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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 Review - 'Strange Brigade'

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on Aug. 28, 2018 @ 12:10 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.

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Danger! In the dreaded depths of the deepest tombs of Ancient Egypt lurks a wicked witch queen whose sinful slumber has been disturbed. The merciless maven of evil has risen again to plague the world anew! The only hope for mankind lies in the Strange Brigade, a collection of the greatest adventurers of the age. This daring group of heroes must set out to stop the ancient avatar of evil before the country nay, the world suffers her wrath!

Strange Brigade's plot is mostly an excuse to have bombastic and increasingly amusing narration thrown at you.  It goes all-in on being styled after old adventure serials, the same kind that inspired "Indiana Jones" and similar films.The humor is enjoyable enough, and it has a sense of fun that isn't often seen in these sorts of co-op adventures. It can be overwhelming sometimes, and the developers seemed more than aware of this issue. There's an option to limit the chatter in the game if you don't want to hear the boisterous radio serial voice proclaiming the dastardly deeds of the nefarious ne'er-do-wells while you're busy shooting the crud out of a swarm of mummies.

At first blush, there's a lot that's familiar about Strange Brigade. It's a pretty traditional shooter in a lot of ways. You pick one of four characters, each with distinct abilities. Some are better at finding loot, some do more damage with headshots, some can steal health from enemies, and so on. Up to four players can hop into sessions together, and you should bring four with you wherever possible. Once inside, you can shoot, melee, grenade and all the standard third-person shooter action you've come to expect.

The big thing that defines Strange Brigade are the traps. Every environment in the game is littered with traps:  explosives, laser beams, pitfalls, rotating blades, spikes, and more. The traps can largely be triggered by the players, and figuring out when and where to use them is the key to success in some of the more hectic situations. For the cost of a single bullet, you can usually take out a dozen demonic denizens. In co-op, it becomes a game of figuring out how to best herd enemies into traps and setting them off without accidentally catching your friends in the process.

By far, this is the most satisfying and fun part of Strange Brigade. Nothing is quite as fun as tearing through a swarm of evil with a rush of well-placed spiked logs or crushing traps. It's not only fun but genuinely necessary, as trying to fight some of the tougher battles straight-on will leave you overwhelmed, especially in the single-player mode, where you basically rely on traps to effectively clear large groups of enemies.

However, this does bring us to one of the game's flaws. The actual guns in Strange Brigade don't feel very satisfying. None of the guns have any real "oomph" to feel fun on their own. Even when you find special gems to upgrade them, they feel underpowered. Part of it is that enemies are rather bullet-spongy, presumably to encourage you to use traps against low-level zombies. It means that in the situations where traps aren't available, you can feel like you're shooting Nerf darts at the undead hordes. Higher-level weapons exist, but they tend to offer more gem customization slots than sheer stat upgrades.

There are some ways around this. Your melee attack is nicely effective in a pinch. There are exotic weapons that tend to hit much, much harder but have limited ammo and often cost some gold. Every character also has a customizable magic amulet that provides access to special super attacks and is powered up by killing foes. The amulet powers, which range from a supercharge that does massive damage to temporary auto-aim, are often game-changers, especially when there are huge crowds. The title encourages you to use them as soon as possible, but I wanted to save them for emergencies. This is a good strategy in single-player mode, but in co-op, you should really use it at the first opportunity. The more amulet powers that are going off simultaneously, the better.

The bullet sponge nature of the foes is a minor drag, but in the end, it works in the game's favor. Strange Brigade has more in common with arcade games than anything else. It has a narrative, but the goal isn't to finish the story but to kill as many foes as possible as efficiently as possible. This is all so you can get loot to upgrade your gear and kill even more enemies on higher levels. It's a simple and satisfying system that works well. It's not quite Diablo, but it does its job. It's easy to see Strange Brigade having the same addictive replay value as Left 4 Dead or Vermintide.

The levels have plenty of secrets. Some are hidden alcoves with rare loot, and some are actual puzzles that you must figure out. The puzzles often give the best loot, and it's most efficient to work with other players to solve them. There's also some slight competitiveness to the treasure-gathering. I liked the puzzles, but I'm not sure how well they'll hold up in repeated playthroughs of levels. It remains to be seen if the loot will be worth the time spent.

Speaking of working together and repeated playthroughs, Strange Brigade is clearly designed for co-op play. The game offers a serviceable single-player mode, but it's hard to recommend as a solo experience. The title is charming, but it suffer from the same problem as most games that focus on co-op: No amount of, "It's good enough," is going to replace the fact that you're supposed to play it with other people, and it's missing something if you don't. To see Strange Brigade at its best, you have to bring along some friends.

Strange Brigade has a fair bit of content. The multiple campaign missions are clearly designed to be played multiple times, and there are higher difficulty levels for those looking to ramp up the challenge. There's also a Horde mode for those eager to test their might against the slavering hordes, and a Score Attack mode encourages efficient play. Rebellion has also promised post-release support in both free updates and paid extra content. This content will include more levels, more weapons, and more characters, with the first character offered at launch to anyone who preorders.

Strange Brigade is a charming-looking game, but the environments sometimes feel a little similar. The enemies are memorable, and most of them can be identified at a glance, which helps in hectic battles. There was a little slowdown when I decided to buzz-saw two dozen undead at the same time, but nothing was too extreme. The voice work is largely what carries the game. Like Left 4 Dead or similar titles, the character chatter and narration set the tone and feel of the adventure. There is also the narrator, who starts off annoying but worms his way into your heart. (This probably occurs when you pause the game, and he cheerfully asks for a cup of tea while you're up.)

All in all, Strange Brigade is a solid and enjoyable co-op shooter with a lot of heart. It doesn't necessarily redefine the genre, but the combat mechanics are fun, the traps are delightful, the variety of characters is interesting, and in general, it's just a whole lot of fun to play. Get together three friends, burn through a horde of zombies, and you'll have a fantastic time. The only caveat is that the game should be played co-op. It's a tougher game to justify when you're playing solo.

Score: 8.0/10

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