In ‘No Pay 2 Play’, we review free video games (whether they’re riddled with microtransactions and season passes or not) and then answer the golden question: is it worth adding to your game library?
Developed by Free Lives. Published by Devolver Digital in August 2014. Achievements not included.
Is it really free?
What’s it all about?
America – land of liberty, apple pie and hawks flexing at jealous, malnourished Commies. If you ever ask a person what the most American video game out there is, chances are they will point you towards the run-’n’-gun side-scroller Broforce by Free Lives. It had it all: explosions, fluent controls, exacting levels, and a cast of parodied action movie and video game protagonists. To promote the mediocre 2014 action film The Expendables 3 (i.e. that trilogy of movies with actors that starred in classic movies like Rambo and The Terminator), Free Lives released an official crossover game, combining aspects of the movie with Broforce. In The Expendabros, you must waver through the terrorist-ridden forests of Eastern Europe in pursuit of a nasty arms dealer. Best of all, it doesn’t cost a nickel.
Just like the original game, Expendabros has eye-catching visuals and some detailed. Ah, pixel art! As seen in countless indie titles! Conversely, with exception to the downright badass victory theme that plays once you beat a level, the rest of the soundtrack are just reused ambient noises and drum beats. Fitting, if forgettable. It runs without a hitch, though lots and lots of action on-screen will cripple the framerate for a bit.
Just like in the original game, you need to reach the helicopter at the end of each mission. The environment is made up of thousands of destroyable square blocks. There are many paths to choose from. Making a tunnel by shooting through the ground underneath the enemy is also an equitable solution, yet so is running across the bridge, or sliding along the ziplines while bouncing off enemy parachutes. Moving around feels so slick and seamless, and thankfully gravity or logic won’t stop you from pulling off some incredibly ridiculous stunts, like climbing up walls and unrealistically somersaulting around within milliseconds. The title supports up to four players, but has no online play and lacks the mapmaker found in the original.
As you progress, you’ll find your fellow Bros trapped in cages. Rescuing them will unlock more playable characters (a specific amount of rescues is required to unlock each), with their own exclusive weapons and abilities. Most of them are already available in the base game. Not everyone packs a mighty minigun or spews bullets from an SMG. Broctor Death uses melee attacks to dash around and deflect bullets, while Lee Broxmas tosses knives like crazy. Experimenting with each Bro’s weapon and abilities is always a joy, and finding creative ways to take down packs of terrorists is always an enjoyable experience.
Problem is, as manly as the Bros look, they will all die in a single hit. If one of them goes down, you’ll lose a life and will respawn at the nearest checkpoint as a different protagonist you previously unlocked. While it can be irritating – particularly when the terrorists unleash the homing missile turrets and the surprise-attack saw blades – dying doesn’t break the quick-pace of the game… unless you run out of lives. In which case, you need to go back to an even further checkpoint, or to the start of the level. Otherwise, if one person goes down, you’ll be playing as another in no time.
You’ll come across a few boss encounters, all of which will unload a barrage of bullets and/or missiles your way. Tough as they may be, you can use the environment and your ability to defy gravity to your advantage to latch onto them, or sink ‘em in a tight space to spam with attacks. The final mission is a bit of a ballache, as you’ll need to rush through a short level with a single Bro, as a wave of explosions begin to chase you. You’ll have barely enough time to get out of there, unless you use some of the characters who can use their weapons and abilities to shunt themselves to the right a lot quicker.
Expendabros may be a titchy pack of maps that can be beaten within an hour, but what a great 60 minutes they are. Since the movie has come and gone like a fart in the wind, what remains is a thin, free slice of Broforce goodness. It makes for a great training exercise for those who want to get to grips with the mechanics and demanding difficulty of the original game, and provides a worthwhile distraction and challenge for seasoned veterans. One playthrough would be enough since there are no achievements or additional content to unlock beyond the small roster of parodied protagonists unless you want to crank up the difficulty for the second playthrough. It’s a solid experience that’s certainly worth your time, so if you haven’t played Free Lives’ magnum opus yet, play Expendabros first and have a blast. God bless the devs, and God bless America!