Preview: Broforce

War has changed. But bros? Bros never change. And in this topsy-turvy world of faceless goons, excessive explosions and devils in business suits, the only person you can trust anymore is the bro by your side. Multiple bros? Even better. Comprised of over a dozen pop-culture parodies, the Broforce is a group dedicated to protecting all that is free and American. All who prefer their steaks medium rare with a glass of scotch on the side. Or... well, do they?

You know, I've never really done a preview before, and it's a little funny to do so with a game that's in early access (also my first experience with that). I've just never had that experience of starting up a game only to have something completely change the next time I do so. I had this huge write-up about things that were missing from Broforce, but a single update that included a map akin to a level select really helped out. Complaints I had that it made the game a little too "samey" were assuaged by levels being split up, clearer end fights against bosses and even different themes spreading across levels.

It also helps that there is no story just yet but simple text like "North Vietnam: Threat Level Magenta. LIBERATE!" does hint, in its own bizarre way, at something deeper going on.

But as that earlier and ominous "or do they?"' might suggest, the conflict in Broforce isn't set up in any way. You'll start as John Rambro who must free the rest of the Broforce along the way. How were they even captured? What's the conflict that a particular devil in a business suit appears to be causing? Who are the Broforce? All we have to go on is the small Steam description declaring the group an underfunded paramilitary force. I'm not looking for Ulysses here, but the game clearly has a good sense of humor, and I'd like to see it a little more in the setup department, especially if it keeps that tone.

Right now Broforce's main tone is explosions, and I'm about to say the word 'explosions' and derivatives of it a million times. I don't see a way around it because they might as well have called this game Explosionforce (sequel idea or awesome metal band name?). The puts you in the role of several characters with Bro-icized names (John Rambro, The Brominator, Bromanndo... Brade...) in a world full of explosives and evil men who need to be very exploded.

Your strategy for this is basically the core tenet of Shock and Awe: blowing things up until the enemy gives up (or, well, in this case, when everyone dies), luckily helped out by explosive barrels in multiple varieties. There are your run-of-the-mill red barrels, your regular grey ones that also explode because, as we all know, that's what barrels exist for, and gas canisters that launch in the direction they're pointing and explode after a certain distance. There are also explosive enemies and enemies who drop bombs after they die.

There are a lot of mobility options, including the ability to climb walls and flip up from ledges, making it feel a little like an explosion-fueled Super Meat Boy. On top of that, you can destroy practically any surface in the game, so it's difficult to ever actually get stuck somewhere. You can always explode your way out-- and if you can't, you're not trying hard enough!

Levels are set up as a straight 'kill a specific enemy and then get out of there,' and there are also boss battles that usually revolve around using a different tact to kill enemies. There are invincible guys who can only be killed by falling off a cliff or giant helicopters that have to get hit by flying gas canisters. I really enjoyed these because after mowing through so many easy enemies, it's nice to have someone I actually needed to think about defeating. Their ordinance is also so heavy that just charging in is nothing more than a great way to die. There are also several different enemy types, including heavies and robots, who have their own best ways to defeat them, though you usually can't go wrong with 'don't stop shooting'.

Which leads to the big problem with some of the Bros. I'm not even going pretend that they're all equally fun to play, or equally useful. They're not. Some of them are melee characters, or use swords, and I ask you: how am I supposed to explode a barrel when you only have close-quarters combat and not get exploded yourself? Each Bro has a unique(ish) weapon and grenade, and each of them are also effective in their own way, but the game completely randomizes which order you get them in, and sometimes you're just not in a great position with a good bro to take something out.

How is a melee man supposed to take down a helicopter? What about the guy who just throws dynamite? It can be pretty frustrating to find yourself in a situation like that because you're almost guaranteed to die and come in as a new guy. At its best, the idea of this is to make you have to constantly think of new strategies and try to use each Bro's strengths as well as possible. But it usually winds up with you thinking 'oh, this guy? I can't wait to be someone else instead.' It's unfortunate since they probably put a lot of thought into them, but it's guaranteed: some of these guys just aren't fun, and sometimes it can be surprising which ones are better and which are worse.

It can also be a little too chaotic at time, but then, that's the point. It can be odd to be shooting things and then getting blown up and warping back to another checkpoint, but it's also kind of fun for the entire screen to be taken up by KABOOM KAPOW and the, after you sort through the rubble, you find the body of your fallen Bro. But don't worry- he's only temporarily taken out.

There's also an area for custom campaigns, and here's an area I'd especially like to see developed. One of them has you play as a single character escaping out of a city, and moments like this can actually give you a chance to play through more specific moments. Look, basically I'm trying to say "we can make these parts into huge movie references that might not fit the campaign otherwise." You could, I don't know, escape from New York or, uh, stop a bunch of terrorists in a skyscraper. Custom campaigns can ideally be created by players, I think, but I'd also love to see the developers put more work into some themselves.

It's got a few more things that I'd like it to add, but the early access Broforce is quite an experience. With more variety and a better set up, there's a lot of room for the game to grow into something not just viscerally entertaining, but also a rewarding challenge. But no matter what, I can get behind a game where you play as a character named "Brominator" who mows his way through a million enemies like paper on his way through a skyscraper. Many games have tried to capture that 80s action movie appeal, but so far, Broforce seems like the one that's capturing it the best.