Brothers in Arms: Hell's Highway

7.62 BAR pile-up

There's something inherently sensible about the Brothers in Arms games - in the nicest possible way. Despite all the bullets and drama they never lose their head; they always seem a few steps ahead of you.

Case in point: one of the first things I found out about Hell's Highway was that the first proper level begins with an airdrop of the 101st Airborne Division. Immediately I imagined the same night sky filled with transport planes and flak fire that I've played and seen in a good dozen games and movies.

Instead, the cutscene opened on a sunny day with squads packed into gliders being tugged through the air by other planes, before their cables were detached and they drifted to Earth. The whole thing looked so calm, even peaceful. Which made it a bit startling when I saw that some of the gliders were on unavoidable collision courses with trees.

But the reason this is great isn't just because it plays with your perception of WWII. It's great because it actually happened. While other WWII games tend to pilfer their set-pieces from films, Gearbox care deeply about authenticity and this gives them a wealth of ideas to play with.

So it's no secret that the plot of Hell's Highway closely follows the events of Operation Market Garden. As part of the Allied airborne force you have to capture a road (known as Hell's Highway, would you believe) that leads through Holland so the British Armoured Corps can roll in and end the war by Christmas 1944.

Since this didn't happen (spoilers!) you might be guessing that this BiA is bleaker than before, and from what we've seen you'd be right. Hero Matt Baker's struggling to come to terms with the responsibility of his new promotion, and while there are many familiar faces in his squad, it's safe to assume there won't be so many at the end.

Still, nothing's going to stop you trying to protect your boys, and with Hell's Highway we're getting more options than ever when it comes to combat. BiA games don't just ask you to point your rifle and pull the trigger - you've got a squad to cause trouble with. The basic infantry tactic of pinning, by firing at a soldier until he cowers behind cover, and then flanking him with a second group is a realistic thrill.

Now you'll often have two-man heavy-weapon teams armed with a machinegun or bazooka to order around alongside regular assault squads. While you can heft their weapons yourself, that makes for a lonely, hernia-ridden life, so you'll want to keep those guys safe. More fragile still is the radio operator, who you'll be able to use to call in air-strikes.

As for the game's all-important cover, it's now a little more temperamental. Tables or fences can be shredded by bullets, and rockets will blow apart sandbags.
Finally, if you're only interested in saving your own hide, you can look forward to being able to go prone, and the new player cover system lets you press yourself against stuff like a pervert (like in Rainbow Six: Vegas).

But what's really nice is the way Hell's Highway deals with health. A single bullet is all it takes to put you out of action, but you'll know the bullet's coming because the more exposed you are the more red and narrow your vision becomes. As well as making you keep your head down, I felt this brought me closer to my men.

So: lots of small advances rather than a sweeping revolution. But that's hardly a worry when you're dealing with as solid a series as this. If Gearbox put out a Brothers in Arms game after this without some major changes we might start raising eyebrows, but for now, third time's the charm.