Strange Brigade is a bit of an odd one. Having been a fan of Rebellion since early Sniper Elite days, I’ve usually kept up with their latest developments, however, for some bizarre reason, this title seemed to have slipped under the radar. I don’t know why, but it was like some mysterious force pushing me away from the studios next title.
That being said, having forced myself to actually pay attention to the game – mostly thanks to how brilliantly the Twitter page for the game was being handled – I’m very glad I did as Strange Brigade is an interesting title which blends Tomb Raider and Uncharted-style exploration with a spot of jolly good puzzle solving. Ultimately aside from the gunplay, it’s a complete departure from the Sniper Elite shooter series we know and love from Rebellion, giving us a mythical adventure layered with campy 1920s narration and a cast of mostly ludicrously British characters.
So what can you expect from Strange Brigade? Well, my first experience was diving into the game with Josh, my best bud, on our stream last week and at first, we were acting about a little. The game gave off a classic “The Wild Thornberry’s” vibe so instantly we started shouting Nigel Thornberry quotes at each other, but then something happened. We actually started to play the game seriously. Which is a little odd for us, especially on stream…
The game itself is a co-operative shooter adventure game in which players take on swaths of mystical undead in the search for treasure. There are ancient traps which can be triggered, waves upon waves of crispy cadavers, and plenty of treasure to be found. There’s also a healthy dose of puzzle solving through secret doors. These come in different forms from connecting parts of a snake puzzle, or finding the correct combination for a door hidden in amongst the rest of the environment. While optional, these little side puzzles were fantastic little additions which kept the gameplay fresh.
You can play with up to three other players, with the body count rising as more players come into the game, however, it’s never enough that it becomes too overwhelming, at least when playing online with a friend. Playing solo, on the other hand, is a different story as you’re forced to dodge your way through the crowds of decaying dead ensuring you don’t become their next meal.
That being said, playing solo wasn’t as unenjoyable as I’d expected. Strange Brigade is certainly made for multiplayer play, but playing alone offers just as good of an experience as playing with friends if not slightly scaled down.
The advantage of playing with a friend or two in Strange Brigade comes from having more than one pair of eyes. Throughout each of the levels, there are hidden secrets whether it’s chests loaded with cash, upgrade stones, or artifacts, or hidden cat flasks which can be shot to unlock a secret room at the end of each of the missions. Plus, it’s always more fun playing with friends, right?
In addition, the game seems to scale based on how many people you have playing. From playing alone to playing with multiple players the missions seem to become deeper with more to explore, puzzles become a little more challenging and may often rely on players to be in two separate locations relying on voice communication to get the solution.
Throughout Strange Brigade, you’ll meet a creative cast of enemies which range from basic undead mummies to mummies with impeccable acrobatics and fire-breathing, all the way to sentient skeletons. This once again keeps gameplay fresh as you never know what to expect when adventuring through dark corridors of ruins. Hell, you’ll often find yourself facing off with twenty-odd baddies at a time in certain locations, sort if like mini-bosses before you hit the final act of the mission.
While the gameplay holds itself up pretty well, the game’s story is little to be desired, and you’ll likely find yourself skipping the story cinematics before and after missions. It’s your typical affair of “oh no, something has gone wrong at a dig site, looks like the Strange Brigade will have to come and clean it up!” this story is drip-fed throughout both cinematics and in-game dialogue, but it’s uneventful and eventually becomes nothing more than white noise.
For those who really want to explore the story and the characters within it, there are plenty of collectibles which can be found throughout the environment which usually come in the form of journals, or newspaper clippings. Though for me personally, I just wanted to get back into the action.
Strange Brigade is however very campy and tongue-in-cheek, and it begins with its cast. It really can’t help but hammer in how “British” it all is, despite Kenyan native Nalangu Rushida being a part of the team. Having chosen to mainly play as Gracie Braithwaite, a painfully northern boxer, and factory worker, I first found her little northern quips quite humorous but after hearing her shout “BLOODY NORA!!!” one too many times during her special attack, it began to be a little grating.
The good news is that Rebellion seems to have anticipated how annoying the chatty character dialogue might be and have offered an option to tone this down slightly which is a nice touch.
Each Strange Brigade‘s characters have their own special abilities in the form of amulets which can be charged by collecting the souls of the bodies you effortlessly mow down. For Gracie, this cam in the form of mimicking Mortal Kombat’s Scorpion and thwipping an unsuspecting mummy a few feet ahead only to land a devastating uppercut which sends the corpse flying and eventually exploding. Saving these special abilities for when you’re slightly outnumbered is actually key, as you can often land some pretty sweet combos if done correctly.
These amulets can, however, be switched out once you’ve collected a full set of artifacts/relics which can be found hidden in the aforementioned puzzle rooms. With 16 in total, dished out between all four of the game’s base characters, they can range to anything from a charge, to a deployable spiritual turret of sorts. Once all four for each character has been unlocked, players can switch them out during the game’s initial loadout editor, or in-game via craft benches.
Speaking of which, this is where players will be able to upgrade their weaponry, however, the game once again harnesses the power of the dead by using stones found within chests. These stones can improve various aspects of combat, from stabilizing the weapon, increasing the fire rate, or awarding a little bit of health for every kill made with that weapon. Crafting is however limited per weapon to a set number of slots. The starter weapons have one slot, and the pricier weapons have two or three.
Understandably, this is the early 1900s so don’t expect to find high caliber, rapid-fire weapons here, instead you’ll be left with fairly slow-firing shotguns, rifles, and automatic machine guns. The good news though is that high-power, rapid firing weaponry is saved for in-game one-time-use bonus weapons! Littered throughout the game you’ll find briefcases which you can pay to unlock a random high-power weapon. These are naturally best saved for the mission’s later acts when you face-off against hordes of enemies or even boss battles.
One area in which I personally felt that Strange Brigade suffered was with the gunplay, especially when it came to bosses that required precision aiming, which is odd considering the studios’ history with games based around precision shooting. This might be largely due to the game consisting of mostly third-person shooting – something which is also found in the Sniper Elite series – and for those who have played Sniper Elite will likely know the downfalls of using anything other than a sniper rifle.
The issue here seems to stem from the types of weapons at your disposal which either consist of shotguns, full auto rifles, and semi-auto rifles. Shotguns are great at close range but are slow, full auto rifles allow you to fill cadavers with bullets but the recoil and bullet spray can, at times, be unmanageable, and semi-auto rifles may be more precise at long-range but not so much in close quarters.
To Rebellion’s credit, they have supplied plenty of checkpoints with weapons chests allowing you switch weapons out periodically, but it requires some exemplary guessing as to what type of weapon you’ll need for the scenario ahead. At times it can feel like a catch 22. This doesn’t necessarily let the game down, it just adds a level of frustration when you come across a mob of skeletons with nothing more than a long-range rifle, or are stuck trying to hit a tiny target on a gigantic Minotaur with a sawn-off shotgun.
At the surface, Strange Brigade seems like a pretty straightforward co-op shooter, however, there are several nuances which make the game much, much deeper than first considered. Yes, the game is slathered with a spread of over the top campy British humor, but don’t let that put you off as Strange Brigade is a hell of a lot of fun, especially if you can get enough players to give this treasure hunting romp a whirl.