Wot I Think: Broforce
We've written about the brilliance at the muscular heart of Broforce [official site] before. It's a run and gun platform-shooter in which tiny action heroes blow everything to pieces, using machine guns, dynamite, knives, shotguns, rocket launchers, rocket legs, rocket packs, grenades, airstrikes and flamethrowers. The fully destructible levels and agile player characters are the core of a perfectly pitched action game, hiding behind a title and theme that might suggest little more than a miserable pile of memes.
Broforce is excellent.
Now that it's out of Early Access and the full experience is available, I've sunk a couple of days into Free Lives' exercise in excess to pick through the monstrous bosses and alien invasions of the later levels, and I'm delighted that the game manages to maintain its glorious momentum right up to the final moments. Multiplayer cooperative and versus modes, as well as a level designer, are the icing on a delicious singleplayer cake.
Playing through the campaign, I had to keep reminding myself that the levels were absolutely definitely going to become puzzle-like as the difficulty increased. Instead of improvising success using whatever tools happened to be at hand and reacting to the delirium of destruction as it unfolded around me, I'd soon find areas that had rigid solutions. Fire rocket here to open up passage, direct all enemies to this killing floor, keep your arms inside the vehicle at all times.
That never happens. Sure, a couple of the boss fights demand a fairly specific approach but for the vast majority of its running time, the hefty campaign plays directly to the game's many strengths. I can't stress enough how wonderfully dynamic and destructible the levels are. It's not just a case of grenades taking out blocks of terrain – there are different materials that react to bullets, explosions, fire and acid appropriately. Set fire to a bridge and it might collapse when too much pressure is applied; running across it is fine but if a corpse falls from above, the whole thing falls to pieces.
Nothing that happens relies on scripting. Hell, even the few in-engine cutscenes that introduce new enemy types or bosses happen in realtime, simply panning the camera away from your character momentarily to show that something is happening. The first time I met one of the alien lifeforms - a bundle of trundling explosive joy – the dramatic introduction ended abruptly when an unexpected terrorist shot the poor critter before it could demonstrate its powers.
That unpredictability is a central feature of the game and is evident in one of the key design choices that elevates Broforce from “Very Good” to “Spectacular”. As you make your way through the game, there are prisoners to rescue – do so and you're rewarded with an extra life for use on the current level. First of all, that makes the beginning of a level as tense as a pigeon among the cats. Die before reaching the first cage and it's game over. There's no real consequence to failure – you head back to the most recent checkpoint – but I take a certain pride in completing levels without losing all of my Bros.
If prisoners simply functioned as extra lives, they wouldn't be all that interesting. Each one is a random character, selected from all the ones you've unlocked to date. New characters are unlocked by rescuing a certain number of Bros across all of your playthroughs, with the gap between unlocks increasing each time, and you'll start each mission with a random pick from the pool, and switch to another whenever you free a prisoner.
Problem is, many of the Bros have their own unique playstyle. All have a standard attack, a melee attack and a special weapon. They broadly divide into two categories – those whose standard attack is ranged and those who have a second melee attack in that slot. Characters like Indiana Brones can only fire projectiles by using an expendable piece of special ammo (it's the bullet that he uses to fire through a line of Nazis on top of the tank in The Last Crusade; all of the special powers are either broad or specific references). His whip has been beefed up since the last Early Access build of the game I played and it now causes even the largest enemies to wince in pain and run for cover. Even the simplest weapons tend to have fun, silly consequences like that, and all of those consequences can lead to chain reactions – whip a terrorist and watch as he flees into a minefield and then applaud as the ensuing explosion causes a watchtower to topple, crushing an alien queen.
(A quick word on the aliens: they're not introduced immediately but when they arrive, they lead to three-way battles, completely new tactical approaches and have the BEST implementation of acid blood that I've ever seen in a game. It eats away at the ground in such a satisfying way and reduces your Bros to little gloopy skeletons that, marvellously, you can still control for a second or two.)
The randomised player characters prevent the kind of prescribed 'one-trick-required' level design that I fretted about and ensure that Broforce stays true to its original premise – constant, unpredictable action taking place across levels that react to every bullet and explosion. There are entire boss fights that seem to have been designed simply because the developers wanted to see how the player would react to the collapse and disintegration of an entire level, from top to bottom. There are 30+ characters and some of them, like Planet Terror's Cherry Broling, practically change the entire control scheme.
Broforce rarely puts a foot wrong and when it does, it manages to make the ensuing pratfall entertaining enough that I want to buy it a beer. I didn't find the theme particularly amusing but it does deliver a brilliant cast of characters and the very brief briefings wisely poke fun at the bullshit machismo of the Bros themselves rather than making specific jokes about the wars they're caught up in. Other than some daft place names, you could be anywhere in the world and there's a pleasing lack of the comedy accents and racial stereotypes that are often inserted into spoofs.
Remember when you played Wolfenstein 3D and imagined what first-person games might look like twenty years down the line? Broforce is like that, but for everyone who played Metal Slug or any other side-scrolling shooter. It's what Worms would look like if it had ever been successfully translated into a realtime singleplayer experience.
There's so much happening from moment to moment, so many systems at play, that when a stray explosion destroys the struts that are keeping a ceiling in place and the whole thing crashes down on an enemy squad, or a furious mechanised death machine stomps the ground so hard that it digs itself into a sinkhole, you barely even notice. Forget your Just Causes, your Uncharteds, your Battlfields and your Call of Duties – Broforce comes closer to capturing the beautiful chaos and heroic misadventures of a big budget action movie than any of them.
Broforce is out now.