Brute Force is the game Micorsoft touted early on as the next big game after Halo. It was originally scheduled to come out in Spring of 2002, but this game saw delay after delay and was finally brought out after E3 this year. Digital Anvil produced a very good game earlier this year in Freelancer on the computer, but could they duplicate that feat with Brute Force? Both games were delayed well beyond the original timetable and had talent leave the project. In the case of Freelancer the final game did not turn out to be totally like the concept Chris Roberts (who was ousted before the game came out) had long ago, but it still ended up being a pretty good game. Does Brute Force follow the same path?

This is a hard section as Brute Force has some very good and very bad things going for it. I’ll start with the good. The characters move and look very good. It is obvious they got good treatment over the constant delays. The vision distance is quite good as well, especially when you are in a wide-open section. The enemies, although generic and repeating, look good and have good movement. It is obvious that Digital Anvil gave the characters a good deal of work. The environments also look good, although this is where the bad starts.

There aren’t a whole lot of environment effects, something both Microsoft and Digital Anvil had touted about this game. The reason for the lack of environmental effects is probably because of the slowdown that can be readily apparent when there are multiple enemies on the screen. I played a bit of split-screen 2 player and noticed that the slowdown can be even more apparent in that. The other problem is that the environments in themselves are too static with barely anything dynamic happening. They look beautiful, but there’s nothing moving on them other than you and the enemies.

I’m still not sure why with the obvious relation to Halo in controls that they didn’t make this a first-person shooter. It’s just begging to get that treatment and the slowdown may have been somewhat rectified had they gone down that road. Of course, the reverse argument is that the game would be too much like Halo then. Overall the graphics are good, it’s just that Digital Anvil and Microsoft promised so much and delivered so little.

This is a great game for someone with a Dolby Digital 5.1 system on the sound side. The music side doesn’t hold up very well though. Once you have all the characters and they are backing you up you can really hear great sounds. It’s almost a doppler-like effect where you will hear them talking and shooting behind you. The action can get pretty intense and in those instances the game sounds right up there with the game it is trying to emulate, Halo.

Where it doesn’t emulate Halo so well is in the music department. If anything, this game is seriously lacking background music while you are playing. I honestly don’t remember hearing any music during actual gameplay, just ambient sounds. I understand this is a straight “blow everything up” game, but in many ways so was Halo and that had superb music.

The control takes a bit to get used to. Ironically enough the controls are based on the Halo ones (R trigger is shoot, L trigger is throw, left analog is movement, right analog is aiming, etc.). The bad part is that the controls don’t seem as tight as the game it is trying to emulate. I found myself doing badly in the aiming department and I’ve just recently played Halo. The controls seem a bit more loose than Halo and it takes a while to get used to being in a 3rd person view vs. a first-person one. There are cool things with the white and black button though. Each of the 4 playable characters have a special ability (Tex/Beserker, Hawk/Stealth, Brutus/Spirit of Vengar and Flint/Advanced Targeting) that can be summoned by hitting the white button. Their stamina bar goes down as they are using it, so you have to hit white again to go back to normal mode. The black button is used as an instant medkit use.

I just sit in wonderment about how much better the control could be if it was from the same perspective Halo was.

Brute Force starts out with the first character, Tex, who is being genetically cloned for the 9th time. He has been cloned to lead a squad called Brute Force and go through several missions with the squad. Thing is you don’t start with the squad and have to find them. The cutscenes are rather good and the voice work is hilarious. When I say hilarious, Tex’s voice actor is having lots of fun saying the lines. Tex has died so many times that it is obvious he is pessimistic about things…heh. During the missions you pick up 3 other characters: Brutus (a lizard-man), Hawk (a girl who can cloak) and Flint (a sniper).

Brute Force is a straight ahead game that is at its best when played in spurts and not a straight playthrough. This game was touted as a tactical, team-based game. In some ways it is, but in many ways it is not. Where it works is that you have 4 characters that you can control, give orders to and other things. It’s cool to switch between the characters yourself to use their strengths to your advantage. The problem is if you are playing alone you can tell the other characters what to do (you hold down the D-pad in the direction of the character and hit one of the 4 buttons…X=move to, Y=stand ground, B=fire at will and A=cover me), but chances are they end up not doing it…d’oh! Sure, they’ll cover you, but the move to command can be summarily denied by your comrades. The fix for this problem is having 3 friends that can control each character in split-screen. Problem is I have no friends that live around me that play videogames. Yes, you can play through the whole 18 mission campaign with 4 players in split-screen. That’s great, but they should have honed the computer controlled players when you play mostly alone.

This game is fun in spurts, but if you play it for an elongated time you will get bored in the single player experience. The map is great and all, but why not have some sense of topography in that map. Yeah, there’s that yellow dot that I have to get to for the next nav point, but where the hell is it? Above me? Below me? I won’t know until I get there because there is no vertical depth in the map. Same problem with the enemies. They show up as red dots, but are they on the same plane as you or not? I can just imagine how much more fun this game would be if there was some sort of topography in the map.

Another problem is that this game is repetitive. There is not a vast number of enemies in the game and many of the environments seem the same. Granted, you can say the same thing about Halo, but that game kept me glued to my television whereas this game was making me wish I was playing something else. Basically think of this game as GunValkyrie minus the insane difficulty and Halo controls added in.

This game screams for Xbox Live play, but it doesn’t have it. What it does have for multiplayer is cooperative campaign for 4 people and deathmatch via system link for up to 8 people. Problem is if you’re someone like me you don’t have friends that play videogames around you. Xbox Live would fix this problem right up. I’m sure had Digital Anvil and Microsoft known that this game was going to be delayed so much they would have started with Xbox Live integration when the game first started development (ala Halo 2 for example).

With being relegated to the single player experience I can only take this game in spurts and not give it a semi-marathon session like I would with other games. This game is far too repetitive and it just makes me wonder how it would have been had it gone first-person. Much like Freelancer, it seems the concept was far above the final product. Freelancer had arguably more value to it though, plus it was an exciting game in my opinion.

What this game does have is action and lots of it. Blood spurting everywhere and a general exciting atmosphere. If only it didn’t seem so repetitive.

We all waited a long time for this game. Many hyped it up as the next Halo, but that does a disservice to both games. Although it shares controls and overall feel (shooter), the games could not be more different. Halo is a technical and design marvel, Brute Force is a marvel in how long it took to come out. Had some fixes been implemented (Live play, topography on map, move to first-person, etc.) this game could have been great. With all the delays such things should have been implemented. However Microsoft advertised the hell out of this game and it sold quite well until Knights of the Old Republic came and destroyed its sales record for Xbox. Chances are we will see a sequel and I can only hope the conceptualization does not outdo the finished product.

Play this game in spurts or with friends cooperatively and you will probably like this game. Play it for long periods and/or alone and it will not be as exciting. A game that screams for Live support (outside of the upcoming content downloads) is left empty in that regard. This game could have been so much more, instead it is a good, but not great, game.