We really should have seen it coming. I mean, they did develop the most tactically astute WWII shooter on the market, so what did we expect? Randy Pitchford and his battle-worn regulars at Gearbox Software have just routed us. We thought we'd had the last word with our Brothers In Arms review, but they just launched a blistering counter-offensive, sneaking around and jabbing a bigger, better follow-up into our hopelessly exposed flanks.
Meanwhile, our attentions were focused elsewhere, scanning the horizon for the customary holiday expansion pack. But that would have been too predictable. Instead, Gearbox has struck back with a fully-fledged sequel called Earned In Blood, which not only promises a lavish array of new single and multiplayer missions, but directly counters each and every criticism we fired at the first game. Now we know how Jerry must have felt on that fateful day in June of '44...
THE BIG PUSH
Of course, it's great news really. We thoroughly enjoyed the first Brothers In Arms, and actually said in our review that we'd love to see a follow-up that tidies up some of the shortcomings of the first game. We just didn't expect it so damn soon. As Gearbox chief Randy Pitchford explains: "We kinda lied because we didn't want to talk about Earned In Blood, but we've been working on it for a long time. In fact we've been working on it since before the first game shipped. We had to, because it's really a big game. It's a bigger game, it's a better game, and it's got some new features that have never been done before."
Exactly what those are we'll get to in due course, but for now let's stick to the broad picture. Earned In Blood picks up exactly where Road To Hill 30 left off. Having liberated Carentan and fought off the German counterattack, the 101st Airborne and the rest of the invasion force now have to push forward and pinch off the whole Cherbourg peninsula. This time, instead of Sgt Matt Baker (the unwilling hero of the first game), you take the role of Joe 'Red' Hartsock, formerly Baker's fire team leader but now a sergeant in his own right. "When it came to making the new game," says Pitchford, "we thought, what if we could be Hartsock? He's cool, he's gung-ho, he's got a lot of ambition, plus there's always been this tension between him and Baker. So let's become Hartsock, let's take this character to the next level and see this tension from a different perspective."
Like the first game, Earned In Blood will be split into 20 chapters. The difference is, each chapter is about 50 per cent larger than before, with broader battlefields and many more combat encounters. The emphasis will be much more on urban warfare, leaving the classic Normandy hedgerows behind and taking the action to the streets.
"It's all about liberating the towns," says Pitchford. "It's street-to-street combat, house to house, town to town, with the bombed-out shells of buildings all around. It's a very different look and feel."
City fighting also comes with its own set of tactics. Gaining the high ground will be key, as will flushing enemies out of buildings with grenades and avoiding ambush in the narrow urban byways. It's a whole new game of dice.
By far the biggest transformation, however, is the nature of the enemy you'll be facing. Where the enemies of the first game were predictable, scripted and just begging to be outflanked, the opponents in Earned In Blood now have minds and manoeuvres of their own, and they know all your favourite moves.