At first glance, Broforce seems to be an incredibly simple game. In each level, you run from left to right until you reach the end, killing any enemies who get in your way, with the occasional necessary exception of killing a boss before you can leave the level. While this might sound like a rather stagnant formula, Broforce, with its large roster of characters, emergent chaos, and four-player co-op, is designed to constantly descend into the kind of explosive mayhem that was so much fun in the action movies that the game borrows so liberally from.
Platforms: PC, PS4 (Version Played)
Publisher: Devolver Digital
Developer: Free Lives Games
Genre: Side-Scrolling Stallone ‘Em Up
Release Date: October 15, 2015 (PC), March 1, 2016 (PS4)
ESRB Rating: Mature
In Broforce, you take control of a wide cast of characters inspired by action movie heroes, among them Rambro, Indianna Brones, and Brobocop, to fight enemy soldiers and invading aliens. Each of the characters has their own normal and special attacks, and these are all different enough to ensure that they are all interesting to play and that the combat always feels fresh. Some of the characters are fairly traditional, like Rambro with his machine gun and grenades, but you’ll also take control of Mr. Anderbro, who can only punch and deflect bullets but has a much greater movement speed, or The Boondock Bros, who are essentially Broforce’s equivalent to the Ice Climbers in Super Smash Bros.
Every time you collect a life or die, the game switches you to a new random character, and this randomness contributes to the chaotic fun of the action. This can be problematic at times, like in the later parts of the game when bosses require you to be using specific character types. If, for example, you are facing a boss that is more easily defeated by ranged characters and the game keeps randomly assigning you a character with a sword such as Bronan or Brade, it can feel as though you might as well kill yourself and roll a new character. Some of the later bosses will likely kill you four or five times before they go down, and so you are essentially relying on getting the right string of five random characters to beat the boss. This quickly grates, and makes it easy to forget about the pandemonium that was previously so enjoyable.
If Broforce takes its aesthetic inspiration from 80s action movies, its mechanical inspiration comes from applying the interacting and colliding systems of Spelunky or the Far Cry series to a side-scrolling shooter. The game’s environments are full of exploding barrels, spinning blades, and traps, and are populated by three opposing forces that will attack each other on sight. Enemies can be killed by all of the same things that can kill you, so if Brofroce’s many characters don’t provide enough combat variation, you can always take out enemies by knocking over a propane tank and firing it in their direction, or by blowing a hole in the ground and making charging enemies fall into it. For me, Spelunky remains the high watermark for this kind of emergent behaviour, and I think it does so by having many different, distinct enemies interacting while also ensuring that there are never too many on screen to keep track of. While the flora and fauna of a Broforce will often collide in interesting and fun ways, the limited enemy types, coupled with the abundance of exploding objects in every level, means that there is a narrow range of emergent action, and most of the time what emerges is just a giant explosion. While this might be authentic to the 80s movies on which this game is based, it does mean that the gameplay can feel a little repetitive.
While Broforce seems to be the product of an earnest love of the products that it parodies, it is marred by a tone that vacillates between this love and a desire to knowingly poke fun at action films and their more outdated tropes. Broforce opens with its logo, a robotic eagle, flexing in front of a U.S. flag, as the game’s announcer screams the title in the kind of guttural tones that the Nolan Batman films are so widely mocked for. The full screen character portraits are grotesquely macho imitations of the characters upon which they are based, and the mission descriptions, well, they speak for themselves: “Fuck Irakistan! Americanize them!” Everything about this game’s presentation makes an effort to say, “yes, we know these films are ridiculous, we’re in on the joke”, but this cannot make up for the fact that the game mostly involves invading (or rather, “freedominating”) “Afreeka” or one of the game’s other fictionalised locales, playing, usually, as a white, male American and killing the local soldiers.
Broforce even seems to be setting itself up for an interesting discussion about invaders by posing you as the invading force in the first half of the game, before asking you to defend earth from invading aliens in the second half. Unfortunately, Broforce is far more interested in making jokes about ‘illegal aliens’ and leaving it at that. This is not to say that every single game should engage with difficult matters such as U.S. foreign policy, but Broforce attempts to elevate itself above games of its ilk and avail itself of the stupidity of many action movies by crying out ‘Fuck Irakistan!’ in a mangled Texan accent and smiling wryly. Broforce is not particularly offensive, but its efforts to marry its admiration for old action films with a heavy-handed satire creates a tone that is incredibly confused and off-putting, and left me wishing that the game had a different aesthetic.
The PS4 release of Broforce has been marred by lots of audio glitches and a frame rate that is almost constantly much lower than it needs to be in the latter parts of the game. In addition, one particularly frustrating bug completely prevents you from moving and shooting for about two seconds just after the start of every level. On top of all of this, the online has proven difficult to use, with connection problems and spawning bugs making it very difficult to play. At the time of publication, these bugs are still in Broforce, and they very much do detract from the fun of the game.
With its enjoyable boss fights and fun minute-to-minute action, Broforce is, at least for a while, a fun side-scrolling shooter. Your mileage will vary based on how much affection you have for the franchises that the game lovingly parodies, but I ultimately found its presentation to be so distracting that I find it hard to recommend it outright.
Review Disclosure: A retail copy of Broforce was purchased by Warp Zoned for the purposes of this review.