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Brothers In Arms

We chat to Gearbox's Stephen Palmer about the forthcoming tactical World War II shooter.

World War II shooters: gamers can't seem to get enough of them. But while we're admittedly getting a little bored of the slew of the cinematic 'on rails' FPSs that have proven so commercially successful over the years, we have to admit that Gearbox's take on the genre is something a little different. Talking with Gearbox's 'jack of all trades' Stephen Palmer, and having had a little hands-on time with the Ubisoft-published game, it's got a refreshingly tactical edge to it.

Taking some of the basic squad command principles that made Full Spectrum Warrior and even Hidden & Dangerous such compelling games, it sits snugly between the two yet still has the complete immersion of a first-person shooter. Commanding your squad is an intuitive point-and-click affair with your degree of cover all-important. Brothers In Arms forces the player to constantly re-evaluate your positioning, and as a result your tactical decision-making will be the difference between life and death.

Our brief hands-on wasn't enough to give us a full first impression just yet, but we were pleased with what we saw, both in terms of the Unreal-engine powered visuals and the tension immediately evident. With the game due for release on PC, Xbox and PS2 in February via Ubisoft, we'll be bringing you a more expansive first impressions in due course - in the meantime, we collared Palmer for a chat on how the game's shaping up, the multiplayer mode and plans for future Brothers In Arms titles...

Eurogamer What would you say marks out Brothers In Arms from other WW2 shooters?
Stephen Palmer

A lot of stuff. A lot of people are asking why are you making another WWII shooter, and what's so special about it. To answer the question, one is because we love World War II, we think it's a great time period, it's very exciting, we're not afraid to make another product in that environment because we think customers want that. As long as you deliver an experience customers want then they'll buy it. We've seen in this market that there's room for improvement in the genre, so the way we've improved it is by bringing in a really compelling story, by letting you live through history more accurately than you've seen in other games. We've recreated the environments with meticulous detail that truly represent what the environments look like, and we're giving you the ability to interact with your squad in a realistic manner as well as choosing real tactics, so instead of being pressed along in scripted events through the entire game it's up to you to make tactical decisions and to make leadership choices using your squad. We've also given players a really simple interface, so that solves the problem of having something way too complex. We kept it simple, authentic, tactical and most of all fun.

Eurogamer What's the basic idea of the campaign?
Stephen Palmer

You're a paratrooper for the 502nd parachute Infantry Regiment. You jump into Normandy on D-Day, and we're telling the story of Matt Baker, and Matt is a fictional character, but he's a composite of real characters from history, real soldiers, real battles. Every battle you participate in is real, it happened, and we're giving you a chance to participate in that as Matt Baker and your squad of soldiers. So the game starts you off jumping into Normandy on D-Day and it ends at Hill 30.

Eurogamer How many missions have you got in the game?
Stephen Palmer

18 missions set over eight days [from June 6th 1944] and there's also a closing ceremony when you reach the end of the game.

Eurogamer You've got PS2, Xbox and PC versions - what are the differences between them?
Stephen Palmer

The intent is to give the same experience across all platforms. The PC and Xbox versions are almost identical. The PS2 version - because of obvious memory constraints we're having to rethink some of the content, but the gameplay and experience will be just as exciting, and from what we've seen so far we're really proud of what they're doing.

No, the checkpoint system, the maps themselves, the goals, everything is exactly the same, the way you command your squads, everything's the same. Visually, though, they've had to make some compromises because of memory limitations, but they've done a beautiful job with it and we're really proud of it.

Eurogamer Tell us about the multiplayer facet of BIA.
Stephen Palmer

Multiplayer is pretty unique - we're doing something a little different. We didn't want to just throw in a standard multiplayer game of Deathmatch, so we've taken the best parts of single-player, which we think are the squad combat and the squad tactics and we've amended the multiplayer so you can play with up to four players, and each player is commanding one or two squads of AI characters, depending on how many of you there are; if there's four of you you'll get one squad, if there's two of you you'll get two squads. The idea is it's also mission-based so there's a number of multiplayer missions and they all have unique objectives and you'll use your squad to solve those.

Eurogamer Is there a co-op mode?
Stephen Palmer

There's not co-op through the single-player campaign, but in multiplayer you obviously get to make a team; we're calling it co-op in the sense that you're accompanying a team-mate to accomplish a mission but in a separate campaign.

Eurogamer Will it be the same on Xbox Live?
Stephen Palmer

Yes we'll have support for Xbox Live, System Link, two-player split-screen.

Eurogamer Any particular reason you went for only two-player split-screen, as opposed to four?
Stephen Palmer

Performance mainly. It's just a very intensive engine, so we wanted to maintain a decent frame rate on the Xbox.

Eurogamer Is that the only multiplayer mode you get?
Stephen Palmer

Yes that's the extent of it, but as I said each mission is unique, with different objectives.

Eurogamer You're up against a new Medal Of Honor game (Dogs Of War) when it comes out next year - how do you think it will fare commercially?
Stephen Palmer

We are really excited about that. We want to finish it as soon as possible because we think it will be the most successful World War II game ever!

Eurogamer How many people are working on Brother In Arms?
Stephen Palmer

Around sixty people. More than half those are full timers.

Eurogamer When do you hope to have the game finished?
Stephen Palmer

It depends on the platform. You know how development is, I don't want to make promises, but I sure hope we're done by Christmas. We have a clear picture of what we have to do to finish it and we're working hard to get there. We've made sacrifices in places where we think it will not compromise fun and the quality of the product in order to bring the product out to the public.

Eurogamer Do you see it as an ongoing series?
Stephen Palmer

Absolutely. Brothers In Arms is just the first in a series of games that we intend to make. This is the start of a new brand, the start of a new world of gameplay, so it's the tip of the iceberg. There are a lot of things we haven't done yet that we're really looking forward to doing.

Eurogamer These types of games always seem to spawn expansion packs - do you see Gearbox going down that road, or will they be standalone sequels?
Stephen Palmer

We're going to give the player more content in several ways - full blown sequels, as well as smaller add-on mission packs as well.

Eurogamer Any plans for Xbox Live downloads?
Stephen Palmer

We're looking into that...

Eurogamer What's it been like working with a real army veteran?
Stephen Palmer

The Colonel has been great. It's been a fascinating experience, and he's been invaluable to our team. He's been our historian, he's studied the story and knows everything there is to know to make this game the most authentic possible, he's taken us on field training exercises, and given us a little taste of what's it like in the field. He's really put the heart and soul into this team - we're proud to have him. Developers all the time from different disciplines.

Eurogamer How did you find him?
Stephen Palmer

He found us, I think!

Brothers In Arms is due out on PS2, Xbox and PC in early 2005.

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Kristan Reed

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Kristan is a former editor of Eurogamer, dad, Stone Roses bore and Norwich City supporter who sometimes mutters optimistically about Team Silent getting back together.

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