Team deathmatches kick arse. Fact. Six weeks holidays with my mates were spent trashing old bikes, fishing or deathmatching with eachother. Countless times my friends mum would shout up the stairs ‘if you lot don’t keep the noise down then your off outside’ and we’d replay with a cheeky ‘ok’ before hollerin’ ‘blast him dan, BLAST HIM!’ You name it, Goldeneye, Timesplitters, Quake, Red Faction and Halo, we’ve played them all.
What makes them so addictive is friends all have different abilities. Some, like my mate Dan love to rush in all guns blazing whilst I keep a distance and pick off the enemy with a sniper rifle. It’s what makes them so fun, whispering orders in Conflict Desert Storm like ‘cover that door’ or ‘you go round there, I’ll stay here’ and ‘blast the ****ers!’ to screaming ‘cover me!’ in Halo.
It’s all fun and games when playing with mates, but so damn annoying when you have to play with the computer. They either get in the way of you firing, shoot you, don’t lay down covering fire and often won’t stray more than 3 feet from you, making flanking moves impossible. Hidden and Dangerous on the Dreamcast redefined the genre of multiplayer shooters with issuing orders. You could control all the members of the team and position them on the battlefield as you blessed. Leaving orders such as ‘covering fire’ and ‘fire at will’ made the computer fulfil the actions as you ran in to complete the objective. Computer characters issued to cover you would follow if you strayed out of range, meaning you could be far more confident that they would back you up. Rainbow Six’s release on the PSOne should have given this benchmark title some hefty competition, but due to cumbersome AI in restricted spaces it flopped bigger than NTL Digital. After some time playing age-old Worms 2 on the PC to fulfil our co-op dreams, Commandos 2 arrived. Although one player and as hard as that bloke behind the counter at the arcade, we could control a team of four and issue many orders ranging much further than fire at will (who’s Will anyway? They always seem to fire at him!). far more leant towards tactical progress than blast away blood gushing glory, those looking for a good gun fest were left wanting something more hands-on.
Cue Halo. Stunning graphics, storyline and sound made this the Xbox number one (it still is!) and a firm favourite for multiplayer blast-em-ups. Although the levels were significantly linear, areas such as Truth and Reconciliation were massive and provided different height levels and cover. Players could go in blasting away at covenant forces leaving snipers to pick off those grunts in gun turrets. Perfection. Or at least it was in multiplayer. Lone players really were alone. Earlier levels featured marines to help out but later on we had to survive against both the covenant and the flood. No bots to help out meant no orders to give. Whilst this did give the impression that we were on our own to save the human race, it was kind of annoying blasting aliens with such precision and accuracy whilst marines charged in like trigger-happy coalition forces in Iraq.
Perhaps, perhaps Halo 2 could rectify this, but that’s not until 2004. So to quench our thirst for Master Chief adventures, Microsoft have come up with Brute Force. Halo-ish graphics with Halo-ish cutscenes with Halo-ish sounds and Conflict Desert Storm-ish four player gameplay. Ish. The ideas are there, but it seems the other half of the development team decided to skip work for the day and play some Halo instead.
The story on which Brute Force is driven goes as follows. In the 24th Century the idea of peace is too far to reach. The Confederation of Allied Worlds is trying to maintain order amongst the many worlds and races, but a problem soon arises. When threats against the ‘order’ are discovered they are quickly eliminated by teams of elite Operatives. Far from Utopia itself, the Confederation is plagued by political corruption, and high-ranking politicians backed by power and wealth often use these Operatives to achieve personal goals, sometimes even against the CAW. As the Operatives learn the truth of their missions, they become liabilities and are killed. Fortunately cloning is a perfected practice and each skilled fighter is planted with a memory chip to revive physical and mental attributes key to the jobs involved to the new clone. Short term memory is erased to cover the politicians and the missions start over again. Starting with our main man, Tex, armed with kick-ass guns and ‘nades we embark on the tasks ahead.
Landing in the first world, it soon becomes apparent that the controls need to be gotten used to. And here’s where we encounter the first of many problems; Brute Force is a 3rd person shooter. You control characters from behind, not from full on such as Quake or Halo, which instantly kills the atmosphere of a tough marine battling forces. Playing from behind loses a percentage of the screen, meaning targets have to be slightly left or right of the character for you to aim. Moving around levels is made a lot harder as we can only walk or run. No jogging here, and when you learn that enemies are sound-sensitive it seems many hours of walking are ahead. That means targets can hear you coming, so being quiet pays off for those wanting to be stealthy, but it takes an age to walk through a level.
