Strange Brigade took me by surprise when I happened upon its preview demo stand during EGX Rezzed earlier this year and it was a welcome one which made me really look forward to the release. It looked to offer some fun co-op action and provide a new take on what is now a fixed component of team-based shooters in building the action around horde mode gameplay with a Rebellion style and twist that really appealed to me. Now it was time to see what the full game has to offer
As a huge fan of the Sniper Elite series I was curious to see how Rebellion would bring Strange Brigade to life as the focus seems to have shifted away from dramatic sniping battles and crazy over the top X-Ray style kill cams. Strange Brigade is a big move away with its focus on squad-based gameplay but also the very tongue in cheek fourth wall breaking humour that I had not expected to be such a big part of the game play through out.
The Strange Brigade are a team of specialists who have been put together to search the world for supernatural relics and items and stand as the last line of defence on behalf of the British Empire. Set in the 1930’s our brigade is alerted to a new threat. 4000 years ago the Witch Queen Seteki was imprisoned in a nameless tomb and all records of her removed from Egyptian history but now something is stirring and our heroes must work together in order to keep her evil from destroying the world. Throw in a very old school adventure TV show presentation and some colourful characters to play as and you have the makings of a something a little different from the regular squad-based shooter.
Before I get to the gameplay I really do have to give special mention to the best thing in the game, the Narrator. This guy brings all the comedy and one liners and is constantly in the ears of players throughout the gameplay. He is as quintessentially British as you could possibly get and he really, really does not like cats. He provides the advice and intelligence or each mission and he will tell you off for not pulling your weight and I do mean telling you off. During my first time playing I put the controller down to grab a drink and suddenly I hear myself being told off in the game for not moving then when I had to pause the game I was told off again. I really appreciate that level of self-awareness which at no time goes too far to break the immersion in the game or too heavy handed that it feels as though it is making fun of the fact it is breaking the fourth wall. The Narrator really is the heart of the game and carries it for me outside of the gameplay.
That gameplay is also rather fun if not heavy on really offering too much of a challenge for players. The brigade is sent into different locations to hunt down Seteki whilst battling the evil forces her spirit has reanimated around the relics and collectibles which the team can search for and collect. Each level involves large maps which contain puzzles to solve to help navigate that level and progress further into it. At times the levels can actually feel far too big with places to explore that rarely provide anything more than a few collectibles or a random fight encounter. This feeling especially hits you as the player if you are playing solo, which the game is perfectly playable as but you will always have that feeling that the map has been designed for a full four player team.
I did enjoy the puzzle solving though like combat it is never really taxing with most of them simple or requiring finding the right code combination for certain doors but it did offer other things to do than just the shooting. The best factor is in how the gameplay adapts to the number of players so if you are playing solo you can do everything solo but if playing with two or more friends then the puzzles adapt so for example if a floor puzzle requires a solo player to step on the correct floor tiles in the right order will adapt so that the same puzzle will need all the players in the team to help solve that puzzle. This level of adaptation is rare in such games with solo play only being feasible to a certain point before it either becomes unplayable or just not fun but Strange Brigade welcomes solo play but encourages and rewards for co-op play without penalising the solo players out there, which is very refreshing.
When it come to the combat the best way to really think of it is a light comparison to Call of Duty Zombies in that when fights happen, a large number of enemies will come for you to take out. Enemies come in different types from regular cannon fodder to more specialised ones. Levels have built in traps which can help take out enemy numbers. Weapons can also be upgraded to have different ammunition bonuses such as added damage values or elemental power like fire or electricity. Like CoD Zombies you can spend some of the gold you collect through the level to access special weapon crates which will give you a random special weapon which will only last till its own ammunition runs out. Each character has their own unique abilities in the form of their amulets, these can be charged with the energy emitted from killing enemies till it fills up and can unleash a special power move which varies depending on the character but others can be purchased throughout the game and equipped. New guns can also be purchased and unlocked and loadouts can be changed at various checkpoint camps in the levels and also before you begin a new mission.
Visually I really like the aesthetics of Strange Brigade from the individual characters to the enemies and levels. They all fit really well together but it would have been nice to see some variation of the traps and puzzles in the levels which end up all pretty much the same. Animation can be a little janky at times and noticed some glitches at times but nothing overall game breaking. The only real problem I had came with the hit detection on some of the guns which can be more than a little off at times and grenades can have a very hit and miss ration to them.
Strange Brigade is certainly fun but by keeping everything rather simple and less challenging it can be seen a pleasant but casual experience for friends. New content has been regular in the two weeks since launch with more to come in the season pass although I do question the pricing of the pass which is close to the same price you can find the main game for at this point. There is certainly enough to enjoy and more so with friends but even if just as a solo experience it still offers a fun time.