You might remember Digital Anvil from such PC games as Starlancer and Freelancer. Brute Force, a squad-based third-person shooter for the Xbox, marks the developer’s entry into the console market. The platform might be a little different, but their fondness for the realm of science fictions remains the same.
Brute Force takes place in the year 2340, a time when cloning technology has made training and recruiting soldiers obsolete. With the expansion of the galaxy, the Confed Republic has been commissioned to govern the star systems and maintain peace among the many alien races. Met with resistance, the Confederation appoints four of the most skilled warriors to combat the building threats. Welcome to the 23rd Special Forces Unit. Code name: Brute Force.
As the story mode begins, you’ll be introduced to the first member of your team: Tex, a bruiser with a penchant for heavy weaponry and one-liners. You’ll guide Tex through the first mission, a tutorial designed to familiarize you with the FPS-like control scheme. As you progress through the next few missions, you’ll gather the remaining three members of the advertised foursome: Brutus, a honourable lizardman with an uncanny sense; Hawk, a fleet-footed female scout; and Flint, a synthetic female sniper with an attitude.
Teamwork plays a crucial role in Brute Force, and each character brings something different to the tactical table. Tex is an explosives expert, able to disarm enemy traps. He’s also a berserker, able to fire two weapons at once, which comes in handy during heavy firefights. Brutus draws on the Spirit of Vengar for his talents. While channelling this power, Brutus becomes more resistant to damage and can regenerate his health. He can also sense enemies and trample them to death.
Hawk is an electronics specialist. She can bypass computer systems that would otherwise sound alarms. She also possesses the gift of stealth. Rendering her virtually invisible and impossible to detect, this ability allows her to scout locations and assassinate enemies with her Powerblade. Flint derives some unique quirks from her synthetic body. She’s resistant to gas-based attacks. She also possesses an advanced targeting system that allows her to detect the health of enemies, and automatically target an enemy in front of her. This augments her already lethal sniper abilities. Most of the aforementioned special abilities require energy to activate. Each character has an energy meter that depletes and replenishes as time goes by, so you need to pick your spots.
Using the D-pad, you can switch between squad members and issue commands to the group. Detailed instruction isn’t possible, but you can break the squad into smaller groups and issue such orders as ‘Move to’, ‘Cover Me’, ‘Stand Ground’ and ‘Fire at Will’. You can also trigger any of the characters’ special abilities. When tactics go out the window and an all-out firefight ensues, the AI-controlled members of your team perform quite admirably on their own. They’ll flank enemies, seek cover when fired upon, and use medkits when critically injured. The only thing they won’t do is use their special abilities.
Death doesn’t hold the same meaning in Brute Force as it does in most games. Thanks to the advanced cloning technology, replicating a squad member killed in action is a simple but costly procedure. You can alleviate some of the financial burden by securing the memory chip off your dead comrade before you flee from the scene of the crime. Where does the cash for cloning come from? At the end of each mission, you’re awarded money based on your performance. Reproduction is thus a welcome process in order to avoid re-doing long-winded missions.
Bruce Force serves up a fair selection of weaponry. Some weapons, like the standard handgun, rifle and machine gun of the future, still fire good old-fashioned bullets. The Feral Cutter fires razor-sharp discs, while the Rail RVR uses rail technology to project electric currents. Laser weapons are common in Brute Force, and the requisite missile and grenade launchers are present as well.
If Brute Force has one failing in terms of gameplay, it’s repetitive level design. The missions are fairly linear, and your squad is equipped with a radar that always tells you where you need to go. Basically, any given mission boils down to a series of enemy encounters, and once you’ve fought through one mutant-ridden town, you’ve fought through them all. A little more creativity in this area would have been welcome.
The only other real gripe I have with Brute Force comes in the form of multiplayer. Why on Capsianů err, Earth, is there no Xbox Live support?!? This game just screams co-op, but you’ll have to settle for split-screen or system link play. Missed opportunity to say the least. With that said, you can play through the campaign in co-op mode, as seamlessly as plugging in a controller, or you can do battle with up to 7 friends in deathmatch. Both modes are entertaining. There’s also a promise of additional content to be made available via Xbox Live, including new campaigns for both single and multiplayer.
Visually, Brute Force is a stunning game. Each of the six planets has it’s own unique look, and the atmospheric effects accompanying each of the worlds adds a healthy touch. Character animations are also solid. Of particular note is Brutus, who runs on all fours like a gorilla. Bodies have rag-doll physics, so enemies will flop down hills and flail their arms as they soar through the air after a well-tossed grenade. The aural experience, on the other hand, isn’t as impressive. With the exception of the voice acting, which is pretty convincing, the musical score is far from memorable and the sound effects are generic.
Early in its development cycle, Brute Force was tagged as a shooter that might give Halo a run for its money. If that’s what you’re expecting, let me save you the disappointment; Brute Force is not as good as Halo. With that said, Brute Force does stand on its own as a first-rate Xbox-exclusive action game that is worthy of being inducted into your collection.