Platforms: Xbox One, PlayStation 4, PC
Release Date: August 28th, 2018
Reviewed On: Xbox One X
Developer: Rebellion Developments
Publisher: Rebellion Developments
Strange Brigade is an adventure game from Rebellion Developments, well-known for games like the Sniper Elite franchise. The premise is simple yet endearing: in an alternate-history version of the 1930s, an elite squad defends the British Empire from weird, mythological threats. The evil queen Seteki has risen from her grave and it’s up to the Strange Brigade to stop her. I’ve written some impressions before from playing the game at E3 2018 and a small preview of the full game. You can also check out some gameplay here. Now, let’s dive into this full review of Strange Brigade!
As I have said before, the aesthetic is simply awesome. Alternate history 1930s with an injection of Indiana Jones-esque adventure is an incredible setting, and the hammy, over-the-top nature of the characters only serves to enhance the experience. Hearing their quips as they blast away undead foes, chug potions and solve puzzles is constantly enjoyable and lends a warmly refreshing and downright jolly tone to playing the game.
Unfortunately, the overall plot devolves into a fairly safe adventure, as the Brigade moves from place to place, destroying artifacts empowering Seteki and killing her many champions. The focus is clearly on the aesthetic, not the story being told with it.
Playing on an Xbox One X, Strange Brigade has a clean presentation. Objects and foliage are rendered clearly well into the distance (as you can see on the cover image for the review) and the game’s great framerate never seemed to chug or even slip up, even with dozens of enemies on screen at the same time. The animations are also well done, with attention to detail on reloads and their overall movement. The stylized text for announcing a cluster of enemies killed by a trap is thematic, as is the artwork and scribbled writing you’ll find in notes and other collectibles.
The only real disappointment is the quality of the character models themselves. They’re serviceable, make no mistake but it’