Brute Force Review
Brute Force is a well-done game, filled with challenging opponents and plenty of targets to shoot at, but it also doesn't fulfill its potential.
Comparisons between Brute Force and the Xbox's undisputed king, Halo, are unavoidable. But to suggest that Brute Force is in the same league as Halo would be to give Digital Anvil's new third-person squad-based sci-fi shooter too much credit, or Bungie's extraordinarily good first-person shooter not enough. Brute Force borrows liberally from Halo, and it's for the Xbox, and those are really the only reasons the two games should be mentioned in the same sentence. On its own merits, Brute Force is a well-done game, filled with dangerous opponents and plenty of targets to shoot at, but it also doesn't fulfill its potential. The game's notable lack of Xbox Live support (except for downloading additional, as-yet-unspecified content) flies in the face of its emphasis on its cooperative and competitive multiplayer features, and though the action in Brute Force is solid, the single-player campaign is largely forgettable. These may sound like serious problems, but actually they don't prevent Brute Force from being an enjoyable and challenging shooter.
The title "Brute Force" refers to the name of the four-character squad you'll be controlling throughout the campaign, at least once you assemble the squad over the first few missions. Tex, the leader, is the token beefy action hero, capable of wielding two high-powered weapons simultaneously. Hawk is a limber red-haired woman whose specialty is stealth--she can use a cloaking field to sneak up on foes and then dispatch them with a deadly energy blade. Brutus is an alien creature, basically a lizardman, who's fast and powerful and can also regenerate his health. And Flint, though you wouldn't know it from looking at her, is a cyborg whose mechanical arms make her a perfectly steady shot with a sniper rifle--she can even auto-target foes from long range. Together, this ragtag bunch must sweep through a campaign consisting of nearly 20 different missions, some of which are split up into several chapters. Yet though the four characters will battle alongside one another through thick and thin, they're one-dimensional, and the game's plot is very thin. This adds to the sense that the characters and the setting of Brute Force are pretty generic sci-fi fodder.
More importantly, the game's missions aren't especially memorable. They're mostly just a series of linear battles, where you'll race your squad from one end to the other, killing anything that stands in your way. You'll have some basic objectives, such as disabling certain structures, collecting a particular artifact, or eliminating a certain target, but these are simple and sometimes feel like thinly veiled key hunts. Brute Force's missions lack surprise or suspense. You'll go in knowing you're in for a fight, you'll get one, and then you'll be finished. The fact that many of the missions take place in only six types of environments--typical places like a desert, a swamp, a fiery planet, and a creepy alien lair--doesn't help matters, either. Despite the nicely produced between-mission CG cutscenes, which show the Brute Force squad getting briefed by their commanding officer, you'll eventually get the feeling that the game's missions are just there to throw you into numerous shootouts.
And since the action in Brute Force is pretty great, that's OK. The whole four-man squad thing makes Brute Force sound like it's a tactical shooter, but it really isn't. You can get through the whole campaign without issuing any orders to your teammates, who will faithfully follow you, shoot with you, and try to stay out of harm's way unless you tell them otherwise. It's true that you can issue a few basic commands to your team, but you're never encouraged to do so, and you never have to, either. You can switch between controlling any of the squad members at any time using the directional pad. The squad isn't perfectly balanced, as Hawk is certainly the least useful of the bunch, but you'll often want to spearhead an assault as Brutus or hang back and snipe away at enemy reinforcements as Flint. The characters aren't drastically different from one another, but their special abilities are distinctive, and the game's controls work very well.
The high quality of Brute Force's action is largely due to the enemy AI and some fairly convincing physics. You'll soon notice that enemies use cover to their advantage, dive out of the way of grenades, and attack in groups. Even though there aren't many types of enemies in the game, the AI is good enough that you'll likely find the nonstop firefights consistently entertaining. Rag-doll physics, an increasingly popular technology in games, is used to good effect for some realistic and varied death animations, as your foes will crumple to the ground or be sent flying through the air, depending on which sort of weapon you used to do them in. The game handles character death pretty well, by explaining that the members of Brute Force can be cloned and then given back their old memories. As long as you can get through a mission with at least one of the four characters intact, you'll get your whole squad back for the next scenario. It can be lonely having to finish a mission with just Brutus left (he tends to outlive the others), but at the same time, having to go at it alone through the last leg of a mission can make it that much more intense.