Brute Force Review

  • First Released May 27, 2003
  • XBOX

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.

Brute Force is the name of your squad of four: Tex the weapons expert, Hawk the stealth operative, Brutus the lizardman, and Flint the sniper.
Brute Force is the name of your squad of four: Tex the weapons expert, Hawk the stealth operative, Brutus the lizardman, and Flint the sniper.

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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.

Your friends can join in on the single-player campaign at any time.
Your friends can join in on the single-player campaign at any time.

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.

There's a large variety of weapons to choose from, or rather to get your hands on. Like Halo's Master Chief, a member of Brute Force can carry only two weapons at a time (though the characters can carry numerous grenades of different varieties), so you might need to toss a weapon away if you've depleted its ammo or you've found a weapon that's better suited to the situation. The weapons aren't terribly original, and some of them feel rather underpowered--many of them spit gobs of energy or plasma and emit an appropriately Star Trek-sounding "zap" of some sort. And the only melee weapon in the game belongs to Hawk.

Brute Force has a lot of missions and a lot of action, but it all blends together after a while.
Brute Force has a lot of missions and a lot of action, but it all blends together after a while.

Nevertheless, it's fun to be constantly on the lookout for different or better guns, while tactically switching between whichever weapons you happen to have on hand. There's an auto-aim feature here, as in most any console shooter, so aiming isn't difficult so long as you're pointed in the general vicinity of your foes. Grenades are particularly fun to use, because you always have lots on hand and they can be thrown far and accurately, and to deadly and spectacular effect. You'll need them, because attacks will come from all around and often in waves. There's a good balance of close-quarters and long-range firefights in the missions, so the shooting action in Brute Force is generally satisfying. Good thing, since it carries the game.

One of Brute Force's most touted features is its seamless integration of cooperative play into the campaign. Sure enough, up to three of your friends can plug in an Xbox controller, hit start, and assume control over one of the theretofore-AI-controlled squad members. As in Halo, cooperative Brute Force can be a lot of fun, and there are several challenging difficulty levels to keep you busy. However, the third-person perspective means each player will have little onscreen visibility when more than two are playing, and the game's frame rate can bog down noticeably in the split-screen mode (or even in the single-player mode, for that matter).

Brute Force also features deathmatch and team deathmatch multiplayer modes (and no other multiplayer variants besides those), but it's hard to get excited about split-screen deathmatch on the Xbox when you could instead be playing one of its great online multiplayer shooters such as the recent Return to Castle Wolfenstein or last year's Ghost Recon and Unreal Championship. You can't play deathmatch or team deathmatch against computer-controlled bots, either. The lack of online support in Brute Force obviously won't be an issue for every Xbox owner, but it definitely limits the game's appeal and undermines its ambitions. Brute Force does support system-link play, allowing you to daisy-chain up to eight Xbox-and-television combos together for network matches for up to eight players, but of course this isn't viable for most people.

The graphics in Brute Force, like most other aspects of the game, have some very good qualities and some noticeable shortcomings. The character models look good and are well animated for the most part, but the limited assortment of enemies and environments means much of Brute Force looks like, well, much of Brute Force. There's not much you can do to interact with the environments, and there aren't a whole lot of ambient visual effects. What few there are, such as sandstorms in the desertlike stages, just tend to hurt the game's frame rate, which is never quite smooth enough and just bogs down from there. Then again, the game's effective implementation of rag-doll physics and particle effects--for instance, a well-placed grenade will send a pack of foes flying head over heels amid an impressive blast--is always fun to watch. You can also see far into the horizon in the game's numerous wide-open stages, and will therefore find yourself looking for cover whenever you can. And even though they're linear, the game's levels manage to look natural.

The audio in Brute Force is great, mostly. Other than a few wimpy-sounding weapons and Brutus, who sounds like the evil Dr. Claw from the Inspector Gadget cartoon show, the game features solid voice acting for the main characters and some hard-hitting effects for the explosions, various types of firepower, and other battlefield sounds. There's also an appropriately futuristic-sounding, militant musical score that kicks in at key moments. Dolby Digital 5.1 support is put to good use here, since your squadmates will usually follow behind you, and attacks can come from all around. Some enemy shots go zooming by with a convincing Doppler effect, and the game's ambient sounds (particularly in the jungle setting) are also effective. Your characters repeat their lines a little too often in battle, but it's not a big deal.

Since the core action in Brute Force is solid, the game itself is usually fun.
Since the core action in Brute Force is solid, the game itself is usually fun.

Brute Force is certainly a good game overall, but it noticeably lacks polish in some areas. The occasional mission objective will be left unclear, so you'll sometimes find yourself stumbling around some desolate area, trying to figure out exactly where the yellow blip on your radar is telling you to go. There are other such problems that are more superficial. For example, Brutus can switch to a sort of infrared hunter's view, causing the environment to turn black-and-white while he and all enemies stand out in a bright orange. This is supposed to be Brutus' own unique perspective, but if you switch characters while he's in this mode, you'll still see Brutus as an orange blob. Also, your teammates will sometimes complain that they're under fire from hidden enemies, even when the foes are in plain sight. Things like this, the absence of online play, the underdeveloped (or at least unnecessary) tactical features, and the lack of variety in the missions and environments give the impression that Brute Force was hurriedly finished, despite being in development for a long time.

Anyway, the more types of things a game tries to do, the longer it takes to make and the more it opens itself up to criticism. In the end, Brute Force is not unlike Freelancer, Digital Anvil's earlier project, in that its protracted development and ambitious concept eventually boiled down to a simpler product than what was originally intended--but nevertheless a well-made one. So just don't go into Brute Force expecting to be blown away, and you'll probably have a good time blowing away everything else either by yourself or with a few friends.

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