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Strange Brigade

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: Action/Adventure
Developer: Rebellion
Release Date: Aug. 28, 2018


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PS4/XOne/PC Preview - 'Strange Brigade'

by Cody Medellin on Aug. 21, 2018 @ 7:00 a.m. PDT

Strange Brigade is a third-person 1930s adventure transporting players to remote corners of the British Empire to encounter fantastic and forgotten civilizations shrouded in mystery.

Pre-order Strange Brigade

Ask a PC gamer to name their favorite co-op shooter, and there's a good chance that either of the Left 4 Dead games get a mention. The series, originally developed by Turtle Rock Studios, provided an excellent blueprint for how a modern, co-op, first-person shooters should function, and that formula is still being copied to this day with games like Warhammer: Vermintide II. Strange Brigade is the latest game to try and capitalize on what the classic zombie shooter established, but there are enough changes here to make it more than just Left 4 Dead with mummies.

The story follows an Indiana Jones-esque blueprint. In the 1930s, a group known as the Strange Brigade is assigned to hunt down evil supernatural activity and stop those who are about to unleash it into the world in the first place. With each chapter presented as a serial, the charm comes from the use of old black-and-white film for cut scenes, complete with dust and film scratches, and a narrator designed to make a big deal out of any new discovery, lucky break, or feat of wonder. It can all seem cheesy to those who have never seen an old serial before, but for those who have, that addition alone will have them grinning every time the narrator speaks or a new monster is introduced.

The game starts off with the character selection, and there are a few differences beyond their appearance. For example, their starting weapons are all different. One character is equipped with a high-powered rifle, while another has an assault rifle. Throwables are also different, so you may throw a grenade, a bundle of dynamite, or a Molotov cocktail. Only the pistol remains the same for each member of the brigade, but if you don't like their starting weapons, you can buy new ones if you have the coins to do so. The one thing you can't change is their special amulet-powered attacks, which can be anything from pulling an enemy close before punching them away to lunging forward with an explosive ground strike.

The preview build gave us access to the first level of all three game modes, and while we didn't get to check out the game in multiplayer (online-only with no local split-screen option), we can confirm that solo play works very well, although it's something that other multiplayer-centric co-op games seem to neglect. The campaign mode, while seemingly only 10 stages long based on the game map, can actually have a long completion time based on the length of the first stage alone. Co-op play may make completion time shorter, but based on the initial playthrough of the first level, expect to get a game with a campaign that can reach double-digit hours on the default difficulty.

The first level reveals a ton about the gameplay, aside from the fact that this is a third-person shooter and not a first-person one. First, Strange Brigade values fast movement above all, as your slight jog immediately turns into a full-blown run after taking a few steps. The game lacks a jump button, but you can automatically clamber over low steps, and the dodge roll has enough travel distance to get you out of a jam. You have infinite ammo for your pistol, and even though there is a limit to how many bullets you can hold for your main weapon, ammo in the world is plentiful enough that you'll never run dry — unless you're spraying bullets for no reason. Throwables are infinite, but you have a cooldown before you use them again, and gold coins are also plentiful enough that you can afford to upgrade your weapons with elemental items you discover, buy new weapons, or pick up experimental firepower.

With all of that firepower at your disposal, it's interesting to note how the game only lets you shoot when you're actively aiming, so true run-and-gun isn't possible. When thinking about the hordes of enemies you'll face at any time, the restriction of only being able to fire a gun when aiming seems to ensure that you'd get hit from the sides. The game seems to have a solution for that, though, as there are silhouettes of hands to indicate where and how close foes are; it's a nice feature that it would be helpful to see in other games.

The levels feature a ton of different enemy types to deal with, including mummies that can erupt from the ground and hit you with bandages, regular and armored zombies, corpses with weapons, and giant scorpions. Though the game sends in large numbers of enemies, it alleviates the run-and-gun nature by putting up traps that can be activated with a gunshot. No matter how many times they get activated, it's always a treat to trigger spikes, slicing pendulums or bladed ground fans. It also doesn't restrict enemies to large monster closets, so you can expect monsters to wander into supposed safe zones or pop up from barrels. The game throws in a few puzzles along the way to break up the shooting. Most are simply ways to open up doorways to keep the level moving, but others hold even more loot to gather. Interestingly, the game lets you fail spectacularly at some of the bonus puzzles, so the chances are very high that some loot will forever elude you.

You would think that the two other modes would be simple, throwaway affairs, but that isn't the case. You need to play the campaign levels before you can unlock them for Score Attack mode, but what you'll end up playing is completely different in layout. The paths are more straightforward, with more enemies to fight and faster access to weapons. Meanwhile, Horde mode puts you in arenas that expand the longer you survive in them. Just like the campaign, there are gun and ammo boxes around as well as traps, but the secret areas that are full of potions and other artifacts make this now-common mode in shooters feel fresh.

As far as presentation goes, Strange Brigade looks amazing. You can get a solid 60 fps with ultra settings on a mid-range rig with ease, and while the animations for some things, like throwing grenades and running, look a bit goofy, the environments will be the most impressive. They're reminiscent of Uncharted 3, with its use of bright colors and dense foliage, a nice break from the bleakness of other titles. Meanwhile, the sound is terrific, and the score makes it feel like an old serial. The lines are as charming as they are cheesy.

Strange Brigade looks to be your new favorite co-op shooter. The shooting mechanics go for an old-school fast pace, while the character differences work well, whether playing solo or with others. The environments provide a nice change of pace from the dreary settings of other similar titles, but the puzzle elements and traps make this more of a thinking person's shooter rather than a run-and-gun affair. All three of the game modes provide players with a ton to do, and more importantly, the game feels good solo even though it was built with co-op in mind. Look out for a deeper review on Strange Brigade soon.

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