Version tested: PC
Eurogamer's alpha and beta reviews are reviews of games that are still in development but are already being offered for sale or funded by micro-transactions. They offer a preliminary verdict but have no score attached. For more information, read our editor's blog.
"I'll be Robocop, you can be Indiana Jones."
That, in a single sentence, is almost all you really need to know about Broforce. If you grew up in the 80s or 90s building death rays from bits of Lego, applying five o'clock shadow in felt pen, and watching the kind of movies that rarely featured quotes such as, "Masterly: an emotional tour-de-force" on the poster, this is your playground. Heckfire, this is your heritage, a place where the earth shakes with every shot you fire, where your mere presence seems to shred the environment around you, and where the loopiest of power fantasies seems entirely natural, entirely appropriate. Have you ever taken an imaginary bullet in imaginary slow motion? Do you know why you should never make fists with your toes on Christmas Eve? If so, Broforce is for you.
It's a game of memories and borrowings, in other words, and - outside of dual-wielding action cinema - Vlambeer's Infinite SWAT is the single strongest influence. Broforce is almost an unofficial sequel at times, deploying the same destructible terrain, the same strange, teetering architecture, the same comforting 2D perspective, and the same devastating sense of firepower applied with righteous neocon abandon. To developer Free Lives' credit, though, Broforce is eager to really build on the foundations of others. In its approach to character design, to enemy spawns, to level construction and an embarrassment of environmental tweaks and gimmicks, it quickly assumes a personality of its own.
That personality is so brash, in fact, and the game's pleasures so immediate, that I initially suspected I might get tired of the whole thing fairly quickly. Like Raiders or Speed (the film), Broforce makes such an explosive impression, you can't really see how it's going to escalate. Such was my fear when I played the first demo, anyway, but that was last September, and I've been putting in a couple of hours every week since. I suspect this one's a keeper. You know, like Raiders, or Speed.
Like both those films, the idea's pretty simple: Broforce is a 2D platforming action game in which you blast a path from left to right, taking out insurgents, guerrillas, and packs of angry dogs, raising the stars and stripes at every checkpoint, and then finishing each stage with a leap onto the skids of a nearby helicopter before racing off into the wild blue yonder as the ground erupts beneath you. Your weapons can chew through pretty much everything in the environment, and on top of that the landscape is filled with explosive drums and tanks of pressurised gas. You're like a mini hurricane, taking out the world's greatest villains while also reducing their hideouts to rubble. The enemies are plentiful but slow to react and easy to panic. So much the better. This is a game about spraying bullets and enjoying the devastation rather than crouching, biding your time, and picking off a single, perfect shot.
As a paid beta - and this is worth restating these days - Broforce offers you a massive chunk of carnage, an endless loop of destruction where even the simplest level can feel fresh depending on how many bullets you choose to pump into it. Over the last year, it's been updated with an aggression and enthusiasm that would shame most other developers, too. Every few weeks I get a new build filled with new toys.
The best of these toys are the bros themselves, and I suspect it's the bros that explain why such a simple game - hey, shoot everything! - has such legs. This is big, stupid fun of the highest order - the attention to feedback and the feel of the moment-to-moment mayhem is just beautiful - but it's enhanced by clever detailing.
Each bro is recognisable but different. They're recognisable because they draw on the classics. You'll see mirror-world versions of BA Baracus, John McClane, Blade, the Terminator, and a growing roster of others in a single playthrough, and each time you rescue a hostage from one of the cages scattered around each level, you swap your current bro out and a new bro in.
This is where the differences come into play. Although each bro has a primary weapon and a special, they're all gloriously well defined, giving each character an entirely distinct personality. The Men In Black bro's primary is that tiny Noisy Cricket gun from the movies that does a huge cloud of screen-chewing damage, while his special is the flashy thing that now blinds and disorientates enemies. BA gets a flamethrower, Neo lays on karate punches, Judge Dredd has a ricocheting shot and a steerable missile, while Robocop - my favourite - has a gun that fires off multiple shots if you hold down the trigger before releasing.
These weapons and gadgets aren't just well differentiated, they express a deep, playground love of the characters - an understanding of pulp heroes that approaches the post-doctoral level. John McClane never came with a flashbang, perhaps, but it's the perfect accompaniment for a man who creates his luck on the hoof and takes dazzling calculated risks, while Robocop's ability to select multiple targets across the whole screen even employs the wonderfully nasty Verhoevian UI.
There's a precision layering of strengths and weaknesses, too, whether it's the shorter reach of McClane's twin pistols, or Snake Plissken's high-powered sniper rifle that has a dangerously low rate of fire. Only Indy strikes me as something of a dud: his whip's handy for stunning foes and navigating terrain, but his flare gun feels soft, even if it can set enemies ablaze. He's more than made up for, though, whether it's Blade and his glinting katanas, Ash with his boomstick, or MacGyver - this truly is an exhaustive trawl of guilty pleasures - who lobs dynamite around and can unleash a deadly turkey bomb. (Oh, while we're on this subject, where is Inspector Tequila?)
As for the levels, they're filled with wonderfully deadly bric-a-brac, from beehives and mini-bosses to explosives that can be chained together as they go off, and spawn gates where you can knock the floor away and witness a near-endless parade of hardened killers falling from the sky and yelping - many of them on fire. Settle into a groove and a kind of cumulative slaughter kicks in: everyone's running around in flames, minefields are sending earth into the air, scaffolding is cracking and blocks are falling into the abyss while blood sprays thick and dark and gloopy in every direction. In four-player local multiplayer it's almost too much at times, but the game keeps all of the basics simple: every wall can be scaled by jumping against it, every block can be destroyed if you shoot it long enough. Only bosses - a recent addition - slow you down and break the spell. They're enjoyable enough with their mechs and their attack choppers, but they represent a bit of a roadblock in a game that's otherwise purely concerned with carving a ragged path towards the horizon.
For once, this is a beta where it barely matters what comes next: there's so much here, and it's so simple and good already
Elsewhere a cluster of decent side modes are already starting to spring up. There's deathmatch and Explosive Run, an auto-scrolling challenge in which pipes erupt beneath you as you sprint, and you can stitch together custom campaigns and check out some of the game's forthcoming tile-sets - well, a city environment at least, which captures the classic rain-slicked 80s urban hellhole as well as the main game already captures the Predator jungle. There's also a level editor, which is already brilliantly easy to use. As with the best creation tools, it's a game in itself, and the shift between building and playing is pretty much instantaneous. For once, this is a beta where it barely matters what comes next: there's so much here, and it's so simple and good already.
The more I've played, the more I sense another guiding influence alongside John McTiernan, Paul Verhoeven, Vlambeer and Stallone, incidentally. In its explosive decadence, its viscera-drenched glee, there's something of Eugene Jarvis' work to be glimpsed as the blood flies and the ground crumbles. I've often thought the creator of Defender, of Robotron, of NARC was gaming's very own John Carpenter, and a few months back, I sent him a link to the demo of Broforce to see what he made of it. "Mario meets Defender meets Duke Nukem you gotta love it!!!!" came the reply. "Gratuitous explosions up the ass!"
As a developer, could you really wish for a better review?
Broforce is currently in closed beta, which can be accessed with a pre-order purchase of around £6.10. Additionally, a prototype is available to play online. Eurogamer's alpha and beta reviews are reviews of games that are still in development but are already being offered for sale or funded by micro-transactions. They offer a preliminary verdict but have no score attached. For more information, read our editor's blog.