We got our hands on an updated preview build of Brute Force, Microsoft and Digital Anvil's squad-based shooter for the Xbox. The game puts you in command of a Special Forces unit, code-named Brute Force, made up of four mercenaries with unique abilities. Our build of the game let us check out a good chunk of the single-player campaign and some of the game's multiplayer elements. Although we noticed a few rough edges, the game is shaping up to offer a unique and engaging experience, despite its lack of an online multiplayer option.
Brute Force's campaign mode revolves around the formation of the group and reveals how the four unlikely mercs grow into a finely tuned killing machine. The story will unfold on six different worlds, each with its own unique set of missions. CG sequences will play between the missions to move the story along and set the general tone of a level. Every mission will begin with a briefing on what your objectives will be and a brief fly-through of the area you'll be tromping through. Your missions will include standard item collection, infiltration, and demolition, with some assassination thrown in to keep things lively. The game's story progression does an excellent job of ramping up the game difficulty and easing you into the task of coordinating your squad. You'll start the first mission in control of Tex, the team's resident berserker, and you'll gain one squad member during each of the next three missions.
As mentioned, each character will possess unique abilities. Tex is able to disarm bombs, which you can then add to your inventory, and he can also use two weapons simultaneously for short periods. Flint is able to automatically lock on to any nearby targets with her trusty rifle. Hawk can become invisible, à la Predator, and scout around. Finally, Brutus is able to channel spiritual energy to let him see much more clearly in poor visibility conditions than his human associates, perform deadly attacks on foes, and regenerate his health. These special abilities will be tied to individual energy bars that will slowly charge up when you're not using the abilities. The early missions do an excellent job of spotlighting each of the characters and their unique abilities. One cool aspect of the abilities is that you can mix and match them in a fight. For example, when in a misty area, we used Brutus' enhanced sight to clue us in to the general location of the enemies and then switched to Flint's auto-targeting ability in order to take out our foes before they even knew what hit them.
The deliberate, gradual addition of characters to your team does a fine job of easing you into the mechanics of managing your squad. Although the interface for commanding the quartet is well designed and easy to pick up, mastering it will take you some time. You'll be able to issue four commands to your crew--stand ground, fire at will, cover me, and move to--that will offer you quite a few options in battle. You'll be able to issue the commands to individual members or to the whole crew on the fly, which lends itself to some creative uses once you become comfortable with each member's strengths. For example, you could position Flint up on a ridge overlooking an area you're about to explore. With her superior targeting ability she can pick off enemies who pop up during a fight. You can also take that strategy a step further and position the remaining members a ways behind you on the ground before entering an area. Once you encounter enemies, ranged attacks from Flint and your ground troops should spell quick death for anything nearby. The variety of ways to use the team to bring death gives Brute Force quite a bit of depth.
Once you've gotten a solid handle on how to best use your squad, you can apply your skills to the multiplayer modes, which include campaign and deathmatch. While you can play through the campaign mode cooperatively, its mission-based nature doesn't lend itself well to one-on-one combat. The game's traditional deathmatch mode comes in two flavors: deathmatch and squad deathmatch. Deathmatch offers the requisite assortment of configurable deathmatch options for up to eight players and a selection of dedicated maps to run around in. Squad deathmatch offers the same basic assortment of options but adds some extras. You'll find 20 or so selectable characters that you can choose to play as in multiplayer mode once you've collected the canisters containing their DNA in the single-player campaign mode. Aside from the standard split-screen multiplayer support, you'll also be able to play with friends via system link. You can have friends join in and leave a game on the same Xbox on the fly, which is a very cool feature that keeps battles from bogging down when players leave or want to join.
From what we've seen so far, Brute Force is certainly proving to be a solid game that Xbox owners fiending for some action will want to check out. The graphics are good, the controls are accessible, and there's a nice amount of depth to be discovered once you master leading your squad. Brute Force is currently slated to ship late this May.