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Brothers in Arms: Hell's Highway

Fighting my way to the church tower where we believed the fugitive sniper was hiding gave me plenty of opportunity to cause trouble - I spotted a group of Nazis entrenched by some farm equipment and gave the order for the bazooka team to target a tractor. With a burst of fire and smoke, the RPG sailed from the bazooka to the target, blasting the entire thing to pieces and sending German soldiers (and the detached limbs thereof) flying in every direction. One trick shot tossed a severed arm onto the roof of a nearby building like a lost Frisbee. All this mayhem embodies the hell that real soldiers faced, and what lends the game its name. Now for a brief historical context...

On September 17, 1944, the Allies launched the largest airborne invasion in history. In Operation Market, thousands of Airborne troops dropped into the Netherlands with orders to secure a corridor through German-occupied Europe. Operation Garden saw a British armored tank division attempting to use the corridor to cross the Rhine River and foster a push into Germany to end the war in Europe.

But after a few early Allied victories, the Germans put up heavy resistance. They prevented the Allies from capturing key bridges, and collapsed the corridor. This forced the Allies to abandon the plan to cross the Rhine. Highway 69, a critical road along the corridor under constant counter-attack from the Germans, was not-so-affectionately nicknamed “Hell’s Highway” after Operation Market Garden abruptly changed from an invasion plan to a desperate withdrawal. The war would continue for another year.

Why choose such a dark time for a game about U.S. soldiers? “We’re really trying to fulfill the fantasy of what it’s like to be one of these guys as best as we can,” explains Gearbox CEO Randy Pitchford. “This particular story is very interesting because it takes place in Operation Market Garden… it was a huge strategic failure for the Allies, and it was a very tight spot. [It was] a tough situation, and I like tough situations, because they’re a compelling backdrop for storytelling.”

Hell’s Highway’s story is extremely involved, focusing on the companionship between soldiers and testing Baker’s command abilities. I won’t spoil anything here, but what I saw was well-written and well-acted, and makes me want to replay the previous two games to get ready for the next installment.

May 8, 2008

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