Brothers in Arms: Furious Four owes less to Saving Private Ryan than to Inglorious Basterds; it's a bloodthirsty rampage starring a quartet that resembles an unholy cross between The A-Team and The Village People.
If history has taught us anything, it's that it is totally fine to take a giant dump on the Nazis. Make them space Nazis or zombie Nazis if you like, but make them Nazis - and give us lots of ways to make them dead Nazis.
Gearbox has caught onto this design principal. After half a decade of producing serious, thoughtful and altogether sombre Brothers in Arms games, it has unexpectedly decided to change tack entirely: Furious Four owes less to Saving Private Ryan than it does Inglourious Basterds; it's a bloodthirsty rampage starring a quartet that resembles an unholy cross between The A-Team and The Village People.
I'm not sure if the new game will win many new fans among service veterans, but on the basis of its E3 showing it certainly looks like it could be a good laugh.
Brothers in Arms: Furious 4 is a four-player FPS romp that appears to borrow heavily from Borderlands in terms of its co-op emphasis, class-building shenanigans, and cartoon sense of humour. According to the game's tongue-in-cheek narrator, the story begins "somewhere in Germany" during 1944. The eponymous quartet have been tasked with the ultimate goal of whacking Hitler, and have an inkling that their target might be in a small town where there's an Oktoberfest-style party going on.
The group swiftly decide to discard any pretence at subtlety, and it seems that the same could be said for the action itself. Within seconds of the demo's start the bodycount has hit double figures, and by its close it seems as if our four protagonists have wiped out half the entire town. The specialists themselves are somewhat bewildering in their appearance: there's a former lumberjack, still clad in much of his workwear; a Scottish chap in a flatcap with massive lambchops; a Texan cowboy with a branding iron; and a Native American with a Mohican.
As you might guess, each of the characters has a skilltree that fits their particular style. The Mohican guy can throw tomahawks, the cowboy has a flamethrower (because Texans like barbecues, I suppose), and the Scottish chap has a cattle prod (no, I can't work that one out either). In the E3 presentation it's the lumberjack, Montana, who gets to hog the limelight. Naturally he's got a hatchet he can hurl into Nazi faces, but he also gets to lay down bear traps; if you upgrade the right skill, you can also lace the latter with grenades. A guard will walk along, yelp in agony as the jaws clamp shut, and then explode as his mates rush in to see what the fuss is about.
Gearbox says that you'll be able to combine your own class abilities with those of your team mates for maximum effect, but during the presentation these smaller details were largely obscured by the general bedlam unfolding on-screen. Aside from the clear Borderlands influence, there's a strong tang of early id Software: there's a nod to Doom in Montana's chainsaw - a special ability weapon that relies on a cooldown mechanic - while the presentation of the Nazis themselves is pure Wolfenstein 3D. Towards the end of the demo the central four squared off against shock troopers in red-tinged jetpacks, and then take on a strange-looking helicopter, accompanied by a helpful pointy label bearing the message "wreck this thing".
After the event, describing the game in the cold light of day, it sounds as if Brothers in Arms: Furious 4 is skating on the thin ice of bad taste. It may well be, but when you're actually in the presence of live play the action seems wickedly enticing. Whether or not we'll have to class the game as a guilty pleasure remains to be seen, but the Borderlands-style humour is gleefully irreverent. Beyond this, there's something magnetic about the balls-out brazenness of it all, particularly during a "Kill Or Be Killed Sequence" in which the squad gatecrash a beer hall with the help of a stolen truck, blowing away the punters in slow-motion.
You could ask, quite reasonably, why Gearbox has decided to put this out under the Brothers in Arms name. While it's clearly a spin-off, it's a massive departure from what the brand has stood for in the past, perhaps even a contradiction to it, and I wouldn't be surprised if that puts a few noses out of joint. All the same, this first showing has certainly done enough to grab my attention.
Just don't expect to see it at gamescom this August.
Brothers in Arms: Furious Four is due for release on Xbox 360, PS3 and PC in 2012.