Broforce embraces one mantra of game development that console and PC remasters regularly prove: nostalgia sells. It idolizes the action heroes that made the ‘80s and ‘90s a golden age of practical explosions and one-liners, replicating their bravado with a 16-bit visual style that we middle-aged gamers remember.
Rambo, John McClane, Snake Pliskin, and Robocop are all represented here, but not officially (imagine the licensing costs). Instead, you’ll meet parodies along the lines of Rambro, Indiana Brones, and dozens more “please don’t sue us” protagonists. Developer Free Lives roasts the writing in the pun oven, sprinkling the cheesiness on thick.
To demonstrate, Broforce cooks up a stereotypical campaign about Americanizing insurgents. Initially. A cigar-chewing commander sends players to all corners of the globe, where you run, gun, and raise the flag at the end of a level to liberate countries like Veetman and Arstotzka. In other words, you nuke the remaining terrain as you bail out on a helicopter’s rope ladder.
The humor remains tongue-in-cheek until the credits scroll, but anyone cognizant of Aliens, Die Hard, or Predator know things go awry for film heroes. Broforce lifts a page from those classic scripts, escalating the story in a consistent manner for four hours.
Broforce segments itself into thirds. When I grew exhausted of slaughtering the bomb-strapped “mooks” and mechs, the developers introduced not-xenomorphs into the fold. Their acidic spit became the bane of melee-oriented protagonists, but the queen was not so invulnerable. Then Satan himself intervened, hell-bent on ending my freedom-fueled crusade. Spoilers much? Not quite. Launching Broforce on the PS4 depicts artwork of mega-Satan, and the game’s release trailer tells all, teasing the enemies you encounter and the bros you can recruit.
Yes, Free Lives calls its characters “bros” and produces a roster so extensive, so reverential it could make any fighting game or MOBA weak in the knees. The playable bros are an eclectic bunch, merging the renowned and the obscure. Bro Dredd, Brommando, and Brodell Walker represent well-known figures, while The Brofessional, The Brocketeer, and Broniversal Soldier headlined the list of characters I was not familiar with. Broforce also highlights the rare but still kickass heroines that once dominated the silver screen, offering imitations of Ellen Ripley from Aliens and the Bride from Kill Bill.
But Broforce is no Lego game. Players do not select bros via a character wheel, nor do they unlock for just completing stages. To access additional bros, the developers scatter prisoners throughout the highly destructible levels, who serve three purposes. Recovering hostages will assign new characters (and extra biceps) to your army. The order in which they unlock remains predetermined, though I bested Broforce not knowing who would join my company next. I hope you do the same. I acquired characters during the final boss rush and beyond, and their names and abilities were always a joy to uncover.
So forgive me as I reveal a couple more bros. Rescuing a prisoner randomizes your current character to one of the stars you obtained earlier. Taking each hero’s particular set of skills into account, Broforce throws players a constant curveball. You need a dynamic play style, one to outpace the sudden rotation to a potentially worse-off bro, because no two heroes (or levels) behave the same. Rambro is the most straightforward, wielding an assault rifle as his primary weapon and throwing grenades via his special ability. Brominator, meanwhile, comes packaged with a minigun, and his secondary skill outfits the Schwarzenegger homage in a temporary yet invincible endoskeleton.
Although I love the random draws of the character selection (you win the lottery or you don’t), Broforce does present unwinnable battles when bros don’t mesh with the current situation. Mr. Anderbro and Brade (the melee characters) make for a poor matchup against anyone carrying ranged firepower, yet they grind bosses into a liberty-seasoned mince meat. I latched onto the side of a hovering rail fortress, delivering punch after punch to its exposed cockpit, abusing my out-of-range immunity to the machine’s homing missiles. Knock knock. Who’s there? My fists.
Other characters also sabotage the game’s design for the better. Bros cannot double-jump, so whenever I was provided with The Brocketeer and his fiery jetpack, or Cherry Broling and the machine gun leg that keeps her aloft, I soared through stages as an unstoppable iron eagle. I became intangible while airborne, as Free Lives no doubt intended. I gambled, however, when retrieving prisoners. Hostages function as extra lives, and players should weigh the perks of an excess 1-up over inheriting a bro they are not versed in.
Whether or not you rescue all hostages per level, stages are more complex than they let on. Explosives litter each area, and Broforce lets people literally carve their own ways through the environments, either engaging assailants head-on or tunneling beneath the earth to mount an ambush or preserve their secrecy. But problems arise as the enemy’s numbers do. As more detonations enveloped the screen, the more laborious it was to diagnose what murdered me. Bullets? Falling boxes? A suicide bomber?
You will die in Broforce. Despite the chiseled six-packs, chests, and arms that men or women would swoon over, a stray bullet will end your bro’s life. The destruction seems like a bane and less of a blessing, in that regard. I stopped tallying incidents in which falling stones crushed my character ‒ the result of a reaction I started that then continued outside my field of view. Death comes cheap, both unpredictable and exempt from the player’s control. Several levels exclude checkpoints as well.
The lack of checkpoints hurts some levels, because Broforce is no technical masterpiece. The larger explosions tank the frame rate, a surefire fault when you need to react to your attackers quickly. Several loading screens pass before players embark on a new level (an almost instant process in the PC version), and most damning, the heroes freeze at random intervals (they do respond after a couple seconds). I ruled out the controller, my PS4, and an outdated version of Broforce as the culprits, and thus I counted myself lucky to have completed a few auto-scroller sections without excessive losses.
Those technical problems persisted across the remaining modes. The level editor stands as a testament to other players’ creative, patient minds. It illustrates how little imagination I have in terms of game design. I can pen you a story for children or for your doctoral studies, but putting gameplay ideas into practice is more time-consuming than it is satisfactory for me.
I felt equally indifferent while trying Broforce’s Ironbro mode, where Free Lives decreases the number of prisoners that appear per level and relegates each bro to a lone life. If Bronan the Barbarian collapses on a pit of spikes, you cannot use him again until you begin a fresh Ironbro playthrough.
Co-op is another unconquerable beast. A single bro possesses ample firepower to enslave a continent, so consider the havoc three liberators unleash on Broforce’s locations. From jungle greenery to alien hives to areas given a fire and brimstone makeover, no setting is safe from a quadruple hero team-up. You could burn actual bridges, leaving friends without the means to cross a chasm, or end their lives in a friendly fire exhibition of propane and gasoline. Enjoy this side-scrolling shooter alone, preferably, if you want to finish it.
I reiterate: Broforce parodies the action movie stars that transformed the last thirty years into a prosperous era of ludicrous thrills and quotable one-liners. For many games, that would bring discussions to an end. Wielding the weapons of a pixelated John McClane, Snake Pliskin, or Robocop leads to a satisfying power fantasy, as long as you survive. Every cheap death and technical shortcoming is a reminder that no one, not even our cinema role models, is perfect.
But I would award a perfect score to the Broforce theme. You won’t hear a more hardcore rock anthem in this business.
This review is based on the PS4 version.
Broforce is an enjoyable ode to gamers that were raised by action movies and 16-bit consoles. The technical defects of the PS4 version, however, give the PC original the clear advantage.