Brute Force

Brute Force

Che Chou

The verdict is in: Brute Force, which once graced the cover of Xbox Nation (issue #6) and lands on Xbox this summer with the bombast of a mindless blockbuster, is good solid fun—but given the hype, it’s also painfully underwhelming. Never mind Microsoft’s deliberate attempt to have Brute Force ride the coattails of Bungie’s trump card by packing in a Halo companion DVD; the Halo comparisons, which seemed relatively apt at the preview stage late last year, seem silly and overly optimistic in retrospect. Brute Force is nothing like Halo. In fact, it’s the un-Halo.

The easiest way to sum up Brute Force, Microsoft’s long-awaited, third-person, sci-fi shooter that takes squad-based tactics as its twist and focus, is to say that it’s heavy on technology and light on design. This evaluation is evident in every aspect of the game, ranging from its by-the-numbers character concepts and invisible plot to its ho-hum environments and unoriginal weapons.

The story centers on four intergalactic supersoldiers charged with nothing less than saving the universe from an imminent alien invasion. But the game’s disjointed structure does very little to make you care about its narrative. While the first four mis- sions tickle players’ fancies with some impressive intro CG movies, every mission (a total of 18) thereafter begins with a dull mission-briefing sequence dripping with laughably bad dialogue.

To make matters worse, Brute Force features some of the most flaccid enemy designs seen in a long while. One level throws players headlong into a flesh-eating mutant colony where, at the level’s climax, they face a “super mutant” whose only discerning feature is green (instead of beige) skin and can absorb more damage than its counterparts. Several other stages pit you against human bosses who possess no ability other than that they, too, can take more bullets than their henchman. The game’s lack of overall inspiration extends beyond bland characters. The entire experience takes place over five main environments repeated about four times each. While initially there are plenty of graphical niceties to admire, the awe factor diminishes with repeated visits.

What it basically boils down to is total player apathy for Brute Force’s story, characters, and overall game structure. Luckily, however, the game rides mostly on its excellent controls and challenging enemy A.I., and action fans will find there’s plenty of satisfaction to be had when a plan comes together. The firefights are intense. The game’s physics system ensures no two enemies are dispatched the same way. Throw a grenade over cover and watch as unlucky foes take to the skies with arms and legs flailing. Enemies also take cover, attack in groups, and ambush unsuspecting players with surprising tenacity. But the main gameplay appeal—coordinated attacks with your group of four squad members—never truly sells itself. Tactical opportunities come only as often as the level designs allow, and unfortunately, much of the game forces players down a linear path of attrition. As such, teammates often feel like extra lives—handy to have around, but ultimately unimportant to the overall goal of each mission.

Still, as far as dumb action gaming goes, Brute Force is a lot of fun, thanks mostly to its satisfying controls. It’s just too bad the game is riddled with unrealized potential—the most glaring being its lack of Xbox Live support. With a throwaway single-player campaign and short-sighted, options-starved versus modes (what, deathmatch only?), Brute Force is the perfect candidate for Xbox Live. As it is, the game has many excellent moments but never manages to reach a peak, leaving players asking themselves as the end credits roll, “Was that it?” If you can accept it for a thick summer blockbuster, Brute Force will prove to be a solid shooter, but one that will leave you gasping for originality.

Copyright © 2004 Ziff Davis Media Inc. All Rights Reserved. Originally appearing in Xbox Nation.