Strange Brigade Review
Developed and Published by: Rebellion Developments
Played on: PlayStation 4
The adventure serials of the 1930’s and 40’s seem like the most fertile ground for exploration in video games. Characters are often portrayed by a specific archetype, the action is usually the main focus, and these types of stories often explore exotic and strange locales. Examples like Doc Savage, Johnny Quest, Buck Rogers, or for something more recent (albeit more comedic in tone) The Venture Bros. all come to mind. But, for one reason or another, games have not really capitalized on such a seemingly tailor-made concept. Now, here comes in Rebellion, most widely known for their Sniper Elite series, and not who you would first expect to take on this idea. But, whether expected or not, Rebellion was able to put together a charming, fun, arcade-style send up to the adventure stories of old.
Strange Brigade has you and up to 3 friends playing as one of its unique characters, traveling Egypt to stop an ancient Witch Queen from unleashing the armies of the dead upon the Earth. Such a simple premise gives ample excuse for the game to take you to numerous locales including jungles, ancient temples, and caverns filled with sunken pirate ships. The Brigade consists of; Frank Fairburne, your stereotypical tough guy; Archimedes de Quincey, a professor with a knack for the supernatural; Gracie Braithwaite, a Rosie the Riveter-esque type from the rougher side of England, and Nalangu Rushida, an African warrior woman sworn to protect the world from supernatural evils. All of these characters are fun and unique, with each of their personalities bouncing off each other in often humorous ways.
The gameplay will feel extremely familiar to anyone who has played the Left 4 Dead series before. Your team makes its way through the various levels, taking out all enemies in its way, and with a bit of light puzzle solving to unlock various treasures and gold, until you reach an end boss. While this is a formula that, on paper, could get very stale, very quickly, Strange Brigade is able to keep its gameplay loop refreshing by always keeping the player on their toes, dodging enemies and luring them into the many booby traps strewn across the levels, which include everything from spinning blades, falling stalactites, explosive barrels, and many, many more, and finally facing one of the Witch Queen Seteki’s many champions, which can range from tougher versions of normal enemies, to literal giants who shake the earth with every step.
It has been a while since I have held my controller locked in white-knuckle combat for so long, using every trick in the book to dodge, shoot, and trap the hordes of mummies, skeletons, and undead pirates that impede your process. The last time would probably be 2016’s Doom, and anything that can harken to that level of attention-grabbing gameplay is a good thing in my book.
There are various collectibles all throughout the levels of the roughly 10-12 hour campaign, which ultimately add up to gold that can be used to buy new weapons and abilities. While each character is more or less the same, and weapon purchases are (thankfully) shared among the four characters, where their individuality really shines is in their special amulet moves and weapon slot upgrades. Every enemy killed gives off a soul that you can collect in an amulet by holding R2, and once your meter is full, you can unleash a powerful screen-clearing super attack. Frank bum rushes the closest enemy, sending them hurtling into the others and exploding like a British Segata Sanshiro, while Professor Quincy can use ancient Egyptian magic to send a homing attack that disintegrates enemies one by one. Also, during levels, you can complete puzzles that will sometimes lead to chests filled with weapon modifiers.
Each weapon can hold a certain number of these runes that grant the weapon additional buffs and bonuses. For example, one of my favorite combos was using the freeze modifier, coupled with a damage boost, on the shotgun so that each spread of gunfire had a chance to freeze enemies in their tracks, to which I would then run up and melee attack them, instantly shattering their frozen, undead corpse. While you start out fairly simply, by the end of the game, between various weapon mods and amulet powers, you will feel like an absolute badass mowing down waves of the undead in a fashion that would make Bruce Campbell green with envy.
Strange Brigade does have a few noticeable hiccups, however. The game can be played solo or with up to 3 other players, and while the game does, thankfully, scale the enemies to the appropriate player size so a solo player isn’t bombarded with four players worth of enemies, co-op is limited to online only. Couch co-op is not included in Strange Brigade, and while I can understand the possible technical limitations that may have caused this decision, it nonetheless hampers Strange Brigade’s co-op feature, as this is the perfect game for local, couch co-op.
There are a few other technical errors that will, more than likely, be fixed upon release like subtitles not matching the spoken dialogue, and music and dialogue overlapping or cutting out for a moment. Also, and this seems to be a problem with a lot of recent games (looking at you God of War…) the on-screen text is excruciatingly small. Sitting a normal distance away from my TV, I had to give up on reading the in-game lore drops that fill in most of the backstory of the game.
Strange Brigade comes in under the $60 AAA price threshold at $49.99 but delivers an easy $60 worth of content between single player, co-op, and a score attack mode. If any game can benefit from story expansion DLC though, this is most definitely it. I would love to see standalone expansions of the Brigade in different locales fighting different supernatural foes. It is good to see that the game will be adding new characters down the line though, as anyone who purchases the game in its first 30 days will receive the first DLC character, Winston Bey, for free.
Minor technical issues don’t stop Strange Brigade from oozing charm out of every possible corner. Between its fun characters, snappy dialogue, and the narrator that follows you throughout the entire game who sounds like an old-timey radio drama narrator (of the fast-talking, high pants variety) Strange Brigade delivers on gameplay and character.
If you are looking for fun, online co-op, arcade-style action, with a refreshing setting and fun characters, look no further than Strange Brigade.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I am off for a nice cuppa. Jolly good!
[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]