The reaction to the announcement of Brothers in Arms: Furious 4 by Brothers in Arms fans was at best mixed, at worst downright hostile. This offshoot flies in the face of what we expect from the Brothers in Arms series. It doesn't center on the 101st Infantry. It doesn't feature Matt Baker. It isn't a realistic tactical shooter. And it doesn't offer a soppy view of American heroism in Europe.
I had exactly the same reaction. Yet after watching four Gearbox devs play through an early mission… I'm absolutely fine in taking a break from Baker.
The game is a four player co-op shooter, played online with friends, or with bots. Think of mapping Borderlands XP and upgrades and unique character abilities to Wolfenstein. It's hyperactive, gory and stylistically all over the place – mixing chainsaws, Nazi's, pulp English accents and the Eels into a complete dogs dinner of ideas – but it's held together with sheer enthusiasm and a kind of insane filter of stupidity. Furious 4 goes above and beyond to entertain you.
The demo opens with our Furious 4 setting out to kill Hitler. 'Somewhere in Germany', says the overlay, Hitler has been hiding out in a castle. The road to the castle is via a funfair, and guarded by mean looking airships and hordes of guards.
It begins with simple run and gun mechanics, with a level of cartoon gore that was unexpected. Nazi heads pop into the sky when clipped in a head-shot. Ragdolls pinwheel when caught in the blast of an explosion. And corpses are flung back with violent force when caught with every character's unique off-hand melee/flung weapon – tomahawks, pick-axes and cattle-brands.
Furious 4 has elements of a skill–shots. Every few minutes in the demo, the team is presented with a challenge; blow up three explosive barrels, or snipe three gas pots as you drive through a German pub. It also transplants some of Call of Duty's perk systems to a single player game – with XP rewards for killing set numbers of infantry, or getting set numbers of headshots.
The XP is spent on buying perks – in our demo Montana, a character with a giant gatling gun, upgraded the bear traps he was carrying around with a grenade, placing them around a pub the team had to defend and gleefully watching Nazi soldiers panic as they realised their fate.
The demo climaxed with an attack on a dual rotor helicopter thing in front of a giant ferris wheel. The action paused for a moment to explain the objective; an arrow appeared with the caption 'Blow This Up'. First, jetpack toting Nazi's had to be shot down, before the player grabbed a rocket launcher and show down the helicopter. The chopper smashed into the ferris wheel, freeing it from it's scaffold, which then wheeled into the towers of the Bavarian castle the team were meant to be assaulting.
At the start of the demo, the Gearbox team were keen to point out that they would still be producing a sequel to the Brothers in Arms: Hell's Highway, continuing Matt Baker's story. But I think Furious 4 shouldn't be viewed through the lens of the previous Brothers in Arms games. It's silly and stupid, and over-the-top. But it's also outrageously entertaining, and I left the theatre with a grin on my face.
Enthusiasm counts for a lot.