Shooting is a pain in the butt too. Because the aiming is also used to look, the analogue sticks are extremely sensitive to allow quick glances. But during the heat of a gun battle you can constantly find yourself aiming all over the place, going through ammunition like a trigger happy coalition trooper in Iraq – oops said that already. This means many minutes spent chasing down foes with the trigger held firmly down. And these buggers seem to hit you every time, too. Stalking down one can cost you a medi pack or two, and because of the fiddly controls zooming in is useless as you look too fast. Cover from enemy fire looks too obvious (conveniently placed crates almost entirely covering a valley entrance that leads too a perfect drop-off point is something you’d see in a 007 movie) and when you duck you can’t fire over the obstacle. This means strafing to a lower spot (whilst holding down the crouch button) so you can fire which leaves you open to getting hit. Those wishing to zoom in will find themselves holding down about five buttons, just to duck, aim and fire.
Picking up weapons is done in a Halo style, ie hold X next to the gun of your choice to swap, but when you can’t aim for jack **** what’s the point in changing weapons? Once you lay your grubby mits on a mini-gun you are pretty much untouchable. Hold down trigger and aim at anything that moves. Too easy. The shotgun is deemed useless as there seems to be a certain cut-off point between a hit and miss. Stand five metres from an enemy and fire at him and you won’t even touch him. Move forwards a few centimetres and you can kill him with a single shot. Duh? As I said before, zooming in is pointless thanks to dodgy controls making the sniper rifle useless too.
Playing through a level is relitavely dire. A computer voice tells you about a beacon added to the radar (rip-off of Cortana from, you guessed it, Halo) so you proceed to it and kill anything in your path. Levels are incredibly linear, with no large spaces allowing flanking manoeuvres and eagle eyed gun-turrett operators that have barely any blind spots. Occasionally you’ll come across a door, which you can bet your grandma’s life on there will be enemies waiting on the other side. So basically wait by the side of it, strafe in front and lob a few grenades, then hide. Hang on, I could write a FAQ… Issuing commands to computer characters is relatively easy (just press the D-pad in their direction and press away) but fire at will seems to send them into a kamikaze frenzy. Running into enemy-ridden areas with guns blazing is not the way to go on stealthy missions. Covering fire gets bullets into your ass, and selecting a position to run to is slow and cumbersome.
Whilst graphically impressive, cut scenes look like episodes of Dan Dare than a Halo rip-off, and detract from the atmosphere of killing due to the two sets of graphics being totally different. Landscapes have a few trees and bushes with tall grass, but are static. Crouching behind foliage hinders Sam Fisher wanna-bes as enemies can see through them and you can’t, meaning several moments of ‘where the hell did that come from?’ being shouted. With most levels set in valleys (to cut down on background features and add to the linearity) the slopes are bland and have that PSOne FIFA crowd look (flat colours) whilst the sky is always overcast. The characters themselves don’t look especially stunning. Armour doesn’t bend light and hair won’t blow in the wind, but these things are purely cosmetic and shouldn’t dampen an already soaking wet gameplay.
One of the biggest elements of Halo was the way sound utilised the Dolby 5.1 and immersed players, with music getting louder at tense moments and going softer in heartbreaking sobber scenes. Brute Force has a small library of sounds, basically ‘rat-a-tat-tat’ and ‘whoosh’ from the guns and basic background noises. The intensity of gun fights is zero as there is no tension, just frustration as you try to grapple with the controls.
But that’s enough slagging off. Where Brute Force comes into it’s own is multiplayer. You and three mates (or 7 thanks to link-up play) can play a campaign or basic deathmathes to your hearts content. I recommend this as the best way to go as the computer allies are way too thick, plus opening a door with mates is hilarious. Two stand by the side armed with ‘nades whilst the other two lay down covering fire. Never before will you have seen four guys jump up in celebration over opening a door. Unfortunately that’s where the good points finish. The linearity of the 18 levels will have you bored by the 3rd one and your mates will either be ringing for a pizza or wringing your neck for recommending this over Halo.
Early screenshots suggested Microsoft was out to beat the PS2 release of SOCOM and Sony’s online plans with a clone souped up with Halo graphics and atmosphere. But with linear levels, shoddy controls and bad AI, Brute Force is another thorn in the side for Microsoft who should have been onto a winner here.