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.

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.