Strange Brigade is a game that I immediately had doubts about when firing it up due to its ornate style and the way it presented itself in a very pulp newsreel-eque manner. Sadly, a lot of those doubts I had at the beginning of the experience turned into frustrations and disappointments throughout the campaign and subsequent gameplay modes. Prepare for the journey, brigade. It’s gonna be a wild one!
Title: Strange Brigade
Available On: PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Reviewed On: PlayStation 4 Pro
Release Date: August 28, 2018
Game Provided By Rebellion for the Purpose of This Review
The story is set in an alternate 1930’s Egypt, where an ancient evil that was sealed 4,000 years ago in a tomb has risen. Enter Seteki the Witch Queen, as she is now causing the dead to walk amongst the living. Except this isn’t a peaceful cohabitation. The Strange Brigade, a group of four fearless soldiers whose only job is to clean up messes like this, enters the scene and must battle their way through countless enemies and puzzles all to save the day and stop Seteki from taking over the world.
A third person shooting adventure game, Strange Brigade has a lot of ideas going for it all at once. It’s a nice amalgamation of adventure, puzzle solving, combat, and humor, but only certain aspects truly shine at one given time. The biggest complaint I have is one that I want to get out right near the beginning. If you’re picking this up for the single player experience, you’re going to be highly disappointed. This is best enjoyed with a group of three friends or randoms, as when you play solo, you are only seeing the character you choose to play as on the screen. This left me feeling a strong disconnect with the narrator and the game itself, as he constantly talks about the crew and Brigade as if they are there alongside you.. when in fact, they are not. If this is something you’re itching to jump in with friends and enjoy the multiplayer with, you may enjoy it. Keep in mind that the multiplayer can only be done through online, as there is no local or split-screen options.
Let’s tackle the individual things that Strange Brigade presents players with one by one. We’ll start off with the meat and potatoes of a third person shooter, and that’s of course the gunplay and combat. Loadouts can be customized before a mission and during the mission at set points, with players able to spend gold earned in game by exploring and defeating enemies to unlock new weapons, gadgets, and amulets. There’s different types of weapons for every playstyle, so if you prefer to run in and do massive amounts of damage, the shotgun is for you. There’s sniper rifles for those who love to pick off enemies from afar, and of course machine guns for the average playstyle of mowing down enemies as they approach.
For the most part, combat works smooth and it’s fairly simple to take down the opposition as they move in from different parts of the stage. It’s very easy to find yourself getting overrun with enemies, especially when playing solo. For this, Rebellion has designed each stage with several traps and mechanisms that can be used to your advantage. Presented as glowing orbs when ready for use, shooting them can do a multitude of things. From causing a pillar to rise from the ground that has spinning blades on it, to having spikes come up from the ground, and even axes swing down from archways, there’s so many different ways to dispatch the undead. The environment can also be used, as if you look for anything glowing red, shooting it will cause something to happen that’s almost guaranteed to benefit you in some way.
The puzzle mechanics found in Strange Brigade start off relatively simple and work their way up to being more difficult as you progress through the nine stages found within the campaign. From shooting tiles on a door in a specific order, to rearranging a snake’s body on a door in order to open it, there’s always clues somewhere nearby as to what needs to be done in order to solve the puzzle. One thing I really liked was that if you shoot the tiles on doors incorrectly a set amount of times, the door itself will seal up and you’ll never be able to open it during that specific run. You’ll have to restart the mission if you want to find out what was behind it. It was a nice touch, as it punishes the player for not fully utilizing their surroundings to actually solve the puzzle, and theoretically stops the guesswork.
The other aspect to the game is the exploration, as there are several different items and artifacts scattered about each level for players to find and collect if they so choose. Certain ones, like the blue cat statues, will unlock doors in each level with unique loot and treasures behind them. Others are just there to add more to the story and for completionists to seek out and get extra length from the game. An average playthrough of Strange Brigade should take roughly ten hours, but those searching every last corner of the stages in order to find everything will easily get a handful more hours out of the journey.
Exploration is also vital though, as you’ll need to acclimate yourself with your surroundings and truly understand each area. Another complaint I have with Strange Brigade is the fact that the game does not do a good enough job giving direction. You have a set number of objectives that can be accessed and viewed, and when viewing them, you can clearly see in the world where the main objective is located. However, there is not a map that can be pulled up in game, no mini-map on the screen, and if there’s certain things that need to be done in order to reach or access the main objective, the game will not point you in the correct path. For that end, it isn’t exactly easy, and I did find myself wandering through areas that were more open as I tried to figure out where a door was that I just opened, or where a key was that I needed to progress.
Besides the campaign, Rebellion also offers players a Horde mode and Score Attack. Horde mode is exactly what you’re thinking, as you and up to three others can take on wave after wave after wave of the undead, with each wave increasing slightly in difficulty. Score Attack is more fast paced where everything you do adds to your overall score, and the objective is to have the highest score at the end of each stage. Both modes offer a nice break from the campaign mission when things start getting boring in 1930’s Egypt.
And boring they will get. I could not connect at all with the cast of characters and the story being presented throughout the journey. While each different character has certain strengths and it’s a very diverse cast, I just never felt invested, and the story always seemed like a joke. The always-present narrator was a nice touch, and definitely one of the highlights in the game for sure.
Overall, Strange Brigade felt like a game chalk full of good ideas and decent gameplay mechanics that never was able to pull things together all at once. Certain elements shined at different times, but this ultimately ended up making things feel a bit discombobulated and slightly messy. At the end of the day, this pulpy adventure is likely to be fun with a group of friends during a weekend gaming session, but that might be it.
6.5 / 10