Brothers in Arms: Hell's Highway
by Ed Lima and Duncan Watt
Brothers in Arms: Hell's Highway
Brothers in Arms: Hell's Highway Composed by Ed Lima
& Duncan Watt
Sumthing Else Records (2008)
Full Tracks. Used by Permission
“Rather than attempt
to reinvent the genre via the music, ED LIMA and DUNCAN WATT have
sought to stay true to those traits which have made some of the more
successful World War II projects so successful. ”
Giving 'Em Hell
Review by Christopher Coleman
going to absolutely infuse this with heroism and make it "American." -
the bald eagle with the quiver of arrows in its claw. I do that
proudly in those cases, because that was a fine hour, a fine time for
fine men...and that's how you say, 'Thanks.'"
Some three years after BROTHERS IN ARMS: ROAD TO HILL 30 and EARNED IN
BLOOD introduced a new World War II franchise to gamers, GEARBOX SOFTWARE
released its the third major installment; bringing the franchise to the
next-gen platforms the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3. Riding in on the waves
of fan and critical approval of the ROAD TO HILL 30, the second game,
EARNED IN BLOOD, made a surprising detour from the storyline introduced
its predecessor. That story centered around the life and exploits of
Sergeant Matt Baker and his battles, both inner and outer, during the
allied invasion of France. EARNED IN BLOOD turned the focus to Sergeant
Red Hartsock, who once served under Baker. Now, for HELL'S HIGHWAY, we
return to following Matt Baker, but Red Hartsock has come along side as
well. They are together as a part of the doomed Operation Market Garden.
The huge airborne offensive, launched in September 1944, was designed to
place American, British and Polish paratroopers behind the German line,
into Holland, and end the war by Christmas of that year. Baker, once
again, leads a familiar cast of "brothers" in to take the city of Eindhoven and hold it against endless German counter-attacks. In the
course of so doing, Sgt. Baker continues to lose men under his command
thus further fracturing his already wounded psyche.
For BROTHERS IN ARMS: HELL'S HIGHWAY, Gearbox kept the music in-house with
composer/audio director ED LIMA and collaborator, DUNCAN WATT taking the
musical helm. This makes the third different composing combination for the
franchise. The two previous games well established the distinguishing
traits of this franchise's music. Once again, only cutscenes, menu
screens, and end credits would receive any original scoring. And, once
again, the score would reflect the musical sensibilities found in the
recent World War II standards of BAND OF BROTHERS and moreover, SAVING
More than the ROAD TO HILL 30 or EARNED IN BLOOD, the bulk of HELL'S
HIGHWAY rests upon a single title theme. As with the other two titles,
HELL'S HIGHWAY also begins and ends with the strongest performance of the
game's identifying piece. ED LIMA and DUNCAN WATT's title theme is
constructed in much the same way John Williams' poignant theme for SAVING
PRIVATE RYAN and later STEPHEN HARWOOD JR.'s in the ROAD TO HILL 30.
Beginning with a single sustained note on strings, we soon after hear
snare, woodwinds and timpani join in before launching into a full-blooded
performance of the central motif on brass. Bass drum and strings soon come
in to add further depth and it is at this point that LIMA and WATT add a
distinguishing element to their title theme - the chorus. This element lifts
the piece to a higher emotional level than the franchise had previously
reached. LIMA and WATT make thorough use of the title theme as six of the
remaining ten tracks go on to quote at least the central motif.
ED LIMA and DUNCAN WATT employ their title theme in a variety of ways,
helping to keep it from becoming tiresome. Aside from the very direct,
patriotic and heroic applications heard in tracks like "The Story So Far"
(2) and "Baker's Dozen" (3), they also employ the theme delicately
as well. "The Story So Far" opens with a tender performance of this theme on
piano. "Letters to Loved Ones" (5) offers a soft variation performed on
bassoon. "We Happy Fewer" (7) features the central motif on flute and french horn at its onset.
The varied use of this score's backbone theme keep the brief score
connected while keeping the listener engaged. Further, ED LIMA and
DUNCAN WATT make a deeper connection back to STEPHEN HARWOOD JR.'s
original "march theme" from ROAD TO HILL 30. Subtly, we can catch
these quotations in the opening and closing tracks: "Main Theme" and
"Farewell is Goodbye."
Going beyond this title theme, BROTHERS IN ARMS: HELL'S HIGHWAY offers up
a number of things not found in the previous game scores, but the most
notable is the inclusion of the choral elements. Both male and female choirs
are used to communicate two different ideas. The male choir, not
surprisingly, tends to appear in tracks that reinforce the "brotherhood"
idea (see "Baker's Dozen", "We Happy Fewer"). More interestingly, LIMA and
WATT seem to employ the female chorus most often when communicating the
darker or more threatening elements of the story (see "The Story So Far,"
"For Matthew," and "Frankie's Choice").
Due to it's unique squad-based gameplay, attention to
historical accuracy, and its emphasis on each game's story, the BROTHERS
IN ARMS series has done well to carve out a place for itself in a market
that had been dominated by two pre-existing game franchises - both with
very loyal bases. A key factor in the storytelling has been Gearbox's
choices regarding the music. HELL'S HIGHWAY maintains the tradition of
attempting to enhance the realism during gameplay by, ironically, its lack of music.
The cutscenes, then, have all the more work to do in grabbing and keeping
the heart and mind of the player involved through to the very last
mission. Rather than attempt to reinvent the genre via the music, ED LIMA
and DUNCAN WATT have sought to stay true to those traits which have made
some of the more recent World War II projects like BAND OF BROTHERS so successful. In the
end, even though this release also suffers from its brevity, those who are
appreciate scores that are unashamed of its heroism or patriotism will
likely find HELL'S HIGHWAY a satisfying experience.