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.