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That's not to say Brute Force is a brute failure. It just falls short of the acclaim that Digital Anvil and Microsoft had stated. They bolstered that Brute Force would be the next best thing to Halo, or as some publications claimed, The Halo-killer.? But with all these references to Halo, the question I asked while playing is, if I'm looking for a Halo-like experience, why am I not playing Halo instead?? The truth is, aside from a few similarities, the experiences of both games differ vastly.
Let's begin with the story. In the year 2340, wars are still waged in the name of power and peace. The Confederation of Allied Worlds barely has unity amongst the planets in the galaxy, much less in their own political structures. Corruption begins in the high ranks of politicians, disbursing the plaque amongst their own allies. This venality must be stopped, and that's where the Brute Force squad comes in. Clones of their original counterpart, a team of four soldiers fights side by side to unveil the truth. Like how it sounds? Well that's as simple and intense as it gets, folks, because only those with enough patience and tolerance will understand the story as it unfolds. Fortunately, ninety-nine percent of Brute Force players will not be playing this game for an engaging Final Fantasy-like epic, but to get down and dirty with the action. To that one percent that's left, I sympathetically apologize in advance.
Brute Force is an action strategy squad-based shooter. The squad of soldiers that the player gets to control is well conceived. Instead of grouping together four characters that have the same attributes and abilities like most other squad-based game, there is an equal balance of skills. The team consists of half males and half females, the first half being the aggressive tactics soldiers, and the latter half being the stealthier tactical soldiers. Tex, a human male, and Brutus, a lizard,like creature, will engage in battle with guns blazing, while Hawk, a human female, will sneak up to her opponents with stealth as Hawk, a cyborg female, eliminates her targets from a distance with incredible sniper ability. These unique character skills are further enhanced with special abilities. Tex has a Berserker ability, which lets him wield both of his weapons simultaneously. Brutus has the Spirit of Vengar, which allows him to regenerate health, have a powerful charging attack, as well as increased sight to discover hidden enemies. Hawk has the ability of stealth, which allows her to cloak herself, while sneaking up to her victims and crippling them with her powerblade. Flint has the ability to incapacitate the opposition with headshots using auto-aiming.
The Brute Force squad must successfully complete eighteen missions to unravel the mystery. After playing through a good portion of the game, it became obvious that missions would fall into four simple categories: destroy, recover, protect, and eliminate. Destroying involves eradicating a physical landmark or a significant component. Recovering involves retrieving a briefcase before the opposition does. Protecting, one of the more tedious chores, is to defend a critical figure as he reaches his destination. Elimination is simply assassinating one, if not all, of the adversaries. The first few missions introduced are more of a slow training session, and the intensity doesn't kick in until the entire squad is assembled. A typical mission issues one or two objectives, and money is rewarded with each successful completion. Before I get little boys jumping up and down, believing they're going to buy Flint a new bikini outfit at the Brute Force shop, let me shatter that wet dream. This money is for the sole use of purchasing the revival of a squad member after they die in the heat of the battle.
The first contrast between Brute Force and Halo is their perspectives. Unlike Halo's first person view, Brute Force utilizes a third-person perspective. Interestingly, there is a subtle transition where the viewpoint and the dual joystick control configuration seemingly don't work together as efficiently. The right joystick is used to look around, which reacts instantaneously when used in a first-person shooter, but in a third-person shooter, the control and response feels a bit more slow or detached.
The rest of the control scheme is reminiscent of that of Halo's. Movement is directed via the dual-joystick configuration. Weapon and item selection is controlled with the face buttons, while the trigger buttons controls utilizing them. The press of the white button can activate each character's special ability. Players can switch characters and give them commands in real-time using the direction pad. One flaw that I noticed was that unlike Halo, Brute Force's controls sorely lack a melee button, save Hawk's powerblade attack. This limits the player to using guns and grenades.
One other thing that bears mention is that each character can only hold a maximum of two weapons. It was proven in Halo that this limit is not a problem, but it became more of strategic decision the player had to make as to which weapon to carry. Yet, Brute Force furthers that restriction by limiting the variety of weapons. This occurs frequently during gameplay where your character stands over a weapon to pick it up, but a message appears telling the player that this specific character cannot pick up that particular arsenal. While it is reasonable to say that Flint should pick up the sniper rifle since she's the most proficient marksman with it, it shouldn't refrain another character like Tex from utilizing it. The character should be able to use the weapon, but perhaps be penalized for it by decreasing his accuracy and efficiency with the weapon.
The two previously mentioned flaws became alarmingly apparent as they combined together in one of my run-throughs of the first volcano level on the planet Osiris. In this scenario, the squad must protect a turncoat alien, while also destroying power pylons that fuel their transporters. Out to murder the trader, the aliens bombard the squad at every corner. I was controlling Tex, and with my heavy artillery, I was mowing down the enemy, but running of ammo quick. The only locations to replenish ammo were these tents-like structures that has weapons that magically appear. But a good lot of the weapons were unusable by Tex. So it wasn't long until I found myself running around without ammo, and no melee command to attack or defend with. I switched over to my other squad members, but their weaponry wasn't strong enough to knock out the power pylons, as I watch Tex and the turncoat run around aimlessly, being pumped full of bullet holes.
