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Hands on: Broforce (OS X, Windows)

updated 07:22 pm EDT, Sun July 6, 2014

Platform shooter Broforce parodies action film characters with style

Occasionally, game developers serve up what could be best described as a "one-note joke" game. A title which sounds good on paper, and for all intents and purposes appears to be a pretty good idea, but ends up being a mediocre release with generic gameplay mechanics, a title that is quickly derided once people realize how extremely shallow it is. While Broforce could certainly fall into the realm of the one-note joke, it manages to tell that joke exceptionally well.

The main plot of Broforce could easily fit into any generic Rambo-style action movie: a one-man army goes into a war-torn country to save prisoners, cause explosions, kill enemies, and defeat a besuited "devil" character, all before being carried away on a rope ladder attached to a helicopter with a background of explosions and a metal guitar soundtrack. The game's heavy use of American flags, the eagle motif, and other patriotic elements makes it feel like the gaming equivalent of Team America: World Police, albeit a more polite product with marginally less depth.

Gameplay is relatively simple and uncomplicated, with heavy echoes of Contra and Super Meat Boy. Players must make their way through the 2D pixelated level killing enemies and patrol dogs by shooting or stabbing them, reaching regular American flag checkpoints along the way. Barrels can be blown up with varying levels of intensity to kill others and to destroy part of the landscape, something also possible with the player's weaponry, and while it is possible the player will end up dead after standing too close to the barrel, it is the enemy force that is the most lethal. The destruction of the levels makes life easier for players to travel through, blowing up walls between them and enemies for rapid take-downs, and though it could lead to the creation of instant-death chasms, the player's "Bro" is able to claw their way back to the surface in the majority of cases by knifing the wall and jumping.

Guards are littered around the level, standing to attention and staying passive unless the player is nearby or in direct line of sight. The base soldier will shoot periodically in the direction they saw the player in, while the suicide guard will run towards the player character in an effort to blow them up using the bomb strapped to their chest. Larger brutish enemies wield Gatling guns that shower a larger hail of bullets in a similar way to the stock enemy, and guard dogs will chase after the player to bite at close range, though it will eat the corpse of a fallen soldier to become a more powerful threat.

The joke is continued by its cast of available characters the player can use to complete the goal, with parodies of famous action film characters armed with appropriate weapons and special moves. Players start with Rambro, a take on Sylvester Stalone's Rambo from the films of the same name, armed with a basic machine gun and a special move grenade, closely followed by Brommando (Commando) armed with a rocket launcher and a rocket salvo special. Other Bros picked up include B.A. Broracus (B.A. Baracas from the A Team) with a flame thrower, the sword-wielding Brade (Blade), the Brominator (The Terminator) equipped with a mini gun, and dozens more with varying abilities.

The roster of characters grows as in-game prisoners are released, with a new Bro being added to the collection at certain milestones. The prisoner collection also offers another mechanic: it provides the player with an extra life on top of the single one they start with, as well as switching them to another random Bro and their weaponry. This does offer the player a conundrum sometimes: do they stick with the Bro in Black (Agent J from Men in Black, toting the explosive Noisy Cricket) they currently have and forgo the extra life, or do they spin the roulette wheel and hope they don't end up with a character that is inappropriate for the situation they are in, like the gunless Bronan (Conan the Barbarian).

Periodically, a "Boss" enemy will appear with special weaponry, making the random-Bro mechanic a legitimate problem for players. One of the first such bosses is a helicopter that drops bombs as it flies around, as well as occasionally firing its minigun at players. For such a situation, a player may want a Bro with ranged weaponry instead of close-up abilities, with Mr Anderbro (Mr Anderson, or Neo from The Matrix) and his fast movement being all but useless with his punching ability. A player may want to quickly kill themselves before getting a potentially more useful Bro from the random selection, or quickly find another prisoner to release.

As a single player game, Broforce is a highly enjoyable diversion that has tight controls and a gradual increase in difficulty, creating times when those playing it will curse when they are so close to completing a level, only to end up dead thanks to an unexpected enemy bullet. Frustrations caused through having the wrong Bro are short, partly from the brief design of each level, but also from the short time between ending in failure and starting the level again with a new Bro and new weapons.

Aside from the arcade and map-based campaign modes for single player, the same modes can also be used for local four-player co-operative gaming, which opens up a wider collection of gameplay issues players will need to overcome. Mistakes such as blowing each other up may cause a brief mid-mission issue, a situation likely to occur with the number of bullets that can appear on screen at once, though again this is minor due to the brevity of levels and the quick return to the level start. Online gameplay, a deathmatch mode, and "Explosion Run" modes are also available.

It is worth pointing out that this is an "Early Access" game on Steam, something the developers stress on its sales page and within the game's menu system. Even though it's still being worked on, it shows a tremendous amount of effort and polish has been put into the game, Free Lives, the team behind the game, are consistently adding "Tactical Updates" to the game, with the most recent including "Broniversal Soldier" (Universal Soldier) who can resurrect dead foes and Bros to fight alongside him, "Time Bro" (Time Cop) with a time-slowing special move, and Bro re-balancing.

At $15 on Steam, Broforce is a thinly-veneered game, but it knows full well what it is, and doesn't pretend to be anything else. Underneath that thin comedy layer is actually a complex, well thought-out 2D platforming shooter that's also a fun diversion. Yes, it's a one-note joke game, but an exceptional one.

Who is Broforce for?
Fans of fast-paced shooters who want a large amount of variation between short bites of gameplay.

Who is Broforce not for?
The easily frustrated, people who can't see past the joke, and those expecting a War and Peace style of storyline.

by MacNN Staff



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