Hell's Highway is the third instalment in the Brothers in Arms series and the first for next-gen machines. As Tom found out earlier this year, developer Gearbox has paid attention to criticisms of the previous games and is working hard to address them. And as we found out when we talked to president Randy Pitchford recently, the studio is confident they've not only moved the Brothers in Arms series forwards but also the entire WWII shooter genre.
Read on to find out what's new and what's improved in Hell's Highway, and why Pitchford believes at least one bit of it is "better than Halo".
Eurogamer: So what's this new instalment in the Brothers in Arms series all about?
Randy Pitchford: Brothers in Arms Hell's Highway is an authentic war experience. It's a first person shooter where you become a squad leader amongst the chaos and devastation of Operation Market/Garden, the largest airborne invasion in the history of the world.
Along the way you'll use you're your men and use hardcore weapons to destroy the enemy. Friends will be made and lost and your heroic action and decisions can save the lives of many.
Hell's Highway is shaping up to be incredible - certainly the best game I've ever been a part of. We can't wait to finish and release the game.
Eurogamer: What new features does Hell's Highway introduce to the BIA series?
Randy Pitchford: First, the visual fidelity is extremely high. The game is truly next-generation and it's not an exaggeration to say that there is no World War II game that comes close to the graphics and art quality of Hell's Highway.
I think the new gameplay features are most exciting, however. [Such as] destructible cover - the enemy can run, but they can't hide. Wood can be shredded splinter by splinter and hard cover emplacements, like sand bags, can be blown away with high explosives. It's amazing to watch and great fun to play with. I can't believe we're actually doing what we're doing because no game I've ever played feels this cool with destructible environments.
Then in addition to leading a fire team and an assault team you can now command a special weapons team. This lets you order a machine gun crew to shred soft cover or lay down a huge field of suppressive fire, or command a bazooka team to put shells into an enemy tank or 88, or to take out a hard enemy emplacement like a sand bag bunker.
You'll play the game from the first person point of view and you're a real character in the world, not just a camera. Whenever you're near a wall or any kind of cover, you can choose to "Dig-In". When you dig in, you're really hugging the walls and the cover. It's better than Halo 3 or Call of Duty 4 where you're just sliding back and forth from behind cover. Using dig-in is really evolved from that kind of old-school FPS strafing. It's a lot of fun and a huge improvement from where FPS games have been.
There's a ton of other new things, visit gearboxsoftware.com to dig deeper. Our developers often interact with the community on our forums, so it's a great place to learn more about the game and game makers.
Eurogamer: How do the new units you're introducing change the gameplay?
Randy Pitchford: Also, there is a difference in real life between "concealment" and "cover". Concealment will hide you from an enemy, but won't protect you if they start shooting. A wooden fence, for example, is only concealment in real life. But a wooden fence is impenetrable in other games and serves as both concealment and cover for the enemy. In Hell's Highway, if the enemy is concealed behind a wooden fence, your machine gun crew can make short work of it and shred it in no time.
The bazooka team is great for taking out harder cover. If you've got an enemy machine gun crew set up behind a sandbag emplacement, you can get your bazooka team in position and put some ordnance on there to really ruin their day.
Because of the new units you have all kinds of new tactical options. You don't just suppress the enemy then look for a flank. You can do that, but you have other options too. You can take out their cover. You can suppress and assault, going right up the middle with grenades and assault rifles under the cover of an allied machinegun crew that is under your command. You can do all kinds of things to solve the tactical challenges of World War II combat. It's awesome.
Eurogamer: What lessons did you learn from previous BIA games? What are you trying to improve on with this instalment?
Randy Pitchford: There are a number of things I think we've improved upon. The accuracy of the weapon when aiming "down-the-sights" is now extremely precise. You can vault over any cover now. In general, the game is a lot more accessible and useable.
The tactical map is now more relevant - it's less about showing off and more about helping you know what you need to know when you're looking at it. Before, we had tons of historical and "making of" extras as a separate menu option. Now, we've integrated these kinds of extras into the game itself so you can find these "Recon Points" in the game and then visit your tactical map to look at the bonus content.
As you know, Brothers in Arms games are extremely authentic with locations and battles that match the true history not just in name, but down to the streets and buildings you'll see and use. The records, photos, interviews and other information we've got about the history is really interesting.
I could keep going - there are a lot of improvements everywhere. At the end of the day, Brothers in Arms cares about squad combat, authenticity and deep story telling. Each of these angles where Brothers in Arms stands above the rest has gotten even better.
Eurogamer: What's the connection between the storyline and characters of this game and the previous ones?
Randy Pitchford: In the first Brothers in Arms game you were Sergeant Matt Baker, recently promoted to squad leader and dropped into D-Day. His first line was, "I never asked to be squad leader, but I had no choice..." It was interesting because Brothers in Arms introduced this new type of squad combat game mechanic. It was really cool that the main character, Sgt. Baker, was learning how to be a squad leader in the story as you, the player, was learning how to be a squad leader in the game.
In Road to Hill 30, Sergeant Baker lost some of his soldiers - including Private Leggett, the radio operator with the glasses who was killed on Hill 30 in the opening sequence of the game. A couple of my other favourite characters, Allen & Garnett, were killed in Normandy. I liked those guys because they were really funny and they were good in the fight.
In Brothers in Arms Hell's Highway, Baker begins to struggle with the burden of being a squad leader. Squad leaders have to make tough decisions - sometimes they make a mistake and someone gets killed. Sometimes they have to make what is a great decision, but the decision means someone is probably going to get killed.
That's extremely difficult to deal with in real life. Many very tough men have been crushed by the burden.Baker has to deal with that in Hell's Highway - he's haunted by the memory of his dead men. There are men that he lost in Normandy whose memory will haunt him. There are men he'll lose in Operation Market/Garden that will haunt him.
The question is whether that burden will crush him and defeat him. Can he accept and overcome that burden so that he can move forward and continue to lead the men in his squad who have survived?
It's deep stuff. I can't believe we're doing some of it and actually pulling it off. I don't think the games industry has seen its Citizen Kane yet, but I am really proud to be amongst those that are pushing us there. Hell's Highway is really coming together and I can't wait to see how far along we get or if we've made it. Anything that gets us closer than the games industry has been before is a success for us.
Eurogamer: Eurogamer: There are already a lot of World War II shooters on the shelves - why stick with that theme? Why should gamers buy this WWII game rather than one of the others?
Randy Pitchford: I don't agree that there are a lot. Recently you've got the one from EA that came out a few months ago. It was okay, but was a bit rough around the edges. Then you've got Brothers in Arms coming, and that's going to be the big thing.
I think that Brothers in Arms Hell's Highway is, by far, the most interesting and exciting choice for next-generation World War II action. I don't know how to say this without sounding condescending but it doesn't even seem close, really.
I think the question shouldn't be. "Should Brothers in Arms Hell's Highway be the World War II game that I'm most interested in?", as I think that is pretty much a guaranteed yes answer. The question should be, "Is Brothers in Arms amongst the best games on the platform?"
A lot of that is subjective, of course, depending upon what you like. But if you like real-world military action, first person shooters, awesome graphics, insane destructible cover, the ability to command your squad and a deep story, then BiA is the best choice out there that offers those things.
Eurogamer: Hell's Highway is billed as offering a "completely new multiplayer experience". Does this mean compared to previous BIA games, or compared to all games?
Randy Pitchford: Brothers in Arms Hell's Highway multiplayer is new to Brothers in Arms. There are some things you can do in multiplayer that you can't do in any other game. It's going to be pretty serious and pretty hardcore. It's less of a goof around and shoot the other guy kind of game and more of a tactical, team-work oriented game. It's pretty cool and it takes advantage of a lot of the things that make Hell's Highway so awesome in single player.
Eurogamer: So what's new for the multiplayer mode in Hell's Highway?
Randy Pitchford: Well, I think we'll save that for a bit longer... Sorry.
Eurogamer: What are the current plans for the beta test?
Randy Pitchford: We are just about at beta internally. We have a hardcore internal QA team that is banging on the game relentlessly.
Eurogamer: You're also currently working on sci-fi shooter Borderlands. How's it shaping up?
Randy Pitchford: Borderlands is awesome. I'm sure we'll talk a lot about that soon enough.
Eurogamer: Does the move into sci-fi with Borderlands mean you're moving away from World War II and Brothers in Arms?
Randy Pitchford: When we announced Brothers in Arms just after finishing Halo for the PC and some of the Half-Life games, we got the same question, "Does the move into WW2 mean you're moving away from Science Fiction and Halo, Half-Life, et cetera?"
We love games and have a lot of interests. Our love for science fiction is not mutually exclusive with our love for military history. We love a lot of other things, too. We want to make awesome games and strive to be the best game development studio in the world.
Brothers in Arms Hell's Highway is out on PC, PS3 and Xbox 360 in Q1 2008. For more news, screenshots and some lovely videos, visit the Hell's Highway game page.