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“This is stupid,” I said to myself, my grin getting wider and more pronounced, my excitement reaching a fever pitch.
It occurs to me that this is the most honest description of Broforce I can give. I played the game and knew what I was doing was absurd. It’s over the top, the story is threadbare, the action largely repetitive.
But boy, is it fun, and better still, it’s free on Playstation 4 with a Playstation Plus membership this March.
Broforce is a 2D run-and-gun shooter in the vein of Metal Slug, and it is free in March with a Playstation Plus membership. Like Metal Slug, you run through each stage going trigger-and explosion-happy on hoards of enemies.
Unlike Metal Slug, your playable characters are thinly-veiled parodies of action heroes from the 1980s and early 1990s.
Really, pretty much all of this game is 80s and 90s-inflenced. Here, tell me I’m wrong.
Putting aside the question of how in the world this game is allowed to exist when it rips off literally everything from dozens of famous action heroes (except for the letter or two changed in the name to make the “bro” pun), this game was a ton of fun to play… for a while.
The gameplay of Broforce is simple: you move left to right on the stage, shooting/punching/slicing/exploding everything that stands in front of you on the way. If it sounds simplistic, that’s because it is, and the game revels in that fact.
The action itself manages to stay surprisingly fresh because of the variation of the “Bros”: the game’s name for your “ORIGINAL CHARACTER – DO NOT STEAL” protagonists.
Without running down an exhaustive list of characters, each Bro has a primary attack, melee, and a special ability with limited ammo. While some of these abilities fall into similar categories (lots of characters have a machine gun as a primary attack or a type of grenade as their special), none of them have quite the same effect, and almost nobody has the same combination of skill types.
Some characters are gun-based (Rambro), some are melee-based (Bronan the Brobarian), some are explosion-based (MacBrover). Each forces you into a different gameplay style, so you are constantly looking for new ways to approach the same situation.
You unlock more Bros in a specific order as the game goes on, but the game deals you the characters at random once you have them unlocked – you don’t get to choose the best Bro for the situation, you’re stuck with who you spawn with. Additionally, each time you rescue a new Bro (the equivalent of earning an extra life), you switch to that character, and there is no indication beforehand of who that might be.
This is a nice way to vary up what would otherwise be unbearably repetitive gameplay, especially when re-trying a stage multiple times, but it can be frustrating trying to take out helicopters with a sword.
Still, destructible environments tend to balance out the differences in characters. Sometimes it’s as easy to tunnel under the stage as it is to go through the middle, and the level design is laid out to give you challenges no matter what tactics you use.
However, it’s impossible to talk about the gameplay without talking about the PS4’s performance issues in running this game. I had the game’s framerate drop to around ten when the action got too hectic with explosions and particles.
In the late game, the enemy counts go up, the number of explosive obstacles increase, and you run into a lot more giant enemies. I get that there is a lot going on, but it is embarrassing for a game done in 8-bit art to run at an unplayable framerate in 2016. I wasn’t even playing co-op.
And speaking of things we’ve moved beyond in the year 2016, some of the loading screens in Broforce are upwards of a minute long. Which wouldn’t be so bad, except that there is no loading indicator. It just sits there on a blank, black screen, with no sound, for more than 60 seconds. It is indistinguishable from a total system crash, until the stage finally loads in.
As frustrating as that issue is, much worse is the bug which stops your movement 3-5 seconds into every stage.
Seriously, there is some kind of bug in the PS4 version in which your Bro just plain stops taking inputs for about a full second at the beginning of every stage. The stage doesn’t stop, just you. You stop moving forward, can’t jump, can’t shoot, nothing. Then you re-gain control normally.
It’s important to note, some of these stages are races. You are trying to outrun something that will kill you instantly, and you have to deal with a movement-stopping bug after you’ve built a head of steam. Sometimes there are enemies spawned on top of you at the beginning of the stage. Sometimes you have to make a long jump.
All of these situations can equal unjustified death at the beginning of the stage, since your characters have only one HP. Repeated unjustified death. It doesn’t feel good.
Hiccups aside, the game is still fun to play, but the aesthetics of Broforce are its strongest point: The Bros look like who they’re supposed to in fantastic pixel art, the explosions are big and frequent, and all of the game’s sound is consistent with a high-octane action movie in which collateral damage is a basic expectation.
And Broforce doesn’t only resemble a radical 25-year-old action movie in its visuals and this stage clear music. The writing is equally stupid on a guilty-pleasure level.
I played the campaign of the game expecting a stupid, 80’s-parody plot in the vein of Far Cry: Blood Dragon. What I got was several steps dumber than that.
Broforce knows you don’t care about its plot, so the joke is that it doesn’t care either. You start out fighting “terrorists,” then aliens, then zombies, then Satan himself, and the justification for the shift between targets is threadbare at best.
That’s a spoiler, and I didn’t even warn you because it doesn’t matter. The point of an action movie’s plot is to give you a general idea of why it’s okay to watch a cool guy murder 500 people in 90 minutes. Broforce skips trying to even pretend to give you a basis for your actions, opting instead to disperse a couple of “Murica”-themed jokes and send you back into the action.
In most cases, this would be a flaw. In this instance, it’s tongue-in-cheek and clever – even if it gets a little heavy-handed by the end.
In fact, Broforce in general gets to be a slog by the end.
The end sequence of the campaign is clearly supposed to feel epic and over-the-top. But the entire game is like that, so there’s no build-up.
It just feels like an endless march of repetitive stages after a while, especially in the final sequence, which ignores the functional “three stages -> boss -> back to stage select main menu” flow that the rest of the game follows. The final area just feels like a dozen stages all crammed together without so much as a cutscene to separate them (just a one-minute loading screen).
And despite some clever attempts to re-skin them, it becomes painfully apparent that there are only about five enemy types in the game, and about the same number of boss types, and all of them can be dealt with via similar tactics (shoot lots). Even the environments look slightly different but function basically the same.
The campaign of Broforce only took about eight hours, but it would have been a much better game if it had even cut one or two off of that, and would have been a similar experience had I just played the arcade mode. The only thing still exciting by the conclusion was seeing which character I would unlock next, but I was really engaged just 90 minutes earlier.
Still, overall I had a lot of fun with Broforce. It wasn’t a narrative marvel, it doesn’t make you think, it isn’t especially novel, and it has performance problems on PS4.
But it’s good, cheap fun, and it’ll make you smile and chuckle. If you have a Playstation Plus membership, it’s worth the price of free and a few hours of your time.