First Love is a new weekly feature here on OnlySP. Every week, we will have one featured writer for the site write about a favorite series of theirs. They will explain why they love the series, how they came to love it, and anything else they want to write about why the series is so special to them.
This week the featured writer is Simon Squire, and he will be writing about his love for Brothers in Arms.
As readers may or may not know, I am OnlySP’s only writer who is also a full time soldier in the Canadian Army. I love my job, I work with some terrific people, get to do some really cool things and there really is no life like it. The military is also what helped bring me out of side scrollers and into the world of 3D gaming that we play in today, As a teenager I was raised by military parents, and retired military Grandparents. I watched movies about The Great War, World War II, Vietnam, went to the War Museum in Ottawa, Ontario and listened to my Dad as he told me about my Great Grandfather and his role in Vimy Ridge.
It only made sense that, eventually I’d find myself purchasing a copy of Gearbox’s Brothers in Arms: Road to Hill 30, when I bought my first Xbox. I’d played other World War shooters on the Playstation and PC prior to this, but it never really stuck. While it was cool to play as an Allied soldier working undercover for the OSS, I was never convinced it was a very good representation of the life of a soldier.
Brothers in Arms had me from the start. When I first popped in the disk and heard the Brothers in Arms theme, the music just hit me right to my core. The beautiful, sad but powerful marching music in the menus made me pause and sit for a few minutes to just soak it in, and I realized right then that I was going to be in for a journey that I’d never been in before.
However, I’m going to skip forward a few years. See after being in the military for a few years, I found myself coming back to Brothers in Arms. This time when I started the game, the haunting words of Sergeant Matt Baker struck me and really made me feel and understand why this game had me from the start. I find that most military shooters are just “bang bang explosion, pow pow Nazi!” Brothers in Arms makes you feel the soldiers pain, joy and regrets as they evolve from gung-ho soldiers at the start of D-Day to their final showdown at Hill 30.
As Soldiers in the field, every decision made can have horrible consequences. Many of us have lost friends, have our loved ones leave us to come home to empty houses and many of us have even lost limbs or the ability to have a good nights sleep, all in the name of our flag and freedom. Most of us do not regret these decisions as we recognize that they must be done in order for others to enjoy the freedoms and rights that we have. The life of the soldier is almost never glamorous. It’s a job and we do the very best we can with whatever scenario that is given to us. This is shown in Brothers in Arms several times over the course of the series. One character at one point in the game loses his mind over the grief of losing two squadmates under his command. Another character finds himself running into a burning building to rescue a soldier who himself was trying to rescue an innocent. Characters are killed, others hurt to the point of having to be sent home, and yet the rest soldier on. They do what needs to be done and that makes this game very special.
The words that open the first game in the Brothers in Arms series still give me pause whenever I hear them. They are the words of a man who has lost his friends and lost his sense of youth and vigor to get the job done. Matthew Baker is tired of this damn war and everything that led to where he is and just wants it to be over. Read these words and imagine you’d been in hell for over a week, each day feeling longer than the last.
“My dad said something to me after the divorce. He said that every soldier has two families, those you raise and those you raise Hell with. I’ve spent eight days here, eight days commanding a squad I wasn’t ready to lead, eight days watching my men – my family – kill and be killed. Eight days wishing it would stop.”
From there you open up to a Brutal shootout with Matt’s squad pinned down by enemy fire and tanks. The screams of squad mates calling for support on the radio with no reply. The shouts of the company First Sergeant barely keeping the fear out of his voice as he tried to keep his men calm and focused. The disbelief of a soldier as he tries to rouse his fire team partner who has suddenly dropped dead. Finally, mercifully a tank shell explodes near you and everything gets hazy. The last thing you see before everything goes black is a soldier – having finally snapped from the pressure – expose himself to enemy fire, calling for death, and taking a blast from a tank as a result. It’s a very shocking and sudden introduction to a game that introduces you to amazing characters. Then one by one they are taken away from you as you begin to feel like they are holding your sanity together while you fight your way through hell.
Camaraderie is a big thing in military life. The constant razzing of your buddies, supporting them when they are down and picking on them when they goof up. There are several moments like this in the Brothers in Arms series that really cement that feeling of camaraderie for the player. In the first game, two of the most memorable characters are some guys named Allan and Garnet, who met up in boot camp and became inseparable. The chatter that they have between (and sometimes during) missions is some of the best dialogue I’ve heard in a military shooter, and it would be a great loss to lose these guys in a firefight. In particular there’s an awesome argument between them and another soldier about Batman VS Superman that cemented their awesomeness in my mind forever.
Of course I’m getting away from myself with comparing my life to that of characters in what is still in the end just a videogame. In my opinion it’s a damn good one too. One which spawned two other games that were great as well. Aside from authenticity, one of the big things that I really enjoyed about these games was the challenge and the tactical gameplay. Your squadmates were very smart and did their best to keep you alive, they followed direction but also knew better than to let you get them killed by ordering them to do something silly like attack a tank head on. The enemy functioned the same way making strategy key to victory. You had to be very careful with this as well because your men and you were very vulnerable. In Brothers in Arms, one very well placed shot could kill you in an instant, there are no magic health packs or regenerating health and running out in the open was suicidal. This made it the first shooter I ever played where making use of cover not only made sense, but was essential to survival.
Brothers in Arms has been without a new entry for some time now, with Brothers in Arms: Hell’s Highway hitting stores in 2008 and ending in a bit of a cliffhanger. Gearbox Software announced a spinoff called Furious Four a while ago which was supposed to make the series similar to Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds. This enraged a rather large number of BIA fans though and Gearbox ended up removing it from the Brothers in Arms name. Earlier this year Gearbox’s Randy Pitchford told IGN that another authentic Brothers in Arms game was on it’s way but that the wait could be up to five years. However, my hopes are high that we will see something in the near future , as I personally think that Brothers in Arms is the best shooter series I’ve ever played and I am looking forward to seeing what’s next for these characters.