Borderlands, Bulletstorm & Inglourious Basterds!
The Brothers In Arms series prides authenticity above all else; dwelling on the horrific reality of World War II along with the visceral thrills of taking part in its major battles. Furious 4, though, is definitely the black sheep of the family. Instead of focusing on raw historical facts, Gearbox's upcoming shooter takes its inspiration from the exaggerated tall tales that soldiers swap to keep their morale up. The Furious Four are a larger than life commando troop that excels at brutal, ridiculous and balls-out epic engagements... and though their exploits are the stuff of chinese whispers, their adventures make for seriously visceral gameplay.
As evidenced by the reveal trailer embedded deep within the Ubisoft Press Conference, the four members of the assault troop are all potent and relevant in combat, but possess different weapons and abilities. The Native American Chok hurls deadly tomahawks and sets traps for unwary foes, while Crocket acts as a "finisher" with his flamethrower and cattle prod (yet has trouble dealing with foes at extreme range). However, behind the closed doors of the Ubisoft press area, the biggest screen and the bulk of our attention was directed towards Montana: the team's flanker.
Montana's default minigun and shotgun deliver a double punch of sustained and close-quarters firepower, and just to round things off, a powerful chainsaw is more than capable of severing enemies cleanly in half. Which becomes rather whimsical when coupled with the adorable smiley face reticle for close combat dismemberment.
The demo level on show depicted a German town in the festive grip of Oktoberfest. The streets thronged with bunting and crowds. The sound of children's laughter and jollity echoed on the breeze. A huge funfair loomed gaily over the small hamlet, bathing it in warm, friendly light. And the Furious 4 had arrived to butcher Hitler and slaughter every last living solider in the village. Bring it! Cue the rock music.
In terms of the core action, Furious 4 resembles Gearbox's MMOFPS Borderlands more closely than previous Brothers In Arms titles. The riotous shooting can be enjoyed solo (with AI teammates padding out the roster), or with three other players either online or locally. Each player uses tight communication to make the most of their character's unique loadout and delegate tactics... though the waves of pathetic Nazi conscripts that poured into the streets required little effort beyond precise aiming and thunderous melee strikes. Killing them in inventive ways, such as dismemberment or setting them on fire, awards the player with persistent experience points. More on that in a second.
Upon reaching a tavern, the squad stacked up on the door and breached through with blitzkrieg speed. However, as the action ground down into the stylish (if incredibly clichéd) slow motion sequence, a challenge popped up on-screen that gives players extra points if completed in time. Other events, such as plowing a car straight through a building, also prompt a challenge (for example, shooting a certain number of explosive gas lamps instead of Nazi guards), which stacks up with your kill points to provide players with a steady stream of experience. These persistent points gradually fill up each character's experience bar, which subsequently rewards skill points that upgrade their skills and experience. The developer upgraded Montana's bear trap with a timed grenade, though there will be plenty of other skill selections on offer (with the ability to respec, apparently)
Imagine Bulletstorm's skillshot system, but with awesome character upgrades instead of the boring busywork of buying ammo. Oh yes. There we go. That's nice.
Montana's new bear trap was about to get tested in the most brutal way possible. The Furious 4 had succeeded in storming the bar, but the appearance of an onscreen timer indicated that reinforcements were inbound. The tavern suddenly became the team's safe haven, with the four characters coordinating a desperate defence as the Nazi horde poured in. Grenade-equipped bear traps and grenades proved invaluable against the attackers, as did clever flanking manoeuvres and the occasional well-thrown tomahawk from Chok. The pace can change at a moment's notice, and should help make the overall experience more varied than just running and gunning.
The awesome foursome moved on to the fairground area, where the destructible scenery and lack of permanent cover made its debut. Seriously, you'd be surprised at how ineffective plasterboard cutouts and wooden stalls are at stopping high velocity machinegun rounds. Significantly more effective, however, was the armour and shield of a powerful mid-boss who required the entire team to focus their attacks. Being a flanker, Montana alternately drew the lumbering brute's fire with his minigun (allowing his team to deliver brutal gouts of flame, machine gun fire and tomahawks into the enemy's vulnerable hindquarters) and repositioned to get a good few of his flanks. Being able to obliterate cover proved to be a double-edged sword since foes can merrily do the same... but since ammo isn't in short supply, it's a case of smoking it if you've got it!
And then some flying jetpack-equipped Nazis showed up, along with a helicopter accompanied by a massive sign proclaiming: "Shoot This Thing!" With an insane rotary rocket launcher to hand, the developer was happy to do just that... and on cue, the demo faded to black. Even though we'd just been standing still for half an hour, our small group of journalists was absolutely exhausted.
Look, Brothers In Arms: Furious 4 isn't going to win any prizes for historical reenactment. It isn't going to make veterans cry due to the brutal authenticity of the experience. But it is going to let you set Nazis on fire while they're on the toilet... and by blending the best bits of Borderlands, Bulletstorm and Inglorious Basterds, Gearbox can't finish this one soon enough. One to watch.