Developer: Rebellion Publisher: Rebellion Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, PC
Review copy provided
There’s something inherently intoxicating about raiding tombs, exploring uncharted territories of long forgotten civilisations like you’re Indiana Jones. Yeah, we lost the subtlety on the last part of that sentence, but you get the point. Plundering crypts filled with relics and precious loot where danger can lurk around any corner can be incredibly fun, and Strange Brigade understands that brilliantly.
Taking control of a member of the titular supernatural squad, you’re sent into Egypt to deal with the resurrection of Queen Seteki, an ancient evil who has woken from her slumber to unleash chaos, destruction and a seemingly endless army of the undead on the world. Thankfully, the heroic chaps over at the Strange Brigade are on hand to give these nefarious netherworldly ne’er-do-wells a right good wallop where the sun doesn’t shine.
The main campaign plays out like the Saturday morning cartoon version of a 1930s British broadcast, complete with cheesy humour and an over-the-top narrator who’ll give support and funny one-liners any time the Brigade do something remotely cool, or give you shit if you decide to put the controller down and walk off. Ordinarily, a specific presentation style like this would get old after a while, but it’s remarkably well done here, and there is an option to turn it down if it becomes too much.
You can choose from one of four characters, though more will be added as time goes on, and each has their own special abilities that provide a variety of uses. Grace is a demolitions expert, so her explosives are quicker than everyone else’s, while Professor Archimedes can find and unlock hidden alcoves with more loot. It pays to have a diverse team, as 4 players playing as one character brings no additional benefit to the team.
The levels themselves are a steadily escalating series of puzzles and combat encounters that are designed to test not only how well you can shoot, but how well you can work under intense pressure. It’s much harder to be an expert marksman when the never-ending hordes of the undead are breathing down your neck. Well, maybe not breathing, but they’re certainly filled with bloodlust.
The combat is fast paced and chaotic, with enemies pouring in from all sides in an attempt to overwhelm the Brigade, but fortunately, you have a few tricks up your sleeve. Combat arenas are usually filled with different traps that can thin the herd somewhat, and each character has their own special amulet abilities which can really turn the tide of battle. Again, it pays to have a diverse squad.
Each level also brilliantly introduces new combat elements into the mix, whether that be a new enemy type, kind of trap or gimmick that makes the fight more interesting. It helps ensure that the combat feels fresh throughout the nine levels of the campaign. That might not sound like a lot, but they’re decent in length and filled with hidden goodies, so there’s plenty here to keep you coming back for more.
At its best, the combat is intense and pulse pounding, completely embodying the mantra of “always outnumbered, never outgunned”. Though the normal difficulty doesn’t provide too much in the way of a challenge, aside from the odd spike towards the final third of the game, it does make for a wholly entertaining experience.
As for the puzzles, they aren’t taxing, apart from the odd tile puzzle that I just blundered my way through, but they offer a nice break from the intensity of the combat while giving players the chance to earn extra loot and relics should they so desire. And they should desire to do so. Not only players earn gold that can open chests during the level that give you better “Prototype” weapons, but you can also unlock new weapons for your starting loadout in between missions.
Exploring the levels can also yield a number of collectibles, relics and weapon upgrades, which can modify your firearms in a number of crazy ways. Aside from the usual more damage and faster reload upgrades, which are useful in their own right, you can also have guns that’ll heal you after every kill, or guns with bullets that can ricochet off walls or cause fire/ice damage. Though there isn’t much variety in the guns available, the upgrades make up for that.
As for the relics, collecting a set of them unlocks a skill point which can then be used to unlock a new amulet power. Though most character’s default amulet power usually results in some kind of screen clearing explosion, the unlockable powers present much more interesting strategies. A particular favourite is Frank’s Call of Seteki, which summons the undead to fight for the Brigade. Not only are they quite proficient in combat, they also draw the horde’s aggro, allowing you to escape and do damage from a safe distance.
It’s these extra powers that also add to Strange Brigade’s replayability. Not only are you going back through old levels looking for the relics needed to unlock these abilities, you’ll then want to actually try them. As I’m writing this review, having spent the majority of the game playing as Frank, I’ve found out that Archimedes has an ability that turns enemies into the chickens. There’s my second playthrough sorted.
If you thought that wasn’t enough reason to keep coming back to this game, Strange Brigade also includes a horde mode and a score attack mode. The horde mode is fairly self-explanatory, as you trying to survive wave after wave of the undead and use gold to unlock new weapons and health items. It’s sort of similar to the Zombies mode in Call of Duty, but more fun. Yeah, I said it. There’s your hot take for this review.
Things are a little bit more intriguing with the score attack mode. Instead of tasking you with completing full levels in the fastest time possible, the mode takes a small, slightly tweaked section of the overall level and tasks you with completing it as quickly as you can with the highest score.
It plays much like an Arcade Mode for the game, as killing enemies quickly increases your combo, completing special objectives boosts your score and the levels are over within a few minutes. Score Attack offers condensed and bite-sized chunks of the Strange Brigade experience that’s completely different from the rest of the game, making it a worthwhile addition to the overall package.
That said, Strange Brigade isn’t without issue.s The game is somewhat of a lonely experience when playing solo as it’s clearly designed with co-op in mind. On default settings, the game scales the amount of enemies according to how many players there are, making 4 players the definitive Strange Brigade experience.
The boss fights also seem like the weakest parts of the entire game, especially when you’re playing solo. You’re often required to draw the attention of the boss in multiple directions in order to properly attack its weak spot, which is harder to do when playing on your own, especially when you’re trying to contend with the legions of the underworld as well.
Other than that, Strange Brigade is a superlative co-op escapade that’s perfect for 2 or more players. The mixture of combat, puzzle solving and exploration is thoroughly enjoyable, and even though there’s already plenty of content to sink your teeth into, the planned free updates and Season Pass should further cement Strange Brigade’s place on the list of the best co-op games.
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Though its value is diminished significantly to anyone looking to play the game solo, Strange Brigade stands head and shoulders above the pack as an incredible, action packed co-op adventure.
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