Brigading this thread about a cybernetic city with mechs and destruction.
War seems to be becoming increasingly impersonal: with drone warfare, long-range missile strikes; and the terrifying possibility of nano-plagues and chemical warfare on the horizon. However, an always more fun vision of future war is one where we all get suited and booted in giant mecha suits to blast seven shades of chrome out of eachother; with neon-drenched cyberpunk cities as the arena for these robotic gladiators. This sort of future is presented in Brigador, where you’re cast as a mechanically-inclined mercenary signed up to the revolutionary SEC – in their struggle to wrest control of the planet Solo Nobre. The spicy-sounding totalitarians: the Novo Exercito De Povo; the anarchistic Corvids; and the cold-hearted, cold-blooded Spacers are your death-dealing dancing partners for the proceedings.
Brigador casts you as an amoral figure who’s only in it for the money. You’re not given any motivation beyond a brief, corporate-style briefing detailing your objectives for each mission – and you’re not penalized for perforating civilians who get in the way when carrying out your contractually-obligated destruction. The plot and characterization is as thin on the ground as the hapless troopers of the NEP are when your mech steps on them – but it doesn’t matter, as Brigador is a frenetic mess of fun.
Brigador has a very unique source of inspiration in the isometric shooters of the mid-nineties, such as Desert Strike, Syndicate and Cannon Fodder. These are such unusual mentors because they represent a genre where the control scheme was fiddly at the best of times. For the more modern gamer; Brigador’s mechs can take a while to get used to, and you’ll often forget the way your mech is facing as you’re concentrating on aiming. Once you’ve got the hang of things though, the complex, yet frantic gameplay shines through. The isometric perspective gives you a great vantage point to rapidly position yourself for optimal killing. If your mech has a smoke grenade fitted as a defensive attachment, you can backpedal through a city street; lobbing smoke to obscure the fire of pursuers as you mow them down. Destructible cover plays a big part in determining your success, and virtually every obstacle in the game can become an opportunity. There’s one level that’s essentially a giant graveyard, and you can open up new attack angles by disrespectfully trampling over the graves and smashing through walls to create new attack angles.
Missions require you to complete straightforward objectives such as destroying enemy “captain” mechs and blowing up structures. Refreshingly, your objectives are never more complex than “go here and kill this”, but that’s not to say Brigador is shallow. What’s very appealing about Brigador is the wide variety of mechas you have to choose from. Once you’re past the tutorial missions in the main campaign: you’ll have four very different death-dealing dreadnoughts of destruction to choose from at the start of every level. There are four main types of mechs. There are the Anti-Grav mechs which hover above the ground, letting them pass over low-altitude obstacles – and they can strafe side-to-side, which is handy for dodging enemy shots. Walker mechs pivot their upper bodies to allow them to fire in any direction, with the ability to robotically stomp nearby enemies underfoot. Tank style mechs are the battering rams: they can summon bursts of speed to smash through enemy defences or quickly get out of a dicey situation.
There’s an even greater level of depth and complexity involved however, as there are countless sub-types of mechs to try. The tank variant of mech can range from the freakishly huge “Treehouse” which coats its surroundings in boiling vapour, all the way to nippy bike-styled mechs which make quick passes of machine-gun fire; jousting with bad-guy bots before escaping. Each mission gives you the choice between four very idosyncratic mechs, and you’ll have to get to grips with them. Enemy Mechas are just as diverse the ones you can choose between, and you’ll have to come up with your own strategies to leverage your mech’s strengths accordingly: such as saving the Treehouse’s pulse blast to repel enemy bike mechs that close the distance, or saving a burst of speed to avoid oncoming artillery fire.
Mastering all the different mechs on offer in the campaign is a gruelling, but immensely satisfying challenge, and it gives you the chance to experiment with a huge variety of playstyles. What’s even better; is that completing missions in the campaign earns you cash to spend on buying new weapons, mechs and pilots to choose from for Freelancer missions.
Freelancer missions are where your hands are truly put to the fire. Unlike the campaign missions where you’ll simply restart a mission when your mech bites the bullet: Freelancer mode will offer you contracts where you can earn ever more money, but you’ll have to complete 3, 6, 10 or even 21 missions consecutively – without dying – to claim your reward. Though the campaign can be completed briskly over the course of a weekend, the Freelancer mode can provide a teeth-gnashingly tough challenge to extend Brigador’s lifespan.
Of particular note is the sumptuously detailed pre-rendered environments. You can really see the exacting work in making every building true-to-life; from purple, neon-tined brothels; all the way to the metal-webbed superstructures surrounding the shuttles in the space-port. Not since Red Alert 2 have we seen such intricately beautiful pre-rendered structures – and been able blow them up. Every structure has multiple stages of decay as well: from lightly knackered – all the way down into blackened, charred rubble.
Synthwave music is increasingly popular in games these days, but Brigador’s soundtrack really deserves special mention. The grimy synths and sweat-inducingly urgent kick drums provide the perfect backbeat to the pitched battles in every futuristic hellscape. Brigador absolutely nails the retro ambience of classic isometric shooters, and develops a distinctive, immersive style all of its own in the process. Just listening to this fan-8os-tastic music will spontaneously cause your hair to perm and the sleeves on your jacket to roll up!
Brigador isn’t just some nostalgic blast from the past, it’s a city-levelling explosion of a game – taking a long dormant genre in its metallic claw and thrusting it into the limelight once more. For mech-fanciers who’ve been longing for a true test of their piloting skills across a wide variety of lushly detailed urban environs – Brigador is unmissable.
Final Score: 4/5
Available on: PC (reviewed) , Linux, Mac; Publisher: Stellar Jockeys ; Developer: Stellar Jockeys, Gausswork ; Players: 1 ; Released: June 2nd, 2016 ; ESRB: M for Mature ; MSRP: $19.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a review copy provided to Hey Poor Player by the publisher.