Brothers in Arms: Hells Highway Preview
World War II is one of the most covered eras when it comes to video games. Ever since Medal of Honor and Call of Duty hit it big, there has been a steady swarm of WWII rolling in on various different platforms. The latest of these is Brothers in Arms: Hells Highway, which hits stores in the UK on September 26th. Thankfully I didn’t have to wait that long, as I was invited by Ubisoft to have a hands-on session with the game.
Before I could get hands-on with the game however, Ubisoft had arranged for a presentation to be given by Neil Powell, who is a serving army officer, and expert on Operation Market Garden (the operation where the game is set). This gave some great insight into the surrounding circumstances, and the general story of what happened during the 9 day operation.
Following on from this we were extremely lucky to have the opportunity to hear from two Operation Market Garden veterans; Des Page and Arthur Latchford. This was a really great experience as we got to hear their first-hand experience on how it really was during those 9 days, and it really gives you something to compare the game to in terms of historical facts.
Moving on, I finally managed to get my hands on the game, and wow, what a game it is looking to be. For those of you who are not familiar with the premise of the Brothers in Arms games, it basically consists of you playing as a Sergeant in the 101st Airborne Division in a first-person view shooter. The interesting part comes from you having to order around various units that you get under your control throughout the game. Previous games used this mechanic really well, and I’m pleased to say that this has carried over to Hell Highway. The controls are nice and intuitive, and the AI is smart enough so that you don’t need to babysit them all the time. If the enemy starts firing on them, they will automatically find cover and shoot back.
Speaking of the AI, the enemy AI is also pretty top notch. They will actively work towards trying to flank you and your team-mates if you just sit still. This means that there is always pressure on you to move forward and flank them before they do it to you first. In most cases this involves using your units to lay down suppressing fire whilst you sneak round the flank. You can of course reverse the roles and lay down suppressing fire should you wish to do so. This game mechanic of having to suppress and flank your enemies can provide some really intense moments when there are lots of enemies around. This is then made even more intense by the fact that your fellow soldiers are yelling at you to get people moving. It’s gripping stuff.
Adding to this great gameplay mechanic is destructible environments; a first for the series. This means that hiding behind a wooden fence isn’t going to do much in the way of protecting you. It does however produce probably the best splintering effect that I have ever seen when shot. The attention to detail is incredible. However, it is not just wooden fences that can be destroyed. Multiple times I came across a heavy machine gunner laying down fire from a tower. A quick bazooka shot soon helped clear that up by sending the poor German flying from a newly created hole in the front of the tower. There are some disappointments to the destructible environments however, as not everything seems to be destructible. Grenades don’t seem to do anything to walls or hedges, which is somewhat annoying. Still, some destructible stuff is better than no destructible stuff, but it would have been nice if everything could be blown apart.
Taking cover behind these pieces of cover is as simple as tapping the right bumper when you are next to it. The system works very smoothly, and really reminded me of the cover system in Rainbow Six Vegas 2. It’s not that it feels the same at all, it’s just the camera angles when you are behind cover are near identical, which is a really good thing.
To top off the gameplay features, there are slow motion kills. If you score a headshot from a distance you are often rewarded with a lovely slow motion cinematic of the bullet ripping through the targets face. It’s quite gruesome. Even more gruesome than that are the grenade kills. When you managed to land a grenade next to some unsuspecting German, time will slow down as you get to see them get blown away by the grenade, complete with limbs flying off. It’s oddly satisfying.
Graphically the game is a bit of a mixed bag. The character models look really nice, with some amazing details on their faces. The environments don’t seem to stand up quite as well though. Some areas look really good, and then some areas look bland and dull. There are also numerous instances of texture pop-in, and these really hurt the overall experience. One minute you will be wowing at a soldier’s facial expression, only to be disgusted by some building that the textures have yet to load on to. I also encountered a couple of frame rate dips every now and then, but nothing too serious.
Unfortunately I didn’t get a chance to look at the multiplayer portion of the game, although I am confident that if the game mechanics from the single player manage to make it into the multiplayer we may be in for something special.
At the end of the day I left feeling rather satisfied knowing that the next WWI game to grace the consoles will be much much more than a simple run and gun shooter. Despite some graphical issues, I was thoroughly impressed with Hells Highway, and I can’t wait to get my hands on a final copy of the game.