E3 2002Brute Force impressions

Digital Anvil's squad-based shooter for the Xbox is playable out on the show floor.

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We stopped by Microsoft's booth to check out Brute Force, the squad-based shooter currently in development at Digital Anvil. At its core, Brute Force is similar to other squad-based shooters in that you can assign different orders to teammates, but Brute Force is unique in that the characters on the team are much more specialized--not to mention that one of the team members is a giant lizard. Hawk appears to be the leader of the group and appears to be average in terms of the types of weapons she can use. Tex (the only human male in the group) and Brutus (the aforementioned giant lizard) are the heavy hitters of the group because they are able to use much more powerful weapons. Flint is the sniper of the group, so she can't really engage enemies in a close-range battle, but she's invaluable when she can find a good sniping position.

The E3 demo begins with the Brute Force team on a hostile landscape complete with large shards of crystal and searing lava flows. Brutus mutters a few words as his eyes radiate an eerie red glow. Tex tells other members of the team that they need to stay together in order to survive this particular mission. Indeed, if you don't keep your team together, they will be killed off, one by one.

You can either start the mission or use the lull in the action to test some of the options in the game. One thing you'll definitely want to try is the special abilities for each character, because they make each member of the team serve a special function. Hawk can cloak herself and roam around the landscape undetected by enemies, and you'll actually have to use this skill at the beginning of the mission because you'll be asked to scout out a particular section of the environment before the rest of the team moves forward. Tex's special ability enables him to wield two weapons at once, and needless to say, when one of those weapons is a chaingun and the other is a shotgun, the amount of damage Tex can deal is staggering. Unsurprisingly, Flint's special skill is called advanced aiming, and it basically gives her an auto-aim function, making her even more accurate than before. Brutus' ability is called the spirit of Vengar, and it basically taps into his feral nature. A meter located just underneath each character's health will drain as long as you have a special skill turned on, so it doesn't last forever, but you can recharge it by simply turning the skill off.

At any point in the game, you can switch in between characters with a press of the button, but there may be moments when you want to just give orders. The bottom left side of the screen shows a menu with a small character portrait and direction corresponding to each team member. If you want to give Tex orders, then you press up on the directional pad, or if you want to give Flint orders, you can press right on the directional pad. You can tell other team members to guard you, move to a specific point in the level, engage specific enemies, or follow you.

Control in Brute Force is handled just as it is in about every single other console shooter. The left analog stick provides movement, while the right analog stick controls aim. It works well for the most part, although you will notice that the camera takes a weird over-the-shoulder-like perspective when you engage in firefights. In addition, it can sometimes make it difficult to see where enemy fire is coming from as well as which direction you should run in order to avoid it.

In any case, when you familiarize yourself with the controls, you can move the team down toward an open area where there's a small island encircled almost entirely by lava. You'll receive some orders to scout a particular part of that island. Naturally, you should pick Hawk for the job because of her cloaking skill. After a minute or so, an odd alienlike wizard conjures up three or four lava monsters to send in the team's direction.

At this point, you can run forward as any member of the team (preferably Tex, Brutus, or Hawk) and engage these enemies. The action in Brute Force is pretty frantic because of the sheer amount of firepower that the team has, especially when Tex goes into his berserk mode. The enemy AI doesn't look quite on par with Halo, but there were some impressive moments. In one small firefight, Tex was engaging one of the wizards, and surprisingly, the wizard would duck in and out from behind a rock to take shots at Tex or avoid his fire. But work still needs to be done, as some enemies would stand totally still even when standing directly behind them.

The team element in Brute Force is very important. The first time we played through the E3 demo mission, the group was separated, and each one died within a few minutes. But keeping the team together made the mission much easier because enemies weren't able to focus their attacks on an individual.

The graphics in Brute Force are pretty impressive, and all of the character models have plenty of detail, especially Brutus with his glowing eyes and scaly skin. The one environment in the E3 demo was pretty basic, though there were some cool particle effects in the form of lava embers that would float through the air. However, the frame rate started to stutter quite a bit when all four team members were on the screen at once along with a few enemies, but the build is still relatively early.

We'll have more on Brute Force before its Q4 2002 release.

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