Free Lives, a small previously unknown indie developer, has managed to create the dream game of any child who grew up on a diet of testosterone-fuelled Eighties action movies. Broforce is a wonderful celebration of not only the greatest American heroes ever to grace the silver screen, but also the explosively exhilarating run-and-gun platformers of yesteryear. However, while Broforce takes its inspiration from the past, there is nothing historical about its execution. By combining these two complementing components together, Free Lives have managed to resuscitate a beloved genre, injecting it with a booster shot of patriotism and brilliant parody.
As the rather unambiguous name implies, the game casts you as a force of Bros who band together to defend the free world from the slimy red tentacles of communism, anarchy, and Satanism (more on that later) The gameplay is utterly enthralling, with skin-tight controls allowing for an impressive level of movement versatility around the sprawling level environments. I felt like a grasshopper on steroids as I leapt around blasting my enemies into dust. The shooting mechanics are also pin-point perfect. The weapons all carry a satisfying heft, adding to the sensation of empowerment you feel as a champion of freedom. The game provides a selection of weapons so impressive it would make even the most red-blooded Republican wet their pants. Rocket launchers, throwing knives, machine guns, homing missiles, the list is seriously impressive.
All of these, and more, can be employed in an effort to save the world. Each level comprises three stages, and the goal is to obliterate everything in your way. The early levels see you carving through swathes of terrorists, though as you progress these squidgy humans become the least of your worries. Soon you’ll be fighting off some familiar purple-skinned aliens infesting the planet, and even descending into the depths of hell itself to take out the ultimate evil, all in name of America. It’s utterly ridiculous, and it’s brilliant. Nothing is taken seriously, and thus it makes for an instantly unforgettable experience. You’d think that a game which leans so heavily on jokes and parody would grow old and decrepit after an hour, yet somehow Broforce kept me howling with laughter throughout. Perhaps I’m just easily pleased, though I suspect it’s the genius of the team over at Free Lives.
Your armoury of destruction derives from 32 unlockable bros who fill out the list of playable characters. Each is inspired by one greatest action movie heroes of all time, be it the Brominator, Indiana Brones, or my personal favourite, Brochete. You start off as Vietnam veteran Rambro, and new bros are unlocked as you progress through the game saving hostages. Each bro is equipped with two methods of attack; one primary and one special weapon. Despite the vast character roster, each hero feels unique, with their own strengths and weaknesses, and it results in no two encounters unfolding in the same manner. B. A. Broracus, for example, is great for taking out hordes of grunts with his flame thrower and grenades, but terrible against armoured targets. On the other hand, McBrover’s standard TNT attack is risky when employed against the masses, but perfect for cracking open those annoying tin-can tanks.
Such variety is fantastic, and keeps the game fresh throughout. At the start of each level you’ll be randomly assigned one of your unlocked bros, and upon freeing hostages, or, inevitably, dying, you will be switched to another bro in your arsenal. This can be both a blessing and a frustration. Time and time again I found myself blasted into smithereens due to the fickle nature of lady luck, all because I was given the wrong bro for the job. Such situations happen far too often, and levels can quickly descend into a vicious circle of repetition and grinding frustration.
This issue only grows in annoyance during the boss battles. Having the wrong bro can be disastrous, especially in later levels. Of course, each bro is more than capable of seeing off anything in their way, yet your own skill and personal playstyle will often dictate who is effective and who isn’t. It limits your pool of possible patriots, and I often found myself killing bros off on purpose just to get my preferred squad of super-soldiers.
However, these shortcomings of fate do little to detract from the overall experience. The aforementioned boss battles are spectacular in scope, and taking them down often feels like a David-and-Goliath struggle. The one-shot-one-kill nature of the game, coupled with the limited number of respawns, keeps things tense and frantic. These monstrosities are difficult to say the least and frequent messy death often follows, which many even give the beasties from Dark Souls a run for their money. With later bosses I felt a profound sense of accomplishment in conquering them, something which few games outside of the Souls series can achieve.
Unfortunately, the game is riddled with performance issues (on PS4 at least), which become glaringly obvious during said boss fights. Whenever the action on screen becomes too much the framerate plummets, chugging along like an old CRT on a dial-up modem. Also the game has the bizarre tendency to pause for a few seconds after the beginning of each stage. It instantly breaks immersion, and is inexcusable given the already atrocious loading times. It makes the eighties retrospective all too authentic, and seriously impacts the experience.
That said, Broforce is a fantastic revival of a genre which has been facing stagnation in recent years. The gameplay is precise and dynamic, finally taking the genre into the 21st century. However, it is the ideas taken from the past which truly made Broforce a serious force to be reckoned with. The bro heroes add a level of depth and complexity which caters to all playstyles, allowing for an impressive array of variation. Technical issues unfortunately plague the game, something which is intolerable for a game of its type. They seriously detract from the overall experience, and could easily scare off players until a patch comes along. Fortunately the rest of the game is top notch, and provides one of the most hysterical, yet outright challenging run-and-gun platformers since Metal Slug.