Do you remember Team America: World Police, the movie brought to us by South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone? Of course you do. That movie’s unforgettable song “America, Fuck Yeah” is the perfect embodiment of everything that is Free Lives’ appropriately titled Broforce. Infuse the essence of that glorious anthem into the spirit of an Expendables film and you should have a fairly solid grasp of the game’s concept. The patriotic, Contra-style side-scroller is currently available on Steam Early Access, a relatively new program that lets players get in on games as they evolve through various stages of development. For our review, we played Broforce with its July 3rd “Death From Above” update, which added Cherry Broling and (officially) Colonel James Broddock in addition to various tweaks.
Let’s start with the main attraction. Broforce stars pixelated versions of iconic movie characters from the past three decades. You’ll see bro-ified sprites for Rambo, Judge Dredd, The Boondock Saints, Ash Williams, John McClane and so much more. Recognizable costume designs aside, each protagonist expresses their personality through their weapon selection and special moves. Bronan the Barbarian, for example, is one of the melee-centric characters that wields a mighty sword and crushes his enemies with a ground slam style attack, accompanied by a Schwarzenegger-esque yell. Then there’s B.A. Broracus, a killing machine equipped with a flamethrower and incendiary grenades. Don’t be fooled by their tough exteriors. These hardened commandbros can only take one shot before they go down, but luckily the enemy AI typically reacts too slowly to ever make you feel like you’re fragile. In most cases, swift death comes from an unplanned explosion or missed jump.
The styles of play are varied between characters and make players adapt to situations on the fly depending on which randomly assigned bro they’ve been given. Adaptability is a much needed skill in this game since there is no character selection to be found outside of the competitive Deathmatch mode (more on that later). You start a level with a random bro and the only way to switch is to find the prisoners scattered through each level. Rescuing one of your imprisoned brethren transforms you into a new soldier, completely taking the place of the previous character and providing an extra life. You never know whether you’re going to be trading out the extremely useful Time Bro for a less versatile Brobocop. However, not knowing who you’ll be playing from one second to the next is half the fun.
As previously stated, Broforce is reminiscent of Contra, with less multi-directional shooting and more ‘Murica. That’s right, Broforce limits shooting to directly ahead of its soldiers, with Cherry Broling and MacBrover making the small list of exceptions. If you’re running through the Vietnam-inspired arcade campaign and find yourself in the shoes of Snake Broskin (AKA Snake Plissken) with his heavy-hitting sniper rifle, you will have to be on the same level as the dim-witted cannon fodder standing between you and the exit. Fortunately, the game offers up some surprisingly tactical options to keep the lacking directional gunshots from becoming too much of a bother.
The environments are fully destructible and explosive barrels/propane tanks appear almost every five feet. These two features are what turn each level in Broforce into never-the-same-run-twice experiences. With land deformation akin to recent titles like Starbound and Terraria, Broforce allows players to use each bro’s arsenal to carve their way around their enemies, opening up flanking opportunities or the chance to bypass groups all together. The weak integrity of every structure also serves as a weapon in itself since enemies can have the ground blown out from underneath them, usually resulting in a gib geyser. This served as a favorite tactic when facing the larger, more menacing mechs that could shred a bro in seconds. But this approach can be a double edged sword. If you become one with your inner Micheal Bay and engulf the environment in explosions, you run the risk of finding yourself with a newly formed gap too wide to cross. Nothing ruins the mood more than realizing that your own bravado has made completing a level impossible without restarting.
More often than not this works in the game’s favor. The mesmerizing display of fire and blood-fueled fireworks adds to the over-the-top action that the development team is clearly striving for. Let me set the scene for you: Chuck Norris as Cordell Walker jumps atop a nearby building, raises the American flag, kicks over a propane tank and jumps atop it before it rockets off. The ride comes to an explosive end as Norris leaps from the tank, shotgun in hand, just in time before it impacts a stack of explosive barrels and one unfortunately placed, bomb-strapped hostile. The end result is an eruption of flames and buckshot as bloody bits fly skyward. Mission accomplished.
The best of Broforce gets even better when the offline and online multiplayer aspect is thrown in. Up to four players can get in on this mayhem simultaneously, filling the screen with even more detonations and death than previously attainable. Everyone works together to remove all life from the screen and this can result in some genuinely hilarious moments of accidentally sending a propane tank into your fellow bro’s face. The only downside is that with so much happening on-screen, it can be hard to keep track of your particular bro. With entire sections of the map being blown to kingdom come and enemy guts spraying everywhere, it comes as no surprise that locating a small sprite in that mess is a difficult feat.
Multiplayer also extends to three other modes: Race, Explosion Run and Deathmatch. Race and Explosion Run are essentially the same, with the latter adding missile strikes into the mix. Deathmatch pits up to four bros against each other, but given the vast differences between characters there are major balance issues. Mr. Anderbro (Neo from The Matrix) and The Boondock Bros, especially, have huge advantages in this game mode. No one will be playing this mode competitively in any serious manner.
The USA has a national anthem, a national animal and now it has a national video game: Broforce. And who fully realized the spirit of America in digital form? A South African indie developer. I’m glad that our reputation precedes us and has inspired minds across the seas. Broforce is still in the works, but it already feels like a finished product. Knowing that more levels, features and bros are on the way only makes this $15 package more enticing. If you’ve ever wanted to fully experience something as American as apple pie, bald eagles and anti-immigration laws, Broforce is your best option. In short, it red, white and blew me away.
- Available On: PC, Mac, PS4, PS Vita
- Published By: Devolver Digital
- Developed By: Free Lives Games
- Genre: Side Scroller, Run and Gun
- US Release Date: Early 2015
- Reviewed On: PC
- Quote: "Broforce is as American as it gets. Blood, bombs and badass bros come together to make this addictive side-scroller one not to miss."