Brute Force (Xbox) review
"Brute Force would benefit so much from more open level designs. Your tactical options would exponentially increase and your enemies could do something useful like flank you, or ambush you, bringing much more excitement into the game."
The much hyped and often delayed Brute Force has finally made it's way onto Xboxes in dire need of a new big game. Does it live up to the hype? Read on, and I guarantee you will find out.
Brute Force's plot is generic sci-fi crap - you play as a team of mercenaries working for the space Confederation government. You jet around the galaxy doing various dirty jobs - assassinations, mass murder, that kind of thing. Your team (which happens to be named Brute Force) is comprised of four specialized members, each with a unique special ability. There's Tex, the soldier and offensive powerhouse of the group. He can wield just about every weapon in the game and his special ability allows him to dual-wield any weapons. Hawk is the Scout, with the ability to go completely invisible for short amounts of time. Almost too weak, Hawk will die very very quickly in real combat, but she makes up for it with a powerblade that will drop anybody with a single slash. Then there's Brutus, a feral lizardman shaman. He's able to channel the spirit of his god Vengar which sends him into a heightened state of awareness, turning the entire screen grey except for his enemies, which glow orange. This ''thermal vision'' is useful in areas where it's difficult to see due to mist or fog. While in this state his life constantly regenerates, making him the most resilient member of the team. Rounding out the group is the cyborg sniper Flint. Her mechanical body allows her to hold a sniper rifle completely steady and also to zoom in extremely far. Her special ability allows her to automatically lock onto targets..
Hopefully you made it through those tedious introductions, because now we can actually start talking about the game. I should probably let you know that Bungie (developers of Halo) coopearted with the developers of Brute Force to some extent during the creation of this game. When you pick up Brute Force, evidence of this cooperation is immediately apparent. It controls exactly like Halo. The default analog sensitivity is exactly the same, the buttons are even mapped out the same - from switching weapons to reloading to throwing grenades, any Halo veteran will instantly feel right at home with the controls. As a result of Bungie's help, the controls are near perfect.
That's where the similarities end. The most obvious difference between the two games is that Brute Force puts you in control of a squad of soldiers as opposed to Halo's one man army. You're only directly controlling one member of your squad at a time - the rest are directed using a simple yet comprehensive in-game interface. Each direction on the D-pad corresponds with one of your characters. Tapping a direction on the D-pad will quickly switch you over to that character, briefly holding down one of the directions on the pad brings up the orders interface. From here you can tell your troops to give you covering fire, move to a certain position, or defend their position. Orders can be given to your squad as a whole, part of the squad, or just a single soldier. It's the best squad-control system I've seen in a game - you'll quickly pick it up and be telling your mates to do anything you could possibly want them to do.
Unfortunately, ''Don't Get Killed'' isn't on the list of available commands. Your teammate's AI is functional, but you won't be confusing them for actual human players. Your comrades will (often) make use of cover when possible, (often) use medipaks when injured, and (often) do a pretty decent job of backing you up in heavy firefights. Keyword being often. OFTEN, they'll be too slow with a medipak and die, stand and take heavy fire when there's decent cover nearby, and let you down in the heat of battle. Thankfully Brute Force allows for up to four player co-op and even lets you play through the campaign mode with multiple linked Xboxes. Playing over System Link is really the way to go, but most gamers will have to get by with split screen play. It's tolerable with the screen split between two players - the graphics and framerate get really crappy when it's divided into four tiny screens, not to mention the fact that it's really hard to see anything.
Brute Force is a tactical combat game - each specialized member of your team needs to be utilized properly if you want to stay alive. However, the first time I played through the game, that wasn't apparent. The default difficulty mode (called Standard mode) is shamelessly easy. The name is deceiving, it should've been called pansy mode instead. In this mode you can just run and gun your way through everything with Brutus and Tex - no strategy required. If I was making the game I would've just scrapped Standard Mode entirely. When you turn up the difficulty a couple of notches you get the real experience, in which taking advantage of each characters specialties becomes necessary, and some tactics come into play.
