Last week, I revisited Brothers in Arms – Hell’s Highway, an historical first-person shooter set during the Second World War. Almost immediately after the end of this historical first-person shooter series, the entire genre came to a sudden stop, until Call of Duty and Battlefield returned back to the past.
Brothers in Arms is a relic of the past. A decade ago, first-person shooters set in the Second World War were the norm. Obviously, there is a reason that the development of these games came to a sudden stop. Developing these Second World War games wore the source material to a tissue paper thinness.
The men of Easy Company
Brothers in Arms – Hell’s Highway follows the men of the 101st Airborne Division during Operation Market Garden in the Netherlands. During the later stages of the Second World War, you encounter historical characters such as Staff Sergeant Matthew “Matt” Baker and Staff Sergeant Joseph “Red” Hartsock.
As other games set during the Second World War, the Brothers in Arms series focuses on the Allied invasion of Normandy. As a soldier of the parachute infantry regiment, you are dropped behind enemy lines in the region of Normandy, France. On your road to victory, you complete missions based on real operations of the 101st Airborne Division in Normandy.
Emotions and thoughts
Brothers in Arms show the emotions and thoughts of the brave men situated in the most destructive conflict in history. During the entire series, you experience the key events from their point of view. This focus on the emotions of the soldiers is refreshing.
Band of Brothers, the miniseries produced by Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks, also shows the impact of violence on these soldiers. In other first-person shooters set during the Second World War, you often play as an unmemorable soldier fighting the enemies. There is a disconnection between gamers and characters.
Commands and tactical combat
Outnumbered and outgunned, the paratroopers of the 101st Airborne Division made a desperate stand in an occupied and foreign region. The members of your squad express their feelings and thoughts after seeing dead bodies and fallen teammates. Compared to other first-person shooters set during the Second World War, they feel real and human.
The Brothers in Arms series is known for its command system. As a Sergeant, you command your troops and require them to move, find cover or perform combat actions on the battlefield. This results in a stronger bond between you and your fellow soldiers of the 101st Airborne Division.
Losing one of your squad members in combat means that your made a mistake and need to make better decisions to keep your men alive, or at least out of enemy fire. On the harder difficulties, fallen teammates remain death. These soldiers are more than tools and certainly not cannon fodder.
A turning point
After the terrorist attack on September 11, 2001, the public interest turned towards modern conflicts set in our contemporary society. These games introduced gamers to a new era of asymmetric combat set in the Middle East region. Some of these stories were fictional, but inspired by real events.
In these modern era first-person shooters, you take on terrorists and private military corporations. Battlefield and Call of Duty covered topics other series tried to distance themselves from. Medal of Honor went even further and takes place during the War in Afghanistan. These topics are still controversial.
Back to the beginning
Last years, both the Battlefield and Call of Duty series returned to their origin and published historical first-person shooters set during the First and Second World War. Both games are fictional, but based on real events in both World Wars.
Battlefield 1 tells different war stories covering a wide range of experiences in the First World War. You take part in the Arab revolt against the Ottomans in Turkey, tank battles in France, the conflicts in the Italian Alps and the desert battles of Lawrence of Arabia. These stories have not been told before in an historical first-person shooter of this scale.
In the campaign of the latest Call of Duty, you visit an abandoned concentration camp in search of one of your fellow soldiers. The death camp is an unsettling environment full of destroyed wooden structures and you experience the horror of the Holocaust. Bodies of deceased prisoners are the only things you encounter on your walk through the camp.
The prisoners were forced on death marches to hide the evidence of crimes against humanity committed inside these camps and prevent the liberation of these prisoners of war. The exploration of the concentration camp evokes a feeling of incomprehension.
Brothers in Arms in other series
After witnessing these horrific scenes in the concentration camp, your fellow soldiers express their feelings of disgust. The game slows down to show the horror of the Second World War. Brothers in Arms never mentioned the Holocaust, but the emotions of the soldiers remind me of this series.
The Brothers in Arms games emphasise the human side of soldiers in a large scale conflict. The extent to which the developers did this was unprecedented in other historical first-person shooters. The Brothers in Arms series no longer exists, but the franchise lives on in other games.
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Disclaimer. This post contains copyrighted images from Call of Duty – WW2, a video game developed by Sledgehammer Games and published by Activision. The fair use of copyrighted works for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting or research is not considered as an infringement of copyright.