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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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PC Review - 'Strange Brigade'

by Cody Medellin on Sept. 26, 2018 @ 1:30 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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It's interesting to note that few titles try to cover serial-style, treasure-hunting adventures like "Indiana Jones." The most obvious example of a game series that does this is Uncharted, with Tomb Raider fulfilling this role if you take away the gritty nature. Beyond that, you could add the Adam's Venture collection, Deadfall Adventures, and Unearthed, but that's about it. Strange Brigade is the latest game to take on this theme, but it does so with an interesting hook that we don't see much of nowadays: four-player co-op.

The story follows an Indiana Jones-esque blueprint where, in the 1930s, a motley group of adventurers known as the Strange Brigade are assigned to hunt down evil supernatural activity and stop those who plan to unleash in into the world. In this case, the team travels to Egypt to stop an archaeologist from unearthing a secret tomb with an evil mummy. Unfortunately, the team arrives too late, forcing them to destroy the creature before she unleashes chaos in the world.

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 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 they hear the narrator speak or a new monster is introduced. The narrator is probably the real driving force behind the tale, since the playable characters aren't too interesting, regardless of their background or the quips they sometimes unleash.

The game starts with you selecting one of four initial characters, are there are a few differences beyond their skin. For example, their starting weapons are all different from one another. One character is equipped with a high-powered rifle while another has an assault rifle. You can find and equip more powerful guns as the journey rolls on, but you have to be content with the fact that it costs gold to acquire the weapon, and you can never fill it up with ammo, so you only want to use those guns in the most dire situations. Throwables are also different, so you may have 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 always purchase new ones if you have the necessary coins. The one thing you can't change are their special amulet-powered attacks, which can be anything from pulling an enemy close before punching them to lunging forward with an explosive ground strike.

For the most part, the combat feels familiar to anyone who's played a shooter, but a couple of things may throw off some people. The first is the fact that you can't shoot without aiming first. For a game that throws lots of enemies at you at a time, it's confusing that you can't shoot from the hip. The game attempts to compensate for the reduced viewpoint when in aiming mode by providing icons that let you know when enemies out of view are getting close. The second quirk you have to deal with is that you can't run, at least not immediately. Instead, you'll move fast in a direction for a bit before you take off in a full-blown sprint. On the one hand, it feels good to not have to rely on a button to move quickly. On the other hand, that also leaves you wide open to taking extra hits, since the amount of time between the jog and the run is enough for enemies to catch up.

The difference in combat comes from the presence of traps, which litter a good portion of each map. The types of traps are quite varied, but all of them are activated by shooting at the activation point. For example, one trigger may activate a large statue falling, another trap may call upon spikes to protrude from the floor and walls, and another brings up spinning fan blades from the ground. Traps damage everything, so allies can be injured, but when you consider the sponge-like nature of enemies, the traps are still beneficial.

Given the amount of ammo needed to take down enemies, stringing together your shots and usage of traps is the best way to get the most mileage out of the combat. Facing hordes by yourself means you'll spend most of the time getting into an attack-and-dodge rhythm, where you'll stand your ground to get in a few good shots, disengage to dodge and run to a new location, and repeat the process. You can break up things with a melee attack that gives you more space to work with and allows you to unleash a killing blow to a monster if their health is low enough. As mentioned earlier, you can also use your amulet to clear out crowds, but generally, the only way to have a pure shooting experience without having to be careful about it is it play the game with others.

Speaking of multiplayer, there's some good and bad news about this one. The bad news is that the online community for the game is rather small. At any given moment, you may only find four (or so) games open for play, so while playing with strangers isn't out of the question, don't expect to find lots of open games. The good news is that whether you're pairing up with strangers or your friends, the online performance is solid. Throughout a few frantic campaign levels, there were no drops whatsoever, nor were there any instances of people warping from spot to spot. Otherwise, you'll find that the only thing missing from the multiplayer is the ability to resurrect your companions once they've fallen. They'll simply respawn at a nearby sarcophagus, a move that is unique in the genre but also robs the game of a little tension when fighting large mobs or difficult enemies.

Once you complete the campaign, Strange Brigade still has two other modes. Score Attack mode has you going through redone versions of each level, with an emphasis on getting points so you can compete in each level's leaderboard. The remixing of the levels keeps things fresh, so there's still a reason to revisit them after finishing the campaign. Meanwhile, Horde mode follows the blueprint of every other game that's taken up this mode, but this time, the arenas expand in size as you survive more rounds, giving you more of a reason to revisit them and get to higher rounds. The only drawback is that there are only four stages to the mode, so it does feel short when compared to the eight stages seen in Score Attack.

Combine these two modes with the lengthy campaign levels, at least when approaching them solo, and Strange Brigade has some pretty meaty game content. The trouble is that the DLC was announced before the game was even launched. The content consists of extra characters, new amulet powers, and brand-new levels for all modes. Yes, DLC is a common practice now that people have come to expect some post-launch game content, but for the development team to show its hand this early means that the players get a sense the game isn't complete, and they could wait a few months for the full game if it means having more content to play with from the outset and without a big price bump.

The presentation is quite nice overall. While the tombs are appropriately dark with the exception of the light from torches, the outside world is a nice mix of brown mountains and lush greenery. The character models are done well, and the game has no trouble handling large mobs of enemies and effects on a moderate machine. The animations are also fine, with the exception of the grenade throws, which look awkward since the toss itself looks lazy but the grenade can still travel quite a distance. As for audio, the music is the nice rousing stuff you'd expect from a serial, while the voicework matches nicely with the quality of the narrator. It isn't too over the top, but it isn't tired, either.

Strange Brigade is a flawed but ultimately fun experience. The combat is good if you can get over some of the quirks, like being forced to aim when you want to take a shot and no ability to automatically sprint without a decent amount of running room. The campaign length is fine, but the immediate knowledge that more levels are coming in via DLC gives you the perception that the game could have been much longer instead. If you don't mind having to gather friends to play online, then the experience is good since you barely have a shot of getting random online strangers to help out. It may not have everything needed to dethrone Left 4 Dead as a shining example of co-op shooter play, but those willing to take the plunge with Strange Brigade will find themselves having a jolly good time.

Score: 8.0/10

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