Combat is at the heart of any shooter. It makes or breaks the game. In the case of Brute Force, it breaks it. Don't get me wrong, the basic mechanics of the combat are great. It controls well, the enemy AI is great, and you've got a large variety of weapons and grenades to choose from. However, it lacks the one thing that to me is key to combat greatness - intensity. This is due to a couple of factors. First of all, the level design. Digital Anvil did their best to make it appear otherwise, but all the levels in Brute Force are essentially long corridors littered with various things to provide you cover. From the lava worlds to the jungle worlds and everywhere inbetween you always seem to be moving down some sort of valley or canyon with hills on your sides, directing you ever onwards. As a result of this, you don't have to watch your back or your sides. The enemies will always appear from the same direction - straight ahead. No suprises.
The lack of variety in the terrain limits your tactical options. The first couple levels are like a learning experience - you'll figure out your basic tactics quickly and they'll never change, because the environments never change. It's ''scout ahead and slash as many throats as possible with Hawk, send Flint to an elevated position to provide cover, use Tex and Brutus to come in and sweep up the remaining mess'' over and over. Needless to say, it gets rather tedious rather quickly.
As you are limited, so are your enemies. As I mentioned, their artificial intelligence is good, but the linear level designs don't give them much to work with. This may be over-simplifying things a bit, but they basically can either retreat backwards while shooting you or charge forward while shooting you. Back or forward. Very one-dimensional. Killing the enemies in Brute Force feels kind of like hunting deer or elk in a small fenced in area. Okay, so the baddies are a little more fierce than your average deer..They're deer with laser guns strapped to their heads, we'll say. Either way, they really have nowhere to run and nowhere to hide. They'll put up a brief fight, but there's only one possible outcome: they're going to die.
Brute Force would benefit so much from more open level designs. Your tactical options would exponentially increase and your enemies could do something useful like flank you, or ambush you, bringing much more excitement into the game. Unfortunately, that's not how it is.
Then there's the four main characters. They all have little to no personality and no history or backstory, so from the beginning you don't really give a crap about them. In fact, they're all clones. Brute Force deals with death by saying ''If you die, you can just be re-cloned and effectively brought back to life''. How this translates into the actual gameplay is this: when your team gets wiped out it magically reappears right where you died. This makes your characters seem even more disposable and worthless. Let's say you're low on ammo and you've only got one character left. That should generate some sort of intensity, but it doesn't. You find yourself thinking ''Oh well, if I die, my whole team will just come back anyway. Hell, there's a boss up ahead anyway, maybe I should just kill myself now to get my whole team back.''. That my friends, is absolute shit.
Playing Brute Force just makes me sad. It had so much potential, it does so many things right. It's visually excellent, with all the graphical bells and whistles you'd expect from an Xbox exclusive game. It controls like a dream. The system-link co-op is a great idea, every game should do it. The team-management aspect is very well done, the mechanics of the combat are great, but it fails to deliver the one thing that really matters in this type of game; A sense of excitement, intensity. When I'm playing a tactical shooter I want my pulse to increase, I want to sweat, I want to be on the edge of my seat. I want to get ambushed, I want to get stuck in hairy situations and fight my way out. I want to think, I want to adapt my tactics to different circumstances. Brute Force gives me none of that.
In the end Brute Force is just a brainless shoot-em-up. I'm typically a huge fan of this genre, and after trudging my way through 8 or so linear levels I just wanted to quit playing. Clearing the levels of various mutants and militia took me back to clearing long stretches of road of trash at community service. Not good. I can only recommend this title to someone with two Xboxes who is desperately in need of some system-link action. If you're looking for fun tactical-action with co-op modes you'd be much better off checking out Conflict: Desert Storm or Ghost Recon.
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