Game Description: Experience the intensity of a first-person shooter with the cunning strategies of team-based tactical combat in Brute Force. Play alone through six different worlds in the extensive single-player campaign, or grab up to three of your friends to jump in on-the-fly in dynamic cooperative mode. Don't play well with others? Battle it out in a multitude of competitive deathmatch modes.
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.
Mike's covered nearly all the bases in his review, and I'm in agreement with his assessment. For a game that was heavily hyped as The Next Big Thing for Xbox owners, Brute Force surprisingly fails to deliver more than a "pretty okay" experience. Given its lengthy time in development I suppose I expected the game to live up to its image, though I can't say I'm surprised. Given that no actual gameplay was shown until shortly before hitting retail, warning lights were already going off.
That's not to say it's a bad game, because it's not. It's an enjoyable little romp, and if billed as a standard shoot-'em-up, I would have no problem appreciating it as the brief diversion it is. However, I can't ignore that the game has been pushed as squad-based combat since it was first announced. From this perspective it just doesn't deliver since "squad-based" combat (to me) suggests more than having one gung-ho bruiser with three other characters in tow.
Brute Force's strategy-free core is apparent throughout the experience, the bulk of the problem stemming from how the developers have designed each level's structure and enemy placement. While the options and commands relating to your team work well enough, there's almost no opportunity to use them effectively.
The landscapes you'll be exploring are extremely artificial in terms of geography. They look great, but they're little more than narrow canyons acting like one-way streets. Over the course of the game, I found few opportunities to do anything besides walk forward. It was next to impossible to search for weak points in enemy defenses or find areas to stage surgical strikes.
Since you're only able to follow the course the developers have set, the problem with enemy placement immediately rears its ugly head; specifically, the overwhelming majority of battles are cheap ambushes you can't avoid or plan against. Advancing your team cautiously forward, most territory appears deserted until the player crosses a certain "trigger point." Stepping over this invisible threshold causes swarms of enemies to mechanically appear out of nowhere for one chaotic firefight after another.
Trying to use your teammates abilities doesn't get you very far, either. Attempting the stealthy approach with Hawk will eighty-six a few enemies, but more will materialize out of the woodwork when the team moves up. Sniper Flint isn't much use since ground troops can somehow see her the second she pops her head out from behind a rock—never mind the fact that she's a hundred feet up on a remote outcropping. The only thing you can consistently count on is Tex and Brutus' standard running-and-gunning, which can (and will) carry you through the entire adventure. Needless to say, there's no opportunity to use tactics to any meaningful degree during bloody free-for-alls.
Near the end of the game there are a few levels that are less restrictive and not totally clogged with ambushes. During these scant moments, the vision Digital Anvil must have had for the game becomes clear as you're treated to some very satisfying troop deployment. At one point, I was in control of Flint and perched on a ledge. Ordering my team to move up, I could see my squad rushing forward behind cover. At the same time, enemies were patrolling their area completely unaware of what was happening. The subsequent blitz below was a thing of battle-scarred beauty while I sniped with impunity from above. More sequences like that would have made Brute Force a top-tier must-have, but sadly they're quite few and far between.
With such no-frills gameplay, it's odd that Brute Force doesn't really compensate for it in any aspect except the graphics. What little story there is feels thin and shallow, without a sense of progress or achievement. As far as the characters go, Mike's on track when he says they're walking clichs. A little more effort to endear them to players would have paid off in spades. The missions rarely deviate from the basic "kill everything" objectives, and when they do it's usually find "X" item or kill "X" person. There are only six different environments, so the game picks up a feeling of "Didn't I do this level already?" quite soon. Finally, the team earns combat pay during missions, but there's absolutely nothing to buy. You'll need a few credits to re-clone downed teammates, but the cost is insignificant compared to the massive bankroll you'll have by game's end. If there were options to select or purchase equipment before battle (or even something like a rudimentary upgrade tree) the game would have some much-needed depth.
Despite all that, the thing that puzzles me most about Brute Force is the lack of quality multiplayer. After roughly a year of delays I'm downright shocked that the game isn't Live-enabled for anything except new content downloads (none available at the time of this review.) It's great that up to four buddies can join the campaign mode at any time, but the other multiplayer options don't impress. And by the way, where are the 'bots? If the Nintendo 64 can do it, I'm pretty sure the Xbox should be able to handle it.
Looking back on what I've written, it reads like a litany of complaints. But despite all of the areas where the game could be beefed-up, I still enjoyed playing through Brute Force. (Yes, really.) If taken as a simple, good-looking, and straightforward shooter, Brute Force provides some high-caliber catharsis for a few afternoons. However, if you're expecting anything more, you'll probably be disappointed.
According to ESRB, this game contains: Blood, Violence
Parents can expect a little language and a little blood, but nothing overtly graphic or profane.
Halo fans might enjoy it as its controller interface is very similar to that of Bungie's first-person shooter. Xbox Live subscribers are out in the cold on this one, but due to its system link functionality it could be played online via GameSpy software, as Halo was.
Fans of shooters from Doom to MDK will find plenty to like here.
Deaf and Hard of Hearing gamers will miss out on some corny dialogue and in-game audio cues, but should be able to enjoy the game thoroughly for the most part.