Face it: A shooter set in World War II is going to be called derivative of something, and as a sequel, it'll probably be called derivative of itself. But what Brothers In Arms: Furious 4 most resembles is not the 2009 film Inglorious Basterds, to which everyone connected the game after Ubisoft revealed it on Monday. Furious 4's loudest echoes come from Gearbox's co-operative shooter smash, Borderlands.
Mikey Neumman, Gearbox's creative director, didn't bristle when I suggested the Inglorious Borderlands title. Hell, that was a good game, after all. But he did think it was an odd comparison for the game, due out on PC, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. It had occurred to me after I watched a Nazi suffer a lingering electrocution, something that happened quite often in my time on Pandora.
Like Borderlands' characters, the Four all do pretty much everything well, and one thing especially well. They carry badass weaponry and, through a leveling system, acquire very desirable, class-specific upgrades and attributes (the grenade-in-a-beartrap was my favourite). Their doltish enemies are still dangerous in numbers; separated, they're bait for gratuitously scenic deaths.
The adventure I saw, blasting apart an Oktoberfest celebration, also had a caperish feel to it. The gang drove a truck through the front door of a beer hall full of goose-steppers, something the narrator called a really stupid idea, immediately affirmed by Crockett, the guy with the flamethrower. Of course they then shot, bazookaed, chainsawed and flamethrowered their way out of the jam.
It should be obvious that Brothers in Arms: Furious 4, is not at all the next installment in the continuity established by the series' three preceding games, which form a very serious narrative of soldiers in combat from D-Day to Operation Market Garden. Furious 4 is a tall tale riddled with bullet holes. The smiley-face crosshairs you see when heavy gunner Montana switches over to his chainsaw tells you plenty about this game's rollicking tone.
Ubisoft's Nouredine Abboud, frankly admits that the inspiration for Furious 4 wasnt another game or film but, simply, the fact they weren't going to go four years between Brothers in Arms: Hell's Highway and the next release. Trouble is, when they sat down to conceive of the next chapter in Staff Sgt. Matt Baker's service, all of the ideas came out flat and boring.
"If we had a great idea of what would be the best sequel to Brothers in Arms, we would have done it," Abboud admits. "Maybe the next wave of consoles will give us some ideas of what to do that is new and different."
In a closed-doors live gameplay demonstration, we saw the Furious 4 descend, by zipwire, into a festival, the ferris wheel's appearance on the horizon foreshadowing its involvement in a spectacular conclusion. Melee weapons factor prominently into the Four's M.O.; Crockett ("the Fixer) carries a cattle brand, which may also be used to "sign" the wanted posters appearing in the game, acquiring additional experience (and achievements). Montana, a burly lumberjack in civilian life, carries a hand axe; scoring a head shot with it is no small point of pride.
Bullet-time breach-and-clear figured into two rooms the Four entered, with the slo-mo supplying extra opportunity to shoot up environmental features like kerosene lamps to artfully burn up your enemies, though headshots still sufficed. Montana shot away part of a wall with his machine gun to rain death on the SS.
Bosses were introduced with title cards over cutscenes much in the way Borderlands end-of-stage baddies came on the scene. Jetpack Nazis and a ridiculous twin-rotor flying machine (brought down by a fireworks cannon) were spotted and disposed of appropriately.
Conceptually, Abboud says, Brothers in Arms: Furious 4 was not inspired by Borderlands or Inglorious Basterds, as Furious 4's war fable framework was put in place before either released.
However, the film's popularity and the game's winning qualities absolutely did factor in as the vision for Furious 4 became clearer.
"We didn't derive inspiration from Inglorious Basterds," Abboud said, "but when the film was shown, and we saw it, it reinforced the confidence we had that this would be something that many people would like."