A Soldier’s Story Preview

A Soldier's Story

D-Day: June 6th, 1944. Hitler believed he was safe behind Fortress Europe, but the Allies had another future in store for him. The massive campaign on the shores of Normandy will forever reside in the history books as the day that the free world stood up and fought tyranny as a united front. Many brave soldiers lost their lives both on the land and in the skies, while many more lived on to drive the Nazis out of Germany and to march through the streets of Berlin, victorious.

This is just one of those stories.

Ever since Medal of Honor brought the second World War to the first-person setting on the PC a few years back, the conflict has been re-imagined by scads of games trying to capture the grit and grime of war on the frontlines. Though some have met with great success, none have been based on a true story…until now.

Brothers in Arms is the latest game by Gearbox Software, the developers responsible for the PC version of Halo and the retail version of Counterstrike. The game follows the true story of the 3rd Squad, 3rd Platoon, and Fox Company of the 502nd Parachute Infantry Regiment, which, according to Gearbox, participated in all major operations of the D-Day campaign. In this case, you'll be playing through the eight-day invasion of Normandy.

What sets Brothers in Arms apart from its kin is its uncanny emphasis on realism. Some of the soldiers you interact with feature the names and faces of real-life, flesh and blood veterans, and all the battles you fight are based on actual historical record. The attention to detail goes above and beyond anything we've seen in this genre before.

And the detail doesn't stop with the locations; the actual level design is based on aerial reconnaissance photos from the 1940s as well as eyewitness accounts of the battlefields. The designers searched the U.S. National Archives and must have spent more than a few sleepless nights amidst dusty books and 60 year-old war accounts. In one case, they even took advice from a Frenchman who was just a child at the time of one of the battles to get a more personal sense of the war. The sheer amount of research gone into ensuring the accuracy of this game is simply staggering.

Don't for one instant think that all the development energy went into research, however. The game engine itself is definitely a sight to see. Demonstrated to Game Revolution on the PC and Xbox (it will also be available for the PS2), Brothers in Arms combines a first-person shooter with an innovative one-click squad command system. Want your guys to hide behind a wall and cover you? Just command them to move near the wall. The troops will then take cover and fire on the enemy as they see fit. In a clever bit of AI programming, your troops will alternately fire and reload, just like the soldiers did, in order to provide you with continuous cover instead of leaving you high and dry while they reload their guns.

Just to raise the emotional stakes a bit, the folks at Gearbox even gave each soldier a unique look and personality; you'll truly feel bad when Johnny goes home in a pine box. Brothers in Arms pushes the fact that a squad commander responsible for the lives of his squad mates has to deal with a ton of guilt if and when they become a casualty of war.

The enemy AI is intent on creating such casualties, too. Expect them to react to your tactics. If they see you try to outflank them, they will respond, adjusting their tactics to your new position. If they don't see you, however, you can take them out much easier and at a much lower risk of losing a soldier. As in real warfare, direct firefights are not common and don't expect the enemy to run straight at you with no concern for his own welfare. This isn't Quake with military skins.

And these tactics were not just pulled from books, either. Gearbox hired John Antal, a retired Army colonel and former dean of the Armor school at Fort Knox, to consult on the project. He worked closely with the developers, teaching them the real tactics used in the field and advising them on soldier's actions and attitudes when in a combat situation. Did I mention that the attention to detail is mind-blowing?

Set for a Winter 2004 launch on both PC and console, Brothers in Arms looks to raise the bar for reality in a war simulation. Whether or not it also raises the bar for first-person gaming remains to be seen, but we can't wait to find out.