Poor Brothers In Arms. Call Of Duty has deserted the famous Forties war in favour of urban camouflage and nuclear bombs. Meanwhile, Medal Of Honor stole what could have been Brothers In Arms' thunder in Airborne.
That parachuting-into-a-level gimmick that would have been ideal for the BIA boys, who are in the 502nd Parachute Infantry Regiment. With three and a half years between the last Brothers game and today's, suspicions were growing that Hell's Highway's tits had gone somewhat up. Luckily, the game's metaphorical bosom remains appropriately at chest level - there's not much to worry about.
This time it's personal
Although the events of Operation Market Garden were also covered in Medal Of Honor Airborne, we spend more man hours recreating the second World War than it took to fight it, so overlap is inevitable. And the Brothers In Arms' angle is much more personal; with long cutscenes that tell cheesy, but effective enough stories, introspective chats between soldiers on the nature of fate, and an insight into their personal histories. It all makes the casual attitude to death all that much more poignant.
Enough about cutscenes; for the most part (apart from one genuinely shit tank level) you play Matt Baker. As well as being a crackshot, he's got up to three squads to help him fight through the Germans teams. It's the same basic set-up as before, but new units are open to you. Machine gunners are great at pinning the Jerries to their cover, while Assault teams are more effective at moving around the sides and taking out the pinned enemies. This is the BIA trademark: suppression, and flanking.
Meanwhile, Bazooka teams can despatch enemy MG units who're dug into a building. It's feasible that you can complete the game without them - if they die, you'll have to do it on your own - but that's not what BIA is about.
Your men work very well in the open. With room to move, they behave sensibly, get out of your way, and give valuable verbal feedback. You can communicate your attack plan using both the D-pad and the Left trigger, and the fundamental mechanic of suppression and flanking feels both satisfying and effective.
You're not forced to suppress and flank - you can just abuse Baker's superior aim by picking off the Germans as they poke their heads out from cover. But that makes for a fairly boring and repetitive game, and sometimes you'll swear that they only come out when you're aiming at someone else.
Besides, the maps have been generously designed with flanking in mind, and despite the overall levels being incredibly linear (apart from unlocking veteran level, replay value is slim), it's up to you how you take on each room. One tactic that will get you killed is running around like a big thick bulletproof hero.
Indoors, your squad members get in the way. You'll find yourself ordering them to stand next to a wall like a group of naughty schoolboys, just to stop them cornering you. Gearbox seem aware of this, though - mostly, when you enter into a building, your squad will stay outside and wait for you to come out.
Less realistic system
The battles in Hell's Highway are all sensible, and for the vast majority of the time, the AI of both sides is strong. When the enemy are suppressed, they'll find decent cover - and even move to better cover if you hit them. When suppressed, they're not harmless - you'll have to find safe territory to get to their flank.
Overall, this is a less realistic system than Rainbow Six Vegas, with a camera that makes you feel a bit more god-like, and the dig-in button can be choosy about when it responds. But once you've learned to take the game's fussiness into account, you get a feeling of importance.