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Opinion: Brothers in Arms: Furious 4 won't please anyone
by Chris Hawke

I'm still not quite sure how the rest of the world feels about Brothers in Arms: Hell's Highway. Maybe I'm just too afraid to ask, terrified of my blushing face sounding the alarm to others that I have poor taste in games, as they rip into Gearbox Software's 2008 shooter like a bullet through flesh. To many, I suspect, they were put off by overly-bright graphics; the hybrid first/thrid-person shooting mechanics; the tired old World War II setting. People don't hate the game, it's just one of those things that's passed them by without a care, and maybe they'll pick it up in the Steam sale for £3 then never really get into it. Maybe Brothers in Arms: Hell's Highway isn't very good.

But I love it. I love it so much. I've completed it countless times, with gold medals on every level, on both console and PC. I adore the contrast between Eindhoven's watercolour scenery and the tossed, lank limbs of Nazi officers that drench the fields. I cherish the superbly-written dialogue between Sgt. Baker's squad; just on the right side of cliché to make you feel comfortable, but with some brilliant lines. I revere the emotional connection I have with the characters; the gameplay that's more like a puzzle than an FPS; the dark mood, creepy in the latter half of the game; the sublime, stunning, and surprisingly astounding twist as Baker descends into madness before your very eyes. In short, the shooting was great, the story was great, and the multiplayer was more pathetic than apathetic. But let's forget all about that.

That was 2008. Ever since the sly hint at the end of Hell's Highway that we'd be seeing a snowy sequel, we've waited with baited breath. In 2011, with the WWII scene deserted and the 'modern combat' scene becoming ever more crowded, could a new Brother's in Arms game pump new life into our favourite setting? Would the 1940s become the new heaven for gamers, and oasis of skillful shooting mechanics and a paramount emphasis on gripping story?

No. Instead, Gearbox laughed in my face, and punched me in the balls.

I could just imagine the Gearbox meeting now: "What are we going to do with our new BIA game? What new route could we take with such a stellar series?" And then Billy, all cloudy-eyed and smugly smiling, holds up a picture of Inglorious Basterds in one hand and a Left 4 Dead disc in the other, and wildly beats them together, like a demented child pushing two hamsters together to try and get them to do 'it'[1]. Out of the broken, crunchy mess slithered Furious 4, born from evil.

Oh, look! He throws a tomahawk into a guy's face! That's new and exciting... Aren't those Nazis lovably incompetent? Ha! He shouted "Don't mess with Texas"! THAT'S PURE COMICAL GOLD BECAUSE IT SORT OF RHYMES!

...or not. Nothing in the trailer looks original or interesting. It looks like a tired and unapologetic scramble for attention; a once serious string of games now forced to wear a thong and prance about to hear those sweet sounds of applause again. Except, this time, people are clapping out of pity.

I'm being harsh, of course. I still love Gearbox; I can't forget the fun I had with Hell's Highway or Borderlands, and I know the team is a school of talented, intelligent developers who aim for the highest quality. Which is what makes the existence of Furious 4 even more disturbing and confusing. Furious 4 will not please anyone.

The hardcore fans - the ones who have followed the Brothers in Arms series through thick and thin - aren't happy. Having waited three long years for a squeak from Gearbox, they're met with a co-op spin-off that many feel shouldn't be using the Brothers in Arms name at all. The people who Gearbox are trying to appeal to, those who've been wary of the BIA name in the past and want more casual fun, see right through the marketing trick. They'd rather stick with the tried-and-tested Call of Duty-s, Battlefields, or might even jump ship to quieter titles like Red Orchestra 2: Heroes of Stalingrad. Even those who are roped in by this new breed of BIA romp will suddenly find the fun times they had with three Nazi-scalping friends abruptly cut short, as Gearbox return to Baker's story.

Fans annoyed and betrayed, mass market uninterested, and even those who might enjoy Furious 4 when it hits in March 2012 won't see a follow up for a very, very long time, as Gearbox take on new projects and return to the good, old, proper Brothers in Arms. At the recent Gearbox Community Day, Creative Director Mikey Neumann promised that fans would still see the final chapter in Matt Baker's story. So why delay what could be a genre-leading game from seeing daylight, and instead let childish fantasies take centre-stage?


[1] Whatever 'it' is. We don't claim to know. [BACK]

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- Chris Hawke

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