Tally-Ho! Adventure Awaits!
When it comes to games that involve shooting things, Rebellion Games knows the business very well. With titles like the Sniper Elite series and the classic FPS Alien vs Predator PC titles under their belt, it’s fair to say gunplay is their specialty. Their newest game, Strange Brigade, brings their knack for finely tuned shooting to the adventure genre. With a bit of Indiana Jones and Tomb Raider flair sprinkled on to spice things up a bit. Strange Brigade tells the tale of the aptly named Strange Brigade, a sort of League of Extraordinary Gentlemen meets Charlie’s Angels that fly around in their high-tech dirigible solving occult mysteries handed down to them by their voice-in-a-box boss lady. This time the ghostly baddy unleashed on the world is the ancient pharaoh Seteki who, after a 4000-year nap, has unwittingly been unearthed and wants to wreak her black magic-laden havoc on humanity. Naturally, it falls to the Strange Brigade to stop her.
“Oh my god guys, do you SEE what that guy is wearing?”
“Look at him, look at him and laugh!”
The Strange Brigade consists of a motley crew of combatants, each with their own distinct look and personality. There’s tribal warrior Nalangu Rushida, marksman Frank Fairburne, scholar Archimedes de Quincey, and rough and crafty Gracie Braithwaite to choose from. While each character doesn’t exactly have physical differences be it health or shooting abilities, they do have different starting loadouts, as well as unique special abilities (more on those later). For my playthrough, I chose Archimedes de Quincey to play as. In addition to the solo campaign, up to three other players can join in the fun, with increased enemy hordes and altered puzzles thrown in to accommodate the extra bodies.
Team Work Makes the Dream Work!
“To kill the ancient zombies, shoot them until they die”
What you’ll first notice when starting up Strange Brigade is that it’s practically OOZING with personality. The game does not take itself seriously at all, and it shows. The story is presented in a 1930’s sci-fi film-esque manner, complete with a black and white film grain filter and a hokey British narrator amping up the ridiculousness to a hefty 11. The narrator continues his quips consistently throughout the game, even breaking the fourth wall at times, such as taking jabs at you when you pause to take a break. If the narrator’s commentary proves to be too much a burden for your ears to handle, there is an option to adjust his antics. A fairly considerate and unique option, to say the least.
What I noticed next while playing through Strange Brigade was the level of polish the game shows the player. The characters are bright and detailed while having an air of cartoon-like exaggeration about them in the way they move. The environments are lush, ripe with detail and are gorgeous to look at. The draw distance is mighty impressive in the open areas, there are effects such as light shafting showing in between trees and pillars, and the overall atmosphere really gives you a feel of plundering and shooting through Egyptian lands, tombs, and caves (and also a pirate ship!). There’s even an option to unlock the frame rate on the PS4 version to make the experience smoother. This worked particularly well on my PS4 Pro, and I experienced very little – if any – frame drops. For not being a particularly large studio, Rebellion Games really pulled off some clever programming tricks with this title.
Wish You Were Here
Or not, lot of things here want to kill me. Might be better off staying home.
Above all else, the game plays great and is pretty darn fun to play. Whether it’s by yourself or with a friend or three, Strange Brigade does a great job of staying engaging to the player. The gunplay is crisp and responsive, the movement is tight and fluid, and there are a plethora of collectibles to find and puzzles to solve. The latter yields rewards such as money to unlock chests found through the levels that give you special weapons to use, as well as runes that can be equipped to your weapons to upgrade them. Additionally, these puzzles serve to unlock additional super abilities for your character to use. In Archimedes’ case, by default, he has a homing swarm attack he can use, but upgrades yield abilities like making a clone to distract enemies that explode. This adds creative new ways to take on your enemies on top of the many options available to you while traversing the game’s labyrinthine maps.
“Wow, are those zombies building a town down there? Decent.”
“Guess we’ll just blow them up now or whatever.”
The maps are indeed enormous, with an almost ludicrous amount of branching paths that lead to the previously mentioned puzzle rooms, as well as puzzles required to advance through the level itself. The meat and potatoes of the levels are combat arenas where Seteki sics her army of the undead on you. While the majority of these enemies are your basic zombie fodder, the game does a good job of introducing more and more enemies that require different tactics to defeat. Enemies wearing armor, runners that teleport to trip you up, zombies that throw spears from a distance, mummies that constantly spawn zombies, and even giant Anubises (Anubi?) all require a quick wit to help keep yourself from getting overwhelmed. Fortunately, the arenas are littered with traps you can utilize to help even the odds a bit. Spinning blade traps can be activated by shooting them, explosive jars and barrels are everywhere, and other traps like razor-sharp pendulums and floor spikes help dispose of the armies of the undead looking to feast on your soul. When I was engrossed in combat, I was distinctly reminded of Smash TV, all that was missing were the loads of cash being showered on me for clearing a room.
Well, minus the whole Stargate thing but hey, Giant Anubis! Cool!
While Strange Brigade is a fun and engaging romp, it does stumble in a few areas. The boss battles tend to not be too terribly exciting, typically relying on managing the usual hordes of monsters while chipping away at said boss monster’s health until it’s dead. The map’s being enormous is a good thing as it leads to encouraging exploration and going off the beaten path, but the lack of a map can make navigation a little frustrating. The game does make use of waypoints you can bring up to guide you towards your next story goal, but that doesn’t help too much when you’re out scouting for those juicy hidden collectibles. Even more so when you accidentally take a story path and end up getting locked out of backtracking to explore what you missed out on. The game also has a horde mode for those looking to just stick to the gunplay Strange Brigade has to offer, but it’s still a horde mode at the end of the day. I strongly preferred the exploration aspect of the story mode, but I’m a sucker for searching for collectibles so I’m a bit biased in that regard.
At the end of the day, I really appreciate what Rebellion Games did with Strange Brigade. It may not be an entirely new experience, but it’s nice to see a shooter that doesn’t take itself TOO seriously while still providing the player with a solid shooting experience. With Rebellion’s offering of additional characters to be released in the near future as DLC, it will be interesting to see what they have in store to keep players hooked. With their level of polish they put on the game, even with a few flaws here and there I can see them keeping this game going for quite a while. If shooters are your thing, and you have some friends looking to play some co-op with you, this should prove to be a good time.
FINAL VERDICT: 3.5/5
Available on: Playstation 4 (Reviewed), PC, Xbox One ; Publisher: Rebellion Games ; Developer: Rebellion Games ; Players: 1 (Local), 2-4 (Online) ; Released: August 28th, 2018; ESRB: T for Teen ; MSRP: $49.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a copy of Strange Brigade given to Hey Poor Player by the Publisher.