Broforce: Retro Action in a Retro Genre

(Apologies for the missed posts. I’ll have two entries submitted tomorrow.)

When one thinks of an action movie from the 1980s, there is something of a general image that is conjured in the mind. An army of almost limitless bad guys, barreling down on our hero. A wicked guitar riff to underscore the intense action. A hero who stands with his gun at the ready, an unstoppable killing machine in the face of evil. That image, exemplified by ’80s action movies such as Commando, has since become one both parodied for its ridiculous nature yet also embraced as a fun relic of a different style of action movie. The thrill of these movies, along with their aesthetic and focus on action at the expense of developing characters, has allowed their mark to endure. In fact, a South African game studio known as Free Lives has made their own video game that plays as tribute to the ’80s action movie. That game is Broforce.

Working as a side-scrolling platformer, the game is centered around Broforce, a team of badasses and skilled warriors who are thinly-veiled versions of action movie heroes. With their variety of weapons and blatant disregard of local terrain, they bring their skills to battle anyone who dares to threaten the promise of freedom. This means taking on terrorists, alien creatures, and even the forces of Hell itself. Gameplay itself is in a platformer style, with you working your way through levels until you reach the end point. Along the way, you’ll be shooting and fighting your way through a variety of different enemies. You’ll also be able to free captured prisoners, unlocking new members of Broforce to play as and earning extra lives while you do so. Care should be considered as you shoot out, however, because each level has plenty of explosive items scattered around along with the terrain being destructible. If you don’t pay attention, then you run the risk of preventing yourself from reaching the end of the stage. Also be wary, because you only get one hit for each life you possess. This means that you’ll want to be careful, even in the midst of all of the chaos as the bullets fly and barrels explode. Now, how is the game itself? It’s really quite fun.

When it comes to the gameplay, it’s fluid and fun. It captures the sort of over-the-top action associated with its ’80s action movie inspirations. Explosions are going off, enemies are all around, and it is satisfying to work your way through the hordes. Even dying is not a major annoyance, as each new life has you playing as a different bro. It’s also impressive the variety that they have of playable characters. Instead of just limiting its character inspiration to solely ’80s action films, the game’s bros cover a wide variety of familiar faces. From over-the-top heroes like Brommando and Ash Brolliams (inspired by John Matrix from Commando and Ash Williams from the Evil Dead series) to sci-fi figures like Bro Dredd and Brobocop (inspired by Judge Dredd and Robocop) to even more modern characters like the Boondock Bros and Cherry Broling (based upon the titular brothers from The Boondock Saints and Cherry Darling from Planet Terror), the game covers a wide spectrum of action movies heroes. Not only that, but they even pack each character with variety when it comes to their special powers or just details in their actions. For example, some bros are made to get up in an enemy’s face. Some are made to take down enemies from a distance. There are even those made for destruction, where accuracy isn’t the point so much as the damage and the explosions. As a result, there’s plenty of variety and choices when it comes to how you play. Now, there is one element to the game that I don’t feel quite works.

The ’80s action movie hero, the type most famously embodied by actors like Arnold Schwarzenegger or Sylvester Stallone, is very much a character of a different time. The needs and interests of the action movie genre has changed, with a greater interest on human figures rather than just forces of destruction. To go along with that, part of Broforce‘s approach in handling these characters is to present the team as a gung-ho American military group swooping in with a patriotic fervor. Now, there is a certain logic to this approach. As a way of putting a magnifying lens on this older archetype that is so centered around destruction in a pursuit of justice, they chose to focus it through a satirical political lens. I understand the intention, but it’s one that they don’t really do anything with. There is some broad joking of the “America, Hell Yeah!” sentiment, but that’s about it. I think that, if they really wanted to offer some examination of the ’80s action movie hero archetype, they they should have really focused more on that rather than just trying to apply a modern political angle to it. I think it could have worked if they had done more with examining the change in the action movie hero, what that meant in terms of the change towards more realistic and believable characters and away from overly-destructive and macho attitudes while also examining how the ’80s action movie heroes were still positive characters and still have their appeal. Still, this is just one weak aspect of what is ultimately a really fun game.

Despite my complaint about a mishandling in themes, Broforce is a fun slice of old-school action. It’s frenetic and quick, with bullets flying all around and explosions going off around every corner. It also feels like the ultimate treat for an action movie fan, thanks to the diverse range of playable characters it offers inspired by all sorts of movies. In the end, I recommend giving it a try on PC or on PlayStation 4. Play it by yourself, or with friends. Trust me, if you think it’s crazy when it’s just one person dealing with the horde of enemies and destructible terrain, imagine how it is when four players are in the fray.

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