In the eyes of many, there will always be a place for the side-scrolling beat ’em up. A staple of the gaming scene for decades past, taking on thugs and laying the smackdown on their bosses rarely gets old. It is button mashing gaming at its finest. One of the latest entries into that genre is the suitably titled Brutal Rage, developed by the one-man micro-team at 2BAD GAMES. Can this attempt deliver an experience befitting of the genre’s history?
Well, yes it does, and it will appeal to the hardcore beat ’em up fans, but on the flipside it’s not going to set the world alright nor drag in anyone previously uninterested.
Brutal Rage tells the story of two cops gone bad, or at least if they haven’t gone bad they’ve been stitched up big time. Across the course of six fairly swift chapters, you will help these guys – Mac and Kurt (with an unlockable Tommy coming in later down the line) – head off on a path of retribution, hunting down bad guys, working through swathes of thugs and ultimately beating the hell out of those who turned their lives upside-down.
The story told throughout Brutal Rage is a fairly fun one, full of cursing, frequented by coarse language, and running with an undertone that is fitting of the scene we find ourselves in. It’s extremely basic though and won’t be nominated for any narrative awards, but as a piece to hold together a number of gameplay segments, it works.
But hey, Brutal Rage would be just fine without any form of story lining the background, for this is nothing but a standard side-scrolling beat ’em up, requesting you to take down every single foe that comes your way. With a standard punch and kick pushing oncomers back, and a quick jump and throw allowing for a little more variety, stringing together cheap, quick combos of button hits is what will see your success in Brutal Rage come about. Don’t expect to be holding chains of double figure hits, but a swift kick, punch, punch will see off many, depleting their health bars as you go. Occasionally you’ll need to rely on specific strategic calls too, as foes attempt to grapple or block your onslaught. However you beat them back will see a Rage meter increase to a point where a single press of a bumper will allow access to superhuman strength, one-punch killing through to glory.
The opportunity to pick up and utilise a few weapons is nice too, with knives, bats, batons and guns all present. Whether you find these in destructible barrels or grab them from a foe matters little; if they are there, use them.
With points on offer depending on how well you string together your attacks, and the fact that you’ll be left flat on your back should you decide to not dish out any knuckle sandwiches, Brutal Rage comes across as a fairly fast-flowing affair. It is one that rarely deals with any form of lag or slowdown – either in terms of the gameplay itself or the code that holds it together. It does what it says on the tin.
Never will you find yourself too overcome with enemies though, as they arrive and get dispatched in batches, before you traipse your way in a left to right fashion in order to see more arrive. It rarely really gets going however, instead coming across as a number of short, sharp, fairly repetitive segments thrown together. These are then broken up by the odd bit of new narrative and some weird motorcycle-themed dodge ‘em up cutaways as your cops sit astride bikes and hurtle down a freeway, dodging cars and attempting to pick up enough fuel to allow them to reach their next destination. Honestly, these are fun little segways to the next stage, but are ultimately throwaway signs of 2BAD GAMES trying to pad a bit of length into the short experience.
The story mode may well be the meat and drink of Brutal Rage, but once you’ve worked through that on the easy, medium and hard stages (each of which provide unlimited credits, 5 credits and 4 credits respectively), you’ll only be left with the opportunity to showcase your skills in the Brutal Club. As always, what happens in the Brutal Club stays in the Brutal Club, as you hammer through waves of enemies and try to become champion of the land. This is trickier than it looks, with even the ‘easy’ difficulty level causing a fair few issues. It’ll at least keep you busy for a little while and is something to allow variation away from the madness of the main tale.
Both visually and in terms of the audio, Brutal Rage has some shortcomings. It’s obvious from the get-go that this is a game that has been developed on a budget, and whilst the graphical look fits the scene it’s all a bit short of the wow factor. It’s all pretty dark too, and at multiple instances through my playthroughs of Brutal Rage I’ve been left squinting at the screen, attempting to distinguish some detail in the darkness – none more so than when playing as Mac. His skin tones see him fade away into the background. This gloomy look is a right pain when you are trying to pick out a discarded knife or gun that has been left on the floor or hidden away in a destructible trash can, with the button prompt hardly visible against the level backgrounds. And further to that, yes the character models of the enemies are okay, but there is a ton of duplication involved in their creation.
The audio fares worse still: retro in feel throughout, your kicks and punches are fine but the backing soundtrack which loops away forevermore is one that you will seriously be glad to see the back of.
While there is always a place for a new side-scrolling beat ’em up in the world, Brutal Rage on Xbox One will only scratch a fan’s itch for a little while, with the addition of some two player couch co-op delivering a little more welcome fun. With the shortcomings it has though, this is ultimately a game that will eventually succumb to a sucker punch, left flat on its back as other more vibrant fighters trample all over it.