July 13, 2012

Great Scot

Lasting First Impressions of Brave from Behaviour Interactive

Brave Boxart» Apparently I’m of Scottish descent and if the hype surrounding Pixar’s latest animated adventure is to be believed, Brave is the closest I will likely ever come to experiencing what life was like for my ancestors during the 10th century. Clearly, my grandmother was mistaken when she left all the magic, witchcraft and talking bears out of her stories about the highlands. Disney Interactive Studios recently published a third-person action adventure game, based on the film of the same name, and developed by Behaviour Interactive, and my 8 year old daughter and I spent an hour with Brave to see if it is worth your family’s time.

Like the film, Brave stars teenaged Princess Merida, who is more comfortable with a horse and a bow than she is with bows in her hair. The game loosely follows the plot of the film and sees young Merida off on a quest to reverse an ursine curse placed on her ‘mum’, Queen Elinor. Story elements are told through a series of narrated static animations between levels, and while they do illustrate Disney’s classic roots, they lack the vividness and vivacity of Pixar’s big screen storytelling. Surprisingly, the graphics are hit-and-miss for a product with ‘Pixar’ on the box. Terrain often consists of bland and muddy textures sparsely occupied with vegetation, while background elements are lush and vibrant. Character models are noticeably simple, and this is most evident during the occasional in-engine cut-scenes. The biggest offense in the visual department was the hideous way in which Merida’s trademark gorgeous red mane was rendered as if it were instead made of stiff paper ribbons. Ok, now that that’s out of the way…let’s get to the good stuff.

Brave screen 1

What separates Brave from other movie tie-in games is the gameplay. Brave plays like a big-budget action adventure with fast paced melee and ranged combat using tight and varied controls, upgradeable health, powers, and weapons, and an element-based magic attack system. Weapons are upgraded by plundering treasure chests hidden throughout each level. Artifacts that boost health and various combat stats can also be collected. Levels are accessed via a central hub called ‘The Ring of Stones’, allowing you to check each level for collectible stats and jump back in for another play through. Abilities are unlocked by progressing through the game and are purchased and upgraded by spending in-game currency at the specified upgrade stations. These upgrades include powerful slam attacks, charged range attacks, dodge abilities, and a limited and replenishable power attack system, to name a few. The biggest gameplay surprise is the inclusion of a twin-stick shooter control scheme for ranged attacks: the right thumbstick dispatches a steady volley of arrows in any direction and character movement control is mapped to the left. An element-based charm system allows for switching charms on the fly in order to complete simple puzzles or exploit the well-advertised weaknesses of particular enemies to specific elements. Enemy types are diverse in size, speed, and attack type and require a constant mix of tactics and charms to overcome, especially on higher difficulty levels. Certain arenas require you to take control of Queen Elinor, in bear form, as she charges, slams, and slashes her way through waves of enemies. Brave also features the odd logic puzzle starring Merida’s sibling triumvirate and serves to allow progress through certain doors and obstacles and provides a nice break from the action.

Brave Screen 2

If a family-friendly and satisfying single-player action adventure simply wasn’t enough, Brave also features local co-op and optional Kinect sensor support. Local co-op allows another player to fire up a second controller and take control of a magical wisp imbued with the same melee and ranged combat abilities as the main heroine. This provides a younger or less skilled player the opportunity to take part in the on-screen action with less of the responsibility, as they simply respawn on Merida if they stray too far, are defeated, or tap the corresponding ‘warp-to’ button. This co-op mode is also robust enough to satisfy two capable gamers looking to tackle the game’s toughest difficulty mode. Kinect support is thankfully tucked away in its own mode, Archery Range, accessible only off of the main menu. Archery Range is comprised of three mini-games: Quiver Limit, Survival, and Quick Draw. Each mini-game features Kinect-driven archer mimery against wooden targets and resulted in frustration and sore arms within minutes as the required level of speed and accuracy are simply not possible with the current sensor hardware. My 8 year old daughter’s limbs and movements were not recognized at all where she has had no troubles with other Kinect titles, meaning that software implementation was likely a rushed afterthought for the sole purpose of earning the box a purple stripe.

Brave, although not visually deserving of the Pixar association in this videogame outing, is a standout in the movie tie-in space and provides players both young and old with a compelling adventure in a surprisingly deep presentation. Given how far we progressed in a solid hour, Brave is likely to be a short experience but that quality of that experience from a gameplay perspective should more than make up for it. Local co-op is a welcome family-friendly addition but optional Kinect support is a complete throwaway.

Behavior Interactive, I gave you an hour and I am IMPRESSED.

About the Author

is an avid gamer on all platforms, unapologetic graphics whore and peripheral junkie. He is also a drummer both electronic and acoustic, a loving husband, and adoring father to two lovely girls. Follow Craig on Twitter as @Talus as he eats sandwiches and posits on the latest inconsequential happenings in the games industry.



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