There's something peculiarly puzzling about gore in video games. Like chocolates in a box of Roses it can come in so many types. Gore can be completely stylised and over the top, like in upcoming black and white Wii game Mad World, for example. Or gore might be gritty and shocking, like in Grand Theft Auto IV.
Gore works in video games because of the context it appears in. The gritty and realistic gore in GTA 4 works because the tone of the game is realistic and gritty. The stylised and over the top gore in Mad Word works because the game is a complete parody of violence itself. In both cases because of the context of the games that the gore appears in, it's fine, it fits, and it's frikin' cool.
In World War II squad-based tactical first-person shooter Brothers in Arms: Hell's Highway, the best BiA, and Gearbox Software, game to date, the gore doesn't fit. Limbs tear off, faces explode and guts spill out onto the lovely virtual Dutch grass more often than in a two-part Quentin Tarantino movie. That's fine. WWII was, without a doubt, an incredibly gory experience for every soldier involved.
The problem, however, lies with the Action Camera. Whenever you score a head shot, or blow some Germans up with a grenade for example, the camera will zoom in and the action will slow down, showing you in glorious detail exploding faces and flying limbs. You can turn the Action Camera off in the options settings, thus eradicating these Action Camera Moments, as they're called, from the entire experience. But the damage has been done, and the game clearly makes no apology for their inclusion. In the Xbox 360 version (the version tested), you even get a couple of Achievements for them.
The only reason we have a problem with the Action Camera is because of the context of the rest of the game. Hell's Highway is based on an actual WWII Allied offensive, called Operation Market Garden, which aimed to carve a route up through occupied Holland and into Berlin, thus ending the war before Christmas 1944. The game focuses on the experiences of a squad of soldiers from the US 101st Airborne division, and, again, of BiA stalwart Sergeant Matt Baker. The series has always had a Band of Brothers feel to it, and in this, the third BiA game, the camaraderie theme has been ramped up even further. As you make your way through the meaty 10 chapter campaign, the story, told through cut scenes, details Baker's descent towards insanity as the war, and the responsibility of leading his men, takes its toll.
It's well voice acted, the dialogue is authentic, the sound effects superb and the soundtrack Hollywood quality. It's a well thought out, intelligent, sombre and honest interactive entertainment treatment on the life of a WWII solider, as well as a somewhat emotional portrayal of comradeship in the face of unspeakable horror. But it's because the game has reached these mature heights that the Action Camera jars so much. It ends up feeling like a feature that's been forced upon the game by some marketing team desperate to appeal to the Soldier of Fortune brigade.
For many this won't be a concern. For many the historical accuracy, the story, and the two Recon points scattered throughout each map (which unlock mini history lessons that detail the specifics of the operation) will play second fiddle to the kick ass WWII action. Here, Hell's Highway doesn't disappoint. In fact the combat reinforces the historical accuracy Gearbox has shot for perfectly.
It's all about the four Fs - find, fix, flank and finish. This strategy, actually employed during WWII, is one you'll need to master if you're going to finish the campaign, even on the casual setting. Say, for example, you're faced head-on with a German assault squad that's buried deep within solid cover. You could spend all day wasting ammunition playing Whac-A-Mole (that is, stay out of cover and wait for enemy heads to pop out - a strategy that works well up to about half the way through the game, after which you'll be torn to pieces). But the game wants you to think about your environment and the squads at your disposal to progress. There's no run and gun here - try it and you'll last a few seconds.