Brothers in Arms: Hell's Highway


posted 1/6/2009 by Dave Gamble
other articles by Dave Gamble
Platforms: PC
Theories regarding what caused the eventual defeat of Adolf Hitler's Third Reich abound, running the gamut from poor strategic decisions to allied daytime bombing decimating Germany's industrial base. All are valid to some degree, I imagine, but I happen to be the sole possessor of the one true reason: I was not yet born, and therefore was not fighting in the US Army. Had I been, we would all be speaking German and eating wienerschnitzel. Now this theory will be argued against by academia and Hollywood alike, but that is simply because none of the leading authorities in those areas have ever seen me play a WWII game on the PC. Put succinctly, I suck.

That said, I truly enjoy the genre. I hear it all the time: “The WWII game has been done to death, there's nothing new and innovative there, and they really ought to stop wasting their time and effort on them.” I disagree. Sure, Call of Duty 4 was great and it was a refreshing change of pace, but there's just something about the WWII games that calls me back every time. This time around it was the new Brothers in Arms: Hell's Highway that led me to sign up for another tour. Fortunately for me, Ubisoft/Gearbox are bucking the trend that says that the PC platform is dead for gaming and went ahead and included the PC in their development plans.

If it matters, BIAHH continues the story of Matt Baker and his recon squad assigned to the 101st Airborne as they fight there way through the ill-fated Operation Market Garden, an attempt to end the war with a bold surprise attack that would stun the German army. The surprise failed and gave Germany their last major victory in the war, and took a heavy toll in lives on both sides of the battle. In your character as Matt Baker, you still suffer the guilt and anguish of having lost half of your squad during the invasion of Normandy and the need to balance the need to aggressively attack the enemy while wanting to protect your men. These conflicting emotions are presented in periodic scenes between skirmishes, and are very well done. At times these scenes were as well-acted and compelling as a scene cut from Band of Brothers or Saving Private Ryan.

Beyond the story telling, there is a quality single player experience to carry the player through the story. As a squad leader, there is more to a battle than striving to make an individual contribution while staying out of the way of the other squad members in the manner of many other games in this genre. The squad leader has to have a higher level view of the battle and place members of the squad in areas where they can make the best contribution without putting them into undue danger. In the case of BIAHH, you will be leading one, two, or three sub-units within your squad, depending on the situation.

With these sub-units, you will need to practice the Four F's of combat: Find, Fix, Flank, and Finish. The first, Find, will be easy for the most part in that the Germans will find you, even if you don't find them. There are advantages to finding them first, of course, the primary advantage being that you can pick off a few before they take cover. Here's a hint from me to you, though: make sure you reload your gun before opening fire or you will run out of ammo and give the enemy a chance to disperse and dig in. It will be much harder to dig them out of whatever cover they ran to. The second F, Fix, means that you need to put fire on them to keep them fixed in position. That will keep them from applying the third F, Flank, on you or your men. Your machine gun teams are very good at forcing the enemy to remain in cover while you or one of your teams flank them. Once flanked, it's usually pretty easy work to apply the fourth F: Finish them off.

Depending on the shape of the battlefield and available cover, it may be fairly easy to get in a flanking position, or it might be pretty close to impossible. In the cases where there are no obvious flanking opportunities, you just need to hunker down and pick the German soldiers off one by one as they pop up from behind cover to take a shot at you. I found the venerable M1 Garand to be the best choice of weapon for these situations. Depending on the cover being used, it also can be more expedient to order your bazooka team (if you have one) to blast away the cover. I eventually cooled to the option, though, as I often had trouble getting them to actually shoot. I would often get nothing but an excuse from them, and found it easier to just do it myself. Naturally, I also often found it to be fatal to try to do it myself too. That said, I found the long range head shot to be the most reliable way to get what I took to calling a “melon head” shot whereby the game would slow down, zoom way in tight on the guy I had shot, and show his head exploding from the impact of my bullet. I initially thought I'd hate that feature for its gratuitous depiction of gore and violence, but it really did turn out to be kind of cool. I still wonder what that says about me as a person, of course, but it is what it is. Sadly, it was even cooler when I'd take out four or five guys with a single tank shot.

The environments of the battlefields were very well detailed and so fully immersive that I often had to remind myself that we weren't tourists and didn't have the luxury of time for sightseeing. P-47s and DC-3s flying over were the worst offenders; I couldn't help looking skyward to seer them fly over. The thunderous sounds of artillery exploding nearby were enough to re-focus my attention to the battle at hand, though. Small touches, such as the way my squad mates would whisper as we skulked around looking for German soldiers and adequate cover to protect us from them should they see us first, really made the entire experience seem more authentic. Watching German soldiers run for better cover rather than just stand where they were as we perforated them with American-made lead raised the experience to an entirely new level.

The story had to end eventually, but by the time it was all over I had spent an entire week working my way through and enjoying every minute of it. Sure, the body count was well over 100 (and that was just me!!) but I got better at it as the game progressed and I gained experience in thinking as a leader rather than a run & gun individual. For those that say the WWII shooter is a dead genre, I say give BIAHH a chance. I contend that anyone that plays through this game will never see the hell that was Operation Market Garden the same way again.
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