You're not going to win this one - the Nazis are. And that's not a plot spoiler, it's the consequence of setting an historically authentic World War II shooter bang in the middle of 1944's disastrous Operation Market Garden.
This September invasion of mainland Europe via Holland went wrong for the Allies when Hitler's crack units counter-attacked and held their ground. The operation consequently resulted in failure, and the Nazi war machine rolled efficiently over another year's dreams of peace by Christmas. It was to be the Nazis' final great victory and a terrible trial by fire for every soldier involved.
Hell's Highway is The Empire Strikes Back of the Brothers in Arms series, the dark before the dawn. This terrible history lesson sets the tone for the game's gruelling battle for survival against overwhelming odds, a constant test of tactical skill over raw firepower, and an inch-by inch grind to even make it to the next inevitable conflict.
If this sounds like a daunting, thankless
and forbidding game that you know you can't possibly win, then you've been listening. It really is all that. But this is 'stiff upper lip' or, as it's mostly played within the US Army's 101st Airborne, 'true grit' territory.
In plot and in action, Hell's Highway is all about team dynamics, and you'll get nowhere without learning to use your squad's skills to protect and slingshot one another through everything the Nazis throw at you. And although primarily a down-and-dirty infantry slog, you'll also be hard pressed by the artillery of 88s, Panzers, mortar and Panzerfaust crews. You're going to need to keep your head down, and Gearbox has provided the control set to do just that...
Hell's Highway is essentially Rainbow Six in a World War II setting. You work in a squad, and command up to three specialist teams to assume tactical positions and attack targets while steadily flanking your foe. You have a button to cling to cover, and the ability to stick to it while you pop up to take your own shots at dug-in enemy.
It's an established system and works well for the most part, but it's not without a few quirks.
Instead of just crosshair-pointing and pressing to direct men to a new position, or lay down their fire, there's a hold-then-release mechanism that is set by default to the Left trigger and floats a positioning circle over the landscape. This method is a little unwieldy and would have benefited from more streamlining.
Cover-clinging ('dig-in' in BIA) is also not as smooth as it might have been, and popping up to snap shots off is not as slick as Rainbow Six, for instance.
There's also the unnerving effect of moving to the edge of cover (you switch from first- to third-person) to find half your body sticking out into fields of fire, but remaining invulnerable. It's a small glitch, but does sometimes detract from the realism.
Realism is the lifeblood of this squad shooter and it pumps vigorously through Hell's Highway, especially in the authentic level design. Sure, we're used to real-world settings, but here we see shooter locations superficially familiar from Call of Duty, or Medal of Honor, but with more depth.
The vast majority of running battles are set across open landscapes of rural Holland - farm buildings, windmills and village centres set apart by hay-baled fields, stone walls, corrugated sheds, picket fences and abandoned farm and military vehicles.
But unlike other WWII shooters, much more thought has gone into flow here. The large maps aren't merely settings for the cramped, single-path runthrough usually required by the faster pace and more forgiving enemies of CoD and MoH.