel.
This time we've moved on from the successful invasion of Normandy to the disastrous Operation Market Garden: the allies' September 1944 attempt to rapidly take and hold a route through the Netherlands that would allow them to cross into Germany and so end the war by Christmas. The protagonist is once again US Seargant Matt Baker as he leads a squad of paratroopers on a series of missions that take them ever deeper into enemy territory. Other WWII FPS games have dealt with this material before - battling for the Bridge at Nijmegen is a favourite passtime of the genre - but this is the first time that a game has covered the campaign in this sort of depth.
The core gameplay will be familiar to those who've played Brothers in Arms in the past, but if you're more used to the ways of Call of Duty or Medal of Honor then you may be in for a shock. Hell's Highway actually plays more like a Rainbow Six or Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter in that your main role is not so much that of the soldier as the commanding officer. At most points in the game you'll find yourself leading one or two units of men, either assault troops or specialist teams armed with a bazooka or machine gun.
On one level commanding them is pretty easy; just select the unit, squeeze a trigger button and move the crosshairs to direct them, then release the trigger to assign the order. On another level it's fiendishly tricky, because a) Hell's Highway constantly places you in situations where you're up against greater numbers and/or greater firepower, b) this isn't one of those games where you or your men can soak up bullets with impunity and c) your enemies are actually pretty smart.