May 23, 2007 - Operation Market Garden, the largest Airborne invasion in history, was a failure. But don't tell that to the fighting men of the 101st and 82nd Airborne, American units that successfully completed most of its objectives. On Sunday, September 14, 1944, American secured four of five bridges -- the fifth, the bridge at Son, blew up in their faces as they approached it.
Which brings us to Matt Baker, now a squad leader of a team of elite Rangers charged with clearing the village of Son. At a recent Ubisoft press event, Gearbox walked us through the 101st efforts to secure the town, which has been masterfully reconstructed in videogame form using old satellite images and photographs. The result is a quaint little village that is filled with angry German soldiers.
Hell's Highway is as close to an interactive war movie as we've seen.
Baker has already been through a lot, namely Xbox WWII classics Road to Hill 30 and Earned in Blood. Many of his friends are dead and gone -- Leggett, Obrieski, Muzza, Doyle, Paige. You don't have to play through the old games to enjoy Hell's Highway, but doing so will help you appreciate the efforts that Gearbox has taken to get you to care about these characters. These aren't walking caricatures of hardened, badass soldiers. No, they are men with pasts and families and girlfriends waiting at home, and the BIA series has done better than any other at creating what is almost an interactive war novel, and that continues in Hell's Highway.
Baker, for instance is a poet and his prose that introduces each chapter is solemn and sober. The memories of his fallen comrades haunt him -- we watched as a simple pair of glasses on a desk in Son triggered a flashback of the death of his old squad mate Benjamin "Legs" Leggett who was killed when trying to take on a tank with his pistol in a moment of insanity that only war can produce. Throughout Hell's Highway, you will be constantly reminded of the toll that war takes on Baker and his men, another touch of authenticity that Gearbox is so focused on.
This excellent cover system seem familiar.
In terms of gameplay, BIA has come a long way. Player can now take cover using a system that is almost identical to Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six: Vegas -- walk up to a wall or bunker and hit B and the camera will pull out to a third-person view. From there, you can stick your head out and fire a few rounds before you'll have to get right back into cover. BIA is not a game of health packs and power-ups. When you are exposed and in the open, the environment will turn red to let you know that you're one bullet away from dying. And you'll see and hear German bullets whizzing by, so you only have a moment to get to safety before the Defense Department is sending a telegram back home to mom.
It looked strange at first to see the pretty village of Son covered in red, but Gearbox explained that this is not unlike the tunnel vision soldiers experience in the heat of battle. When enemy soldiers are aiming at your chest and you are exposed in the open, pretty much the only thing you see it that pile of sandbags a few yards in front of you, they tell us. To add to the excitement, Gearbox added some dramatic slow-motion sequences. Baker rolled a grenade at an enemy bunker and the game slowed to bullet-time as four Krauts exploded out of the bunker.