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Brothers in Arms: Hell's Highway - looking back at Gearbox's gem

Published: 13:37, 27 May 2019
brothers in arms hell's highway artwork showing a soldier with a helmet holding bloody dog tags
Brothers in Arms: Hell's Highway

Hell's Highway is the last game in the Brothers in Arms series by Gearbox Software. The tactical WWII shooter was far from perfect and probably not even the best in the series, but it has a flavour that makes it unique to this day.

Some games do a lot of things right. Their gameplay mechanics, storyline, visual presentation, music and sound are all almost perfected that the overall feel you get from these creations can't be anything but a rock solid and fun experience. 

Yes, you will find games that bring innovation and freshen up the industry from time to time but not every game will become a masterpiece, some of them will take the best the table has to offer and build on it. These games won't let you down despite sticking to the beaten path.

I remember Gearbox Software's and Ubisoft's Brothers in Arms: Hell's Highway as one of these games. Hell's Highway was exactly that, a game that did everything right, turning all of its features in one enjoyable ensemble.

The first thing that keeps this particular game lively is its shooting feel, that was hands down, one of the best I've experienced. Hell's Highway shooting felt snappy, satisfying and gave you this pleasing feeling once the bullet went through heads turning brains into a mushy mess. The feeling of pulling the trigger yourself, the gun kick, and the penetrating bullet were all in tune and each of these elements did its job to create this realistic and special shooting mechanic.

Ubisoft Brothers in Arms: Hell's Highway screenshot showing two american soldiers hiding in a library Brothers in Arms: Hell's Highway

The shooting in Hell's Highway is not your standard gunplay that can be found in modern titles such as Call of Duty or Battlefield. It was unique even back in 2008 and you couldn't really compare it to any game on the market. 

Rambo-style doesn't work in Hell's Highway, gameplay de-emphasizes mindless gunplay as you have to carefully and tactically plan your moves, flank the enemy and coordinate your squad for maximum effectiveness once the gunfight starts.

The destructible cover system was the big thing for Brothers in Arms. It added extra depth to the combat - you could target weak spots in the enemy's cover, forcing them to seek better protection while you take maximum advantage of the situation.

The blood and gore system, which was enthralling to watch is another aspect that adds more flavour to shooting. It's brutal, gritty and it captures a chaotic vision of World War II firefights almost perfectly with blood splatters and realistic body damage.

Using heavier weapons like Bazookas or grenades and watching enemies as their limbs scatter in slow-mo all over the lovely scenery of late summer Netherlands couldn't bore me no matter how many times I did it.

Ubisoft Brothers in Arms: Hell's Highway screenshot showing american soldier shooting a machine gun at enemies in the field Brothers in Arms: Hell's Highway

The thing that probably doomed Brothers in Arms: Hell's Highway before it even released was the imminent launch of another World War II game - Call of Duty: World at War. At the time, the market was oversaturated with WWII-themed games and most were fed up with the setting.

Despite being a better game than Activision's rival, Hell's Highway was nowhere near as successful as World at War, which ultimately led to lower exposure and even lower sales.

Make no mistake, the plot is superior in every aspect in Hell's Highway. It even beats World at War with its Hollywood presentation, which was always one of the strongest parts of Call of Duty games.

Hell's Highway is an emotional action thriller that tells the tale of the psychological side of the greatest and bloodiest war the world ever witnessed. It didn't reach the heights of HBO's TV series when it comes to storytelling and presentation, but it did just enough to make you care deeply for its characters and their hardships of war.

Whether you lose a certain spot to the enemy or one of your soldiers gets downed in the gunfight, these moments were important, emotional, and something that you would want to avoid at all costs in your next encounter.

Excellent voice acting also helped and added even more personality to each character. Troy Baker, who is set to appear in Death Stranding lead the cast that also included Chris Burnett, known for Attack on Titan and Dale Dye who appeared in Platoon.

Ubisoft Brothers in Arms: Hell's Highway screenshot showing american solider with scars on face aiming a gun Brothers in Arms: Hell's Highway

Expanding the emotional story and the experience of the chaotic war, the game's sound design and music did a terrific job. Whether you were in the middle of a fight in a ruined hospital or under fire in the backyard of a random household in Carentan, France, the sharp and natural gun sounds made the whole experience even more authentic.

While the shooting mechanics, the gore, the story and sound design in Hell's Highway are by no means flawless, it's safe to say that these features alongside some great voice acting made this game stick in my memory even eleven years since the last playthrough.

Brothers in Arms: Hell's Highway didn't do much in terms of new mechanics and innovation, but it made it sure that its core features are solidly designed and well executed, which makes for a strong showing that sadly got too little attention.

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