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You would be forgiven for thinking Broforce was a game released in the early ‘90s for the Super Nintendo or the Sega Genesis, starring a dream crossover between the T-1000, John Rambo, John McClane and all the other big movie star heroes of the time. It’s a 2D shooter that features light parodies of an array of action heroes shooting, blasting, exploding and chopping their way to the bad guy. And who’s the bad guy? Satan. Literally.
The game looks and feels about as '90s as a game can get, with the slightly cutesy art style of that era and about as much chaotic violence onscreen as you can handle. And yet it didn’t come out 20 years ago. It came out in 2015.
Developed by Cape Town, South Africa-based Free Lives, Broforce is another addition to the already wide selection of retro throwback games available on PC. Although a quick glance shows nothing out of the ordinary in Broforce’s retro aesthetic and Contra-style gameplay, these looks are deceiving. Free Lives has seemingly come at making an action game with the mission of making THE action game with ALL of the action heroes, blasting their way through every action blockbuster all at once in as charmingly obnoxious a fashion as is possible, leaving no hero or trope unparodied.
Much like the films it so lovingly apes, Broforce is very simple at its core: Get from the start of each level to the end, killing all the bad guys in your way and laying waste to the big boss bad guy at the end. This core objective never changes throughout the main single-player “World Campaign” (whose own satisfying length is bolstered by a level editor and online community for near-endless fun), but basically everything else about the game is built like a never-ending roulette wheel of awesome.
At the start of each level, you begin as a “Bro”—a member of the Broforce and one of the action heroes from across comics, video games and movies—and as you make your way through each stage, you free prisoners. These prisoners are other Bros and every time you free one, you switch to a different hero, unlocking more heroes the more prisoners you save. You start as Rambro and the first prisoner you free unlocks Bromanndo, then two more later unlocks B. A. Broracus, and so on. Every time a prisoner is freed or the player dies, they switch to the next Bro in line.
Each Bro has their own distinct play-style, which is where the game suddenly becomes very intricate. Some have long-range weapons with incredible rapid fire, some have samurai swords; some, like MacBrover, use a more tactile weapon like bombs. Each character also has special grenades and a powered-up version that unlocks with enough kills. Throughout the earlier stages with only a few heroes unlocked, managing your approach is as simple as a slight re-alignment depending on the weapon at hand. But later on, playing as some heroes will simply mean certain death until you draw one more suited to the situation.
The level backdrops change between war-torn villages, jungles, an alien hive-mind, Hell itself and others and as you become more adept with your Bros of choice, the level design becomes more adept at breaking you down. With such a simple aesthetic, the sheer volume of moving objects on-screen can become incredible. Using a particularly powerful weapon on a particular stretch that you’ve become familiar with is taking a walk through a virtual slaughter-house with blood and bodies going everywhere. The way the levels are loaded means that, for certain sections, you can set off chain reactions of explosions and collapsing buildings that will still be going by the time you’re riding off into the sunset at the end of the stage. Even though some weapons are more useful than others, any Bro can get through any level with the right amount of skill and luck, such is the intricacy of Free Lives’ design.
Among all of this frenzied fun, there is a slight scathing satire underpinning how good Broforce is. As a loving tribute that parodies violent blockbuster cinema, Broforce is almost too effective. Blasting through scores of unnamed cronies as Robocop before switching to Indiana Jones is a treat but it also serves as reminder of just how bad history has been to some of these characters. The relationship between film and games will likely always be frayed and for many of these heroes, this is the first time they’ve ever been honored outside of their first movie.
Still to this day, the Hollywood machine is releasing Terminator sequels starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Die Hards starring Bruce Willis and more. Despite very little of these series modern instalments being of merit, the powers that be keep making them, complete with their older stars just about managing to get through filming unscathed. Free Lives even slyly acknowledge this with their demo “The Expendabros,” a free The Expendables-themed Broforce mini-game featuring that trilogy’s complete lineup.
What Broforce does is allow Bruce Willis’s John McClane, Arnie’s Terminator, Sylvester Stallone’s Rambo and all the other heroes in the game to exist in their prime together in a bubble, unfettered by the wrinkles of their source material. For one reason or another, any official game by their production companies has always been questionable at best. This is usually down to poorly chosen development teams, tight deadlines and a want for further branding overruling respecting the art. Broforce proves that if a team is given the time and resources, these heroes can transition over to video games and live there without worrying about actors or major budgets. Their shelf life need not be constantly skewed against them.
Broforce is the tangible solution to wondering if one should see the latest big action romp in theaters or buy the latest licensed action game. No, you shouldn’t! Instead you should play Broforce and create your own chaos.
Anthony McGlynn is a freelance writer by night and a sleepy freelance writer by day. He’s also a firm believer in the zombie apocalypse. Yell at him to stop procrastinating on Twitter @AntoMcG
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