To understand just how unusual Gearbox's approach to scenario design is in Brothers In Arms, you really need a velo, a carte de Normandie, and a chambre at the delightful, peacock-patrolled Chateau Bel Enault (tel: 0033 233 713048, ask for Spencer). Rise early, devour a few pain au chocolat and a bowl or two of chocolat chaud (Vive la France!) then pedal off in the direction of Carentan. Within a few minutes you'll be at Dead Man's Corner; the setting for BiA Mission 5.
Once the painful stitch in your side has subsided (that seventh pastry was asking for trouble) get back in the saddle and race south down the D913 until you reach a roundabout. Hang a droit here, and a hundred yards further on you'll arrive at the scene of Cole's Charge: Mission 6. Assuming you're reasonably fit and your carte-reading skills are up to scratch, you could carry on like this all day and get to see every one of BiA's battlefields.
This incredibly petite play area is a fascinating consequence of Gearbox's refreshing if risky decision to base their FPS game on the actions of one real-life US airborne regiment (The 502nd Parachute Infantry) during one brief, brutal operation (the capture of the town of Carentan in the days following D-Day). No WWII shooter has ever tried anything quite like this before, certainly none have ever gone to so much trouble to recreate real locales. The odd wall or hedgerow may have been adjusted here and there, but basically, the hamlets, fields, and towns you will see on your screen are the ones troops saw through their bobbing weapon sights and fear-fogged field-glasses 60 years ago.
Surviving in these eerily authentic environments will require tactics of similar fidelity. Forego the recommended 'find 'em, fix 'em, flank 'em' attack approach in favour of gung-ho glory-hunting and you and your controllable comrades will be pushing up Gallic daisies before you can scream "Medic!" Although the first few hours on damp French loam are spent alone and virtually weaponless (the result of foul weather on the night of the drop) pretty soon there are a couple of troop teams in tow: one weighed down with support weapons like the BAR, the other - a more nimble force - armed with sub-machineguns and carbines. Employing these chaps wisely via the elegant 'go there, engage that' cursor command system is often the difference between bitter defeat and famous victory.
On perhaps half-a-dozen occasions squad leaders will have a third force to throw into the fray. Because the 't' word gets used way too often in games magazines we'll just say that these ferrous friends come in every colour as long as it's olive green, squeak like mice tenements when they move, and answer to names like 'Stuart'.
If the ability to order infantry and armour about brings to mind WWII RTS greats like Soldiers and Close Combat then other novel features like the situational awareness camera (soar above the battlefield like a curious crow whenever you please) and the suppression icons (read just how rattled your opponents are in an instant) only reinforce the association. For those who'd rather experience BiA's pulse-propelling cocktail of command and combat without artificial aids, then thankfully the option will be there to ditch these devices along with your billowing 'chute, the second your boots hit the DZ.
Brothers in Arms will be released for PC, PS2 and Xbox in March