They're no A-Team, but they'll do.
It seems really hard to constantly devise new game ideas. How many different ways are there to order troops around, or frag aliens, or throw a basketball into a hoop? Not that many.
But that's no excuse, and we're always expecting developers to come up with exciting new takes on old concepts. No one has to reinvent the wheel to make us happy; they just have to come up with a really cool way of pushing the wheel down the hill.
So you shouldn't be shocked to hear that Digital Anvil's long awaited squad-based action shooter Brute Force is a lot like Halo. In fact, it borrows so liberally from Bungie's masterpiece that at times you almost feel like you're playing Halo Lite. Unfortunately, the Lite part gets in the way of what the game already has: decent squad mechanics, good graphics and fast action, leading to a slightly above average, astonishingly linear third-person fragfest.
Set in the future, Brute Force lets you play as a squad of four warriors sent to various planets to kill stuff. There's more story in here somewhere, but even the smartly done cutscenes don't paint a full picture. Brainwashed alien baddies, lizardmen who talk like Muppets, interstellar terrorists...oh, just come up with your own plot and you'll probably be pretty close.
The four members of Brute Force are basic action game archetypes, each with a special ability. Tex is the all-purpose badass, the Duke Nukem of the lot who can equip two weapons at once for maximum damage. Hawk is the stealthy babe, able to go invisible for short bursts in order to scout out areas or whack unsuspecting enemies with her Powerblade. Poster boy Brutus is the beast, a close quarters maniac with the ability to go into a 'sense' mode, which allows him to regain health and detect enemies by their heat patterns. Finally, Flint is the cyborg sniper chick who can auto-target as well as get some extra zoom power for long range carnage.
Brute Force's Campaign mode takes you through 18 missions in a half-dozen environments. While at first you can only play as Tex, you'll eventually enable the whole team, which leads to the game's signature feature, the squad commands.
Using the D-Pad, you can quickly play as or give commands to any of the four heroes. Tell your squadmates to stay where they are, order them to move to a certain location, allow them to open fire or have them simply guard your back - pretty basic stuff, but the AI does an adequate job of following your lead.
Though the different members have specialties and some minor weapon limitations (Tex won't pick up wimpy pistols, for instance), you can use whomever you choose for the task at hand. Switch to Tex and use his dual-gun ability for big firefights, or use Flint's auto-targeting with a sniper rifle to detect and eliminate enemies from a safe distance. The squad bit is never really required; you can go in guns a blazin' and wind up doing just as well as you would had you been more systematic about it.
But that's not a knock on the AI, as the enemies exhibit fairly decent intelligence. They'll seek cover, peer out and shoot and even retreat a bit if they're getting whomped. Unfortunately, there are only a handful of enemy types, which adds some redundancy.
Killing the bad guys is actually pretty fun, thanks to the smart Halo control scheme. You'll find a bunch of neat weapons, including a few energy blasters, bio blasters, straight-up machine guns and your basic rocket launcher. Like Halo, you can pick up enemy weapons on the fly. And like Halo, grenade lobbing is key. It's also handled particularly well thanks to a little meter that tells you how far you're throwing it. While it's a third-person game, Brute Force plays exactly like a first-person shooter, which when coupled with the squad dynamics leads to a solid dose of action.
But where Brute Force falls off the Halo radar is in its annoying single-player Campaign. The game has a nasty habit of dropping you into straight-shot, needlessly linear missions that all sort of play the same way. You'll run from checkpoint to checkpoint just blasting anything that pops up in front of you, and this always seems to happen in chunks. Then you heal up a bit, collect more ammo and keep moving forward to the next battle area. Occasionally you'll need to find an item, but it's hardly a challenge. The game gets pretty repetitive, and this isn't helped by the fact that the Campaign keeps revisiting areas. You'll enjoy the treehouse jungle level the first time through, but when you get dropped into it again it's not quite as satisfying. The same goes for the lava and desert planets.
For that matter, the scripting just isn't there. You cannot manipulate the world much at all and there are no vehicles of any kind. It's just a straightforward, ubiquitous action deal.
Thankfully, the game looks pretty good, featuring nice particle effects, good character models and great ragdoll death animations. Though the framerate can chug when it gets hectic, the graphics adequately support the gameplay.
The sound works fine, too, offering nice Dolby surround support and pretty good effects. The voice acting is cheesy, but this is a sci-fi fragfest, so what else would you expect?
As a squad-based shooter, Brute Force seems custom built for multiplayer. You can co-op the Campaign and even join or leave the game on the fly, which makes it a little more fun. Classic Deathmatch options are here for up to 4 players on one Xbox or 8 if you link systems, but how many of you spend your free time linking up Xboxes? Okay, put your hands down, nerds. I meant normal people.
You can also try your hand at Squad Deathmatch, which is more interesting than the standard Deathmatch but also more confusing. Increased complexity doesn't always lead to increased fun.
Which leaves us with Xbox Live...except the game doesn't support it. This was okay with Halo back in the day since Xbox Live wasn't out when the game shipped, but considering the deluge of Xbox shooters playable online (RTCW, Unreal Championship, Ghost Recon, etc.), Brute Force totally loses out. You will be able to download new content, but that doesn't really cut it. Plus, the game doesn't support bots, so you can only play multiplayer with other people. Hope you have a lot of friends.
It's amazing to me that Brute Force has been in the development oven for so long, having first been announced back when the Xbox shipped. It's not a bad game, but it certainly isn't worthy of the hype. The lack of sufficient multiplayer support and the repetitive, underwhelming Campaign steal some of the thunder, which a shame since there's some good, solid gameplay in here. It's certainly worth a look, but penny pinchers might want to rent first.