E3 2011: Brothers in Arms: Furious 4 first-look preview – wanna play Inglourious Basterds?

In its original incarnation, the Brothers in Arms series was a realistic and lightly tactical World War II first-person shooter franchise, with its three main iterations offering a respectful take on the soldiers and stories of that great conflict. That part of the series isn't dead – developer Gearbox assured attendees of our E3 demo that series hero Matthew Baker's story will see resolution in the future – but Furious 4 cuts down that established approach like a tomahawk to the knees of an unsuspecting Nazi.

Like an unofficial video game interpretation of Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds, Brothers in Arms: Furious 4 puts players in the roles of a team of off-kilter heroes out to kill Hitler and a whole slew of Nazis along the way. It's a surprising divergence from the core series formula, but after seeing the riotous demo at E3, we're sold: Furious 4 looks like one of the most vibrant and purely entertaining shooters on the horizon, with a deeply cutting sense of humor that reinforces and celebrates the art of destroying history's most hated foes.

Furious 4 isn’t expected out until the first half of 2012, but the four-screen co-op demonstration gave us plenty to discuss in the meantime. The demo picked up in Germany outside a town in which a large celebration was planned with the führer expected in attendance, and as the plucky narration commands, it's your goal to "kill that son of a bitch."

Immediately, we found the four fighters – named Montana, Chok, Stitch, and Crockett – immersed in battle, which quickly proved both violent and amusing. Kills came from both standard firearms (a machine gun and shotgun) and a flamethrower, but also from thrown tomahawks, a chainsaw that eagerly rips Nazis in half, and even well-placed bear traps. Points earned as you play unlock upgrades for your weapons, which may yield unexpected results: during the mission, the bear trap was upgraded to include a grenade finisher. Delightful.

Beyond the clearly joyous acts of violence, what really grabbed us about the demo were the big moments – the show-stopping events and powerful gameplay opportunities really drive home the sheer entertainment of the experience, and it's all augmented by the stylized character models, bright presentational elements, and hilariously spot-on narration.

At one point in the demo, the squad decides to steal a car and drive it through the doors of the celebratory brauhaus, triggering a slow-motion sequence in which all four screens in the E3 demo room displayed ample opportunity to blast Nazi scum. And then you face an armored Nazi wearing a jetpack, followed by another warrior with a massive shield in an open area. After all that excitement, the idea of a concluding battle against a helicopter that causes a giant Ferris wheel to collapse on the town is hardly surprising, but still wholeheartedly welcome.

Brothers in Arms: Furious 4 looks to marry Bulletstorm's violent bombast with interesting characters and scenarios and four-player co-op – both online and split-screen, though you can play alone with A.I. partners – plus online 10-player competitive battles are promised across six play modes. It's not likely to redefine the shooter as we know it, but we'll gladly swap innovation for electric entertainment in this exciting reinvention of an established brand.

Jun 13, 2011