My gung-ho approach is a perfect example of how Brute Force takes advantage of each character's attributes. Sure, it's easier to run through the levels blasting everything that moves, but that tactic will soon prove to cause more difficulty, suck as quickly running out of ammo or taking more damage. The proper technique in the aforementioned mission is to use the newly introduced member, Flint. With her camouflage ability, she can sneak up and dispatch her enemies silently. This is where using the old noggin actually helps.
In actuality, although it is emphasized that each mission should be approached as a team, most of the game can be tackled by using just one character. The AI handles the other squad members efficiently as to not get in the line of fire, or reveal their position. The most common command that will be given during the game will be for them to hold their ground, while the player advances. It detracts from the fun and effectiveness of having a squad, but focusing on each character's special ability really shifts the focus away from team work? Whether it's charging in with Brutus and then holding back for a while to replenish health, or using Flint's stealth ability from start to finish, or even using Hawk to hang back and snipe all the enemies, an entire level can be fought and won with just one character. So much for teamwork, eh?
The graphics are a mixed bag. While character animation is done well with fluid motions, and the CG movie are nothing less than what you expect from an Xbox game, the environments are not as stellar as the rumors may have claimed. In fact, I thought the levels' color palette were washed-out and dull, and there were few instances where I stopped to uh? and ah.? The paths that the squad must travel are quite linear, usually from point A to point B. The environments vary between six worlds during the eighteen missions, and after a while, the atmosphere and the characters start to look all the same. The enemies of a particular clan will mostly look alike as well as act alike, while the leader of the clan will stand out with a different skin color or perhaps a pretty hat. Even the main characters, Flint and Hawk, are just color shades apart from looking like twins.
The sounds of Brute Force deserve little mention. With excellent voiceovers from novice actors in Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, the voiceovers in Brute Force will not be winning any awards. And with such a phenomenal orchestral soundtrack in games such as Halo, the ambient silence that fills the air in Brute Force just doesn't cut it. So unless you're a big fan of hearing guns blazing and grenades blowing up, you could probably get away with putting the game on mute, and making your own sound effects of Rat-tat-tat-tat? and Boom,? and be convincingly happy.
The saving grace of Brute Force is its multiplayer capabilities, and even then I wouldn't get my hopes up. Digital Anvil decided to further emphasize the idea of teamwork by allowing up to three friends to join in on the campaign story at any time. This allows the player to give strategic commands to the team members sitting right next to you, rather than barking your commands at the AI. For an even more thrilling experience, if you live in a luxurious home with four televisions and four Xbox's, each player can man their own television with all the comfort of their own screen. There is the occasional lag so beware. This option for cooperative play can be judged in two different ways: either this will pump more adrenaline into the game due to this being a unique experience, or you're just bringing more friends to join in asking, Why isn't this game fun?? and therefore kicking you off the proverbial island for bad taste in videogames.
What about competitive multiplayer one might ask? Well, with the dozens of multiplayer shooters that are available on the market, Brute Force doesn't meet current standards. First of all, Brute Force is Xbox Live compatible. I popped in the Brute Force build that I received, and the option for Xbox Live competitive multiplayer was available. So I signed on, and looked for a game. No games available.? So I created a game, and waited. And waited. More waiting. I bet the folks at Digital Anvil are laughing their way home with the image of a sad game reviewer with an the last reminiscence of the Xbox Live multiplayer compatibility, staring at his television in great anticipation. Let me make this abundantly clear. Brute Force is Live compatible only for downloadable content, and NOT online multiplayer. I repeat NO online multiplayer. The best consolation to this is to have up to eight players on System Link connections. Yippee, A feature almost no one will use. Because the game's perspective is in third-person view, split screen is hard on the eyes, especially when four players are crammed into one television.
Another disappointment to add, Brute Force only has Deathmatch and Squad Deathmatch available. Squad Deathmatches allow competitors to pit their entire squads against each other, which is a genuine gem in this game. But while the Squad Deathmatch is fun, and regular Deathmatch on the par level, there simply is no excuse for skimping out on the other great multiplayer modes, like King of the Hill. A game of Capture the Flag would have been overwhelmingly appropriate, where team members could strategically use their characters to defend their flag or ambush the opponent. There isn't even the option to put in computer-controlled bots. While there is no available downloadable content at the moment, hopefully there will be content that fixes this inequity. With a great line of shooters already available on Xbox, the lack of multiplayer modes and options simply does not live up to today's current standards.
If expectations started off at ground level, Brute Force might have been a pleasant surprise. But when Microsoft has been bragging about this game since Xbox was released, anticipating a quality game should be reasonable. Under the close scrutiny of comparing it to Halo, there is no way this David could have brought down Goliath. That's just asking for a good whuppin'. Digital Anvil definitely has the roots to create a great series, but by then it'll have Halo 2 to compete with. So if you're sick of playing Halo, or happen to be one of those poor saps that haven't experienced the wonder that is Halo, I would highly suggest renting Brute Force before adding it to your library. For now, I'll sit here waiting for another game reviewer to fall into Digital Anvil's tease, and who knows, maybe we could really get a Xbox Live game going.
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