There are not many games available today that I enjoy as much as the Rainbow Six 3 series, partly for its detailed, strategic presentation and gameplay. Whenever I'm wiped across the floor with Halo 2, which happens a lot, it's Ubisoft's tactical shooters - like Rainbow Six 3 and Ghost Recon - that help break my subsequent fall into the depression reviewers often feel when they realize how badly they stink at the industry they work in. Sure, I lost 15 to 1 the last time I played Halo 2 against another member of the GF! team, even though my side had a two-to-one advantage, but what does that matter when I can clean house in a little two-on-two Ghost Recon 2? And sure, they can charge into a room full guns blazing better than I can, at least when they have a recharging shield that licks their wounds after a bad encounter, but take away the safety net, make it a real gamer's game that kills you when you get shot, and you'll quickly realize that guns blazing? is a term that gets you killed.
Without a doubt, Ubisoft's string of Tom Clancy attached games has won them a place in my heart as one of my favorite publishers. Yet after a disappointing jaunt with Black Arrow
, and a fair-but-not-extraordinary release in Ghost Recon 2, I've been hunting for a third series to help feed my never-ending appetite for atmospheric, slow-paced, and detailed first person shooters. One possible answer is scheduled for release in February of 2005, when Brother of Arms, yet another Ubisoft title, takes to the shelves in an effort to both win over fans of current tactical shooters, and overcome the industry's initial instinct to groan at the sight of yet another WWII FPS. Without a string of successful games in its wake - being the first in its line - or an established buzz name like Tom Clancy to push it along, Brothers in Arms finds itself going bare knuckle against other established games like Medal of Honor and Battlefield: 1942 in an attempt to set itself apart. With a long list of good, but similarly set games that have already been on the market for some time, it's hard to overlook the possibility that maybe the gaming audience wants something other than World War simulations for a bit.
Admittedly, Brothers in Arms has a wall to climb.
But if there is any game in the genre with the tools needed to scale that wall, Brothers in Arms is probably it. The first proprietary release of Gearbox Software, who have worked on titles such as Halo on the PC and Half-life: Blue Shift, Brothers blends tactical shooter gameplay with a driven and intensely accurate storyline. Based entirely within battles that really happened over an 8 day stretch of the second world war, fought on terrain modeled on actual aerial photographs of the locations the battles took place, sometimes down to the meter in detail, Gearbox has built a game custom fitted to make gamers like myself giddy with anticipation.
As well as following your character, a fictional compilation of actual soldiers, as he fights with the 3rd Platoon and Fox company of the 502nd Parachute Infantry Regiment, Brothers lets the player work with a squad of troops that respond to your order. Opening with a flubbed airdrop on the 6th of June, 1944, Brothers in Arms takes you through eight days of fighting, battles, and death that ends on what's called Hill 30. From beginning to end, Brothers hopes to walk you through what is very possibly the most detailed and accurate recreation of World War II in videogames.
Environment and atmosphere aside, gameplay is another major critical element. Sure, it might sound good, look good, and feel about as pleasant as you'd expect jumping from a plane into 8 days of hell to be, but what does that matter if it's boring? Imagine a mix of Rainbow Six 3 squad combat with outside environments, and unscripted, intelligent AI. After the disappointing AI of Ghost Recon 2, where the player basically set up camp and waited for the enemy to crest the hill, Brothers in Arms looks to offer enemies that flank, move, and are capable of laying out suppressing fire. Cover, for both them and your own soldiers, is immensely important, and ordering your troops to support you with a rain of bullets plays a key role in the game. Failure to take proper cover into account will almost certainly leave you dead. With the level of realism Brothers in Arms is aiming for, and given Ubisoft's reputation for releasing games with highly detailed and extensive weapon lists, you can expect to find the weapons in Brothers to match those you'd have if you were actually charging into battle. Able to carry two weapons at once, much like Halo, you'll have to make strategic decisions about how to arm yourself - the weapons of World War II all had advantages and disadvantages.
It's possible that Gearbox will have a difficult time separating Brothers in Arms from other World War II shooters, or avoid being just Ghost Recon 2 with a WWII skin over the top. However, on the same token it's possible that Brothers in Arms will represent the birth of a new franchise, one that I'm willing and ready to be a fan of if the promise holds after release. Brothers in Arms is due for release February 15th, 2005.