Brute Force – Review

Brute Force has been a long time coming. Originally slated for a spring 2002 release, it was subject to numerous delays which, as is generally modus operandi in gaming, lead to fervent hype and talk of "the next Halo"—since we assume they were using that time to make the game that much better. Well, it's finally here approximately a year after its original planned release, but it the extra time hasn't equated to a better game. Not that Brute Force is bad—on the contrary, it is very polished and thoroughly enjoyable. But for a game that was subject to so many delays and such high expectations, it's disappointingly limited in scope and is sorely lacking innovation or refinement of any kind.

Brute Force is a squad-based third-person shooter in which the player controls a team of four elite soldiers fighting various otherworldly baddies over a sci-fi backdrop. I won't spoil the story, but it's pretty standard videogame sci-fi fare, complete with CG cutscenes laced with cheesy voice acting and characters that fit every sci-fi cliché in the book. You have Tex, the arrogant sexist tough guy; Brutus, the reptilian alien who spouts out lines about avenging his "clan"; Hawk, the quiet but capable female; and Flint, a sassy "synthetic" female that, predictably, agitates Tex. Each character has his or her own unique skills that players will have to be able to utilize on the battlefield, including a "special ability" that provides superhuman powers but can only be used for a short time. Tex is the squad's clean-up man, heavily armed with huge weapons and able to take a good deal of damage. Brutus is a mixture of strength and speed that works well for perimeter combat or quick assaults and retreats. Hawk is a weaker character who has the ability to turn invisible, making her ideal for quick stealth assaults; and Flint is a master with a sniper rifle (other characters can use sniper rifles, but will not be able to hold the scope steady). The game is filled with a variety of weapons and explosives for the characters to wreak havoc with, but unfortunately many of the weapons seem very similar to each other.

Players can switch between any of the squad members at any time or issue commands to individual squad members via a simple interface. Holding the D-pad in any direction brings up a menu that allows players to select squad members and issue one of four commands: Cover Me, Fire At Will, Stand Ground and Move To. Controlling squad members is very rudimentary, much along the lines of the recent squad shooter Conflict: Desert Storm, which is both good and bad. The simplicity of the commands and controls keeps the game fast-paced and focused on the action, which was clearly the intent of the developers. However, it limits the amount of freedom that players have in tailoring the experience to suit their own playing style. The "Go To" command is particularly disappointing, as it's difficult to position characters exactly and is no way to control the direction they face without switching to them. However, I do prefer the real-time positioning controls over the map interface used in the more sim-oriented Rainbow Six games; it is simply not done as well here as it was in Conflict: Desert Storm.

Brute Force is designed so that at any time, another player can join in and control other members of the squad—up to four players can team up for a cooperative campaign. But for the solitary player, the computer AI (artificial intelligence) has to take over for the remaining three squad members. Although I noticed nothing particularly dramatic about their cunning (each character has a preset style and sticks to it fairly predictably), there was a pleasing lack of glitches. Squad members don't get stuck in the environment, run around aimlessly, fall off ledges to their demise, or clumsily shoot you in the back. They seem to run their routines fairly well, and there is a great deal of randomness in their interactions with the enemy AI, as there should be. The enemy AI, though decent, fails to impress along the lines of Halo or Half-Life. Enemies vary in intelligence from reasonably cunning (human enemies) to just plain stupid (suicidal mutants). They'll do the usual stuff—take cover, call for help, and flank your position. But nothing stands out as particularly new or compelling. In some cases, I still saw the enemy running around in circles off in the distance or standing still while their comrade—standing right next to them—took to a bullet to the brain. Lastly, the hit detection model is fairly average; while damage is locational (i.e., a shot to the head is a quick kill, but a shot to the foot is just a nuisance), the enemies don't react noticeably to the shots and will keep coming until you put them down.

Brute Force has a nice array of options, but is sorely lacking Xbox Live play. Presumably it will be enhanced with new levels and/or multiplayer maps in the future, but leaving the online gaming component out altogether is a poor oversight. The game is reasonably long without dragging on repetitively, but the shortcomings of the AI prevent it from having much replay value without the benefit of cooperative play.

Despite its shortcomings, Brute Force is still an enjoyable, polished game. It is a "tactical action game" that is far more "action" than "tactical" but retains some degree of flexibility and shines in its multiplayer modes. It wasn't quite worth the wait, but it's still worth a look. Rating: 7.0 out of 10