As the Games Conference has now entered its public days the really interesting stuff has moved down into the business center, where all the publishers are showing their best kept secrets behind closed doors. At the Ubisoft stand we happened to find some interesting people behind one of these doors: Steven Palmer, Senior Producer at Gearbox Software, and Colonel John Antal, Military and Historical Director for the Brothers in Arms series, demonstrating their new baby Brothers in Arms 3: Hell’s Highway.
After a private no-cameras showing of the Wii version of the game, which is being separately developed, we moved on to a live demonstration of the ‘high-end’ game, to be released simultaneously on PC, Xbox 360 and PS3. We even got an exclusive release date for the game, on condition that we wouldn’t remember it or share with anyone - it turned out to be ’soon’ since they’re working on getting all 3 versions launched right at the same time. While they wouldn’t tell what was holding them one could wonder why all presentations were done on Xbox 360 hardware, probably indicating either PC of PS3 are the last hurdle.
The game appeared to be mostly finished. The mission on demo was the same one they’ve shown oft before, taking place in Dutch town Son, but that’s because they don’t want to give away too much of the game, and have practiced their moves in this scenario to fully demonstrate all the game’s features. The full game will take place during Operation Market Garden, the largest airborne invasion in the history of the world intent to cross the big Dutch rivers behind which the Germans were defending. Commencing near light town Eindhoven, you will fight your way northwards through cities like Son, Veghel and Uden, following Hell’s Highway, the current N69/A50 roads for Dutchies out there. All battles in the game are entirely historically correct, based on Colonel Antal’s thorough research, and this goes to ridiculous levels as we saw paratroopers and supplies being dropped everywhere in the sky - an operation which was indeed executed on the exact same day as the Son skirmish happened.
Being demonstrated on 720p on a huge television we did see some imperfections in the graphics. While they are very crisp and colorful, trying to avoid the grimmer atmosphere of competitor Call of Duty, the bright greens and reds used to show flowerbeds, gardens and street signs do highlight that the game doesn’t have a single bit of anti-aliasing applied to it right now because of the sharp contrast they generate. It still looks good of course, but with 30fps and the occasional hitch at that it’s not as impressive as CoD4’s 60fps extravaganza or a game like Gears or Bioshock. The focus lies elsewhere though, as the game goes to great lengths to ensure absolutely historical and military accuracy, with entire streets and villages being reconstructed from witness reports and aged photos to fully capture the 1944 atmosphere. As a testament to this dedication to detail yours truly as a Dutchie pointed out a relatively small historic mistake regarding street name signs being used that were introduced in the Netherlands in the 1980s, and Colonel Antal interrupted me already before I had finished the sentence stating he was aware of that, and was pushing the development team to use the correct type before releasing the game.
In the game itself, as demonstrated on the video footage above, you won’t be too worried about minor graphical details as you’ll be far too busy commanding the 101st Airborne Division around. The focus is again on accuracy, forcing you to use realistic military tactics to flank and ambush enemies to avoid having to enter free-for-all gunfighting. The controls have been unchanged from previous iterations of the Brothers in Arms series, and allow you to position your men in the precisely correct spot so you can then take out all opponents before putting yourself or your team into unnecessary danger when the bullets start flying. The environments are also destructible where relevant, and the video shows this being put to good use to take out Germans behind it. It’s great to watch the fence splinter apart in unique ways depending on where the bullets hit, and the game even goes as far as allowing you to take out flower pots on window sills. Don’t underestimate the importance of this: as handy as it may come in when taking out hiding enemies, do not forget that the Germans can do the same with their M42s once they know that’s where you’re trying to take cover. In-keeping with realism you’ll want to keep your head low anyway, as in most situations a single bullet can mean the end of your valorous career.
Many gameplay elements have also been added to stimulate atmosphere and making you feel part of the game. The engine senses when an important event happens, be it a grenade taking out several soldiers at once or something else, and then zooms in on it to show it as a Brotherhood Moment in slow motion; and thankfully the frequency appears to be sufficiently low not to interfere. As you get hit or severely under fire the screen will turn red and blurry where the danger is, and highlight safe areas behind brick walls where you can hide and regroup. There’s also more freedom to the game as most notably the CoD series, which tend to be a trigger bonanza leading you through pre-planned routes, while BIA3 allows you to take different approaches to the same problem.
Cut-scenes and in-game story moments frequently emphasize the fact that you are a man fighting a war, not a gun on its own merely trying to blast brains out. Each character has its own specific background and story, including minors like Frankie in your team signing up by lying about their age, which happened a lot at the time. Your team partners are specialized in different areas of expertise, with machine gun crews creating intense fire, bazooka crews destroying hard cover and sniper hideouts, and mortar crews pounding on enemies from behind walls.
Lastly we did ask some questions about the multiplayer section of the game, but all they wanted to say now was that it will be more extensive than in previous games in the series, and it has got ’special focus’ from the team. Nothing else on that front, but we think the ton of information here is already more than enough to make many tactical shooter fans yearn for this game when it’s finally released - which would be at that ultra-secret ’soon’ time.