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. Rating: 6.5 out of 10

Brad Gallaway
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