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Brothers In Arms: Hell's Highway

War is swell.

Dark blue icons of video game controllers on a light blue background
Image credit: Eurogamer

Operation Market Garden - the daring late-1944 raid on the Nazi-occupied Netherlands, and the setting for the third Brothers In Arms game - ended badly for the Allies. It is this foreknowledge of certain defeat that looms uncomfortably over the historical fiction of Hell's Highway; offset, of course, by the broader awareness of ultimate victory.

But one battle developer Gearbox is well on course to winning is against the argument deployed by era Nazis, who claim that making yet another World War II shooter represents little more than a failure of imagination. The simple justification is the same now as it was when the game was first announced just over two years ago; but with a couple of months to go until release, the evidence now seems overwhelming.

"The era's not the issue; it's how you approach the subject," explains John Antal, retired US Army colonel and military advisor on the Brothers In Arms series. We're chatting in a packed corner of UbiDays 2008, deep within the surprisingly anonymous bowels of the Louvre in Paris. Antal has been holding court all day alongside tirelessly enthusiastic Gearbox master chief Randy Pitchford, showing off the latest build of the game to a heaving moshpit of hungover journalists (catch the UbiDays trailer over on EGTV).

"You have a lot of options when you make a game," he continues. "We're making historical fiction: that's the difference. Quality is quality; a good story is a good story." Briefly discussing Call Of Duty 4, we point out that, as much as we loved the experience, we can barely remember the story; it felt indistinct, generic.

Antal seizes upon this: "All the other games are about a bunch of battles: you don't really know where you are, and most of the time you don't care. And you don't know who you are, or anyone around you - it's a shooter."

We didn't start the fire.

To underline this point, Antal has powered out two books to support the game's launch: one, a novelisation covering the two days of the 10-day campaign not covered by the game; the other, an historical account of Operation Market Garden. Neither of which should be remotely essential to enjoying the game on its own terms, but will no doubt enrich the experience for those with a keen interest in the setting.

Nevertheless, Brothers In Arms wants you to care about Sergeant Matt Baker and his squadron, not just the frantic dash from set-piece to set-piece Gearbox sees as typical of the genre. And Hell's Highway's gameplay also depends upon this: for most of the game you will have units under your command. This isn't Commando: and a selfish, suicidal approach to the action won't end well. Trust us. Testosterone-powered sharp-shooting is not enough; you must work closely with your soldiers to outsmart and outflank the enemy.

The last time we got our hands on the game was last December, when Rob covered in detail the experience of commanding a single unit early on in the game. For UbiDays, we're getting to grips with 'Black Friday', a mission Pitchford tells us is roughly two-thirds of the way through the game. By which point we should be fully at ease with commanding multiple units on the fly. Which, of course, we're anything but right now; and tactically ordering around two groups of soldiers, while simultaneously dodging enemy fire and running-and-gunning is migraine-inducing.