Hot Brass is a top-down tactical shooter where you take on the role of an elite SWAT team member. Presenting an array of scenarios across numerous settings, Hot Brass offers a selection of tactical problems to solve either through slow, stealthy infiltration or aggressive breach-and-clear methods. Whether it be alone or alongside a group of friends as a fully geared team, Hot Brass is set to present a worthy challenge.
THIS AIN’T LIKE THE ACADEMY, KID
From the outset, Hot Brass is bold with its presentation and setting. The first level is a brief training gauntlet that provides an overview of each of the basics, from maneuvering to combat and reconnaissance. From here things quickly ramp up. The first couple of missions feature fairly basic arrests and armed suspect situations, but the challenge soon begins to escalate.
Hot Brass takes a very different approach to most stealth and combat games. As a SWAT operator, it is preferable to neutralize targets using non-lethal methods if possible, but unlike most stealth games, which tend to offer an arsenal of weapons designed for knocking out opponents, Hot Brass is primarily built around a psychological means of subduing enemies. During most encounters with hostile – or even non-hostile – individuals, the first course of action in Hot Brass is usually to shout at them. A mouse click can unleash a command such as “Down on the ground!” or “Police! Freeze!” in order to cause a target to assume a passive stance. This is indicated by the color of their icon-based avatar. Red suggests an aggressive posture, while yellow is indeterminate and green shows passivity. Instructing potential threats in this way before responding appropriately (and in a timely manner) is the core of Hot Brass and, honestly, it’s a lot more fun than it sounds.
Targets can respond in an assortment of different ways and each must be responded to differently; shooting a non-hostile target will fail the mission immediately, while a moment’s hesitation against an armed threat can mean death.
DON’T TASE ME, BRO
Thankfully, there are some options available for dealing with these potential dangers. Before each mission, there is a short briefing and a chance to outfit your operator with an assortment of gear for the task at hand. I can’t get enough of this preparation element in games like this, so I enjoyed gearing up my SWAT operator. That being said, it would have been nice to have seen a wider selection of tools available to choose from, especially early in the game, when most of the options are still locked.
Weapons and gear range from combat armor, firearms (including an SMG and a shotgun for primary weapons), breaching charges, flashbangs, under-door cameras and a TASER. The latter is a basic piece of equipment for subduing belligerent enemies who aren’t carrying firearms. Shooting an unarmed hostile, however aggressive, is a no-no, so the TASER becomes essential. If they draw a gun, however, returning fire is absolutely an option.
When a situation becomes violent, things tend to happen very fast in Hot Brass. A single shot can kill your operator, the enemy or a restrained civilian who was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. Hot Brass does a very good job of capturing the quick decision-making necessary to determine whether an individual is just resisting arrest or ready to draw a pistol and open fire. I found flashbangs to be particularly useful; unlike the TASER, they are a legitimate tool against all subjects and allow for a moment to sort the real dangers from civilians.
EYES ON THE PERP
In addition to this psychological dance, Hot Brass also brings a lot of environmental tactics to the table. Line-of-sight plays a huge role and the-top down approach is leveraged fully. Crouching makes you harder to see but also severely limits your own vision. By contrast, roaming around with a torch makes it easy to isolate enemies, but also draws them to you like moths to a flame.
I prefer a slower, methodical approach. Taking out the lights (usually by finding a terminal outside the building) can facilitate this more stealthy method, and certain items can ensure a greater advantage in the dark.
As an alternative to stealth, there are plenty of loud methods of traversing the map. Breaching charges make for an excellent way to launch a surprise assault on a room. Follow up with a flashbang, and enemies will have little time to react.
Of course, all of this is offset by the challenges the game throws at you. As each stage went by, I found that Hot Brass had more up its sleeve than I expected; all of its separate systems interact to make for a level of difficulty that is greater than the sum of its parts.
Enemies can use flashbangs, too, and a room full of unidentified targets can be a nightmare to deal with. Yes, a flashbang will stun them for a moment, but you can’t then gun them all down; some may be civilians, others might be hostile but unarmed – and so ineligible for lethal force – whilst another could be lurking behind a desk with a shotgun.
More than once, I found myself faced with one enemy drawing a machine gun while another surrendered in front of him, providing cover that I could neither ignore nor eliminate (cover, I might add, that the hostile had no compunction about firing through).
Hot Brass has a distinctive and punchy aesthetic, using music that evokes televised police drama and visuals that, whilst simple, are certainly eye-catching.
The top-down style is in no way a drawback for Hot Brass, and while its characters are represented by simple icons, they manage to have personality nonetheless. That glowing red disc wielding a submachine gun is no less threatening for its simple representation, and the voice-acting helps to add humanity where the visuals do not.
The levels are meticulously designed, and wonderful-line-of sight details such as torchlight filtering through tiny cracks in doors are attentively rendered.
CO-OPS AND ROBBERS
With all the challenge Hot Brass packs, it pays to bring a friend or three along. Hot Brass features online and local cooperative play, and this is certainly a highlight. The equipment available to choose from encourages specialization; one player can carry a riot shield to provide cover, while another may take the under-door camera for reconnaissance. Another operative may take a breaching charge to surprise the enemy when they’ve been scouted out.
There is also an Arcade mode to allow for greater customization of each level and provide further replay value.
Hot Brass is a solid and well-made game that offers a fairly unique take on the stealth combat genre. The SWAT focus isn’t wasted, and the subtleties of this particular setting are fully leveraged for an interesting style of action. The deadly balance between shooting at a resistant hostile or waiting to see if they’ll drop their weapon and surrender never gets old, ensuring that there is always a tense thrill to be had on each level.
Hot Brass is a superb title for fans of real-time tactics games and easy to recommend for anyone looking for a new take on the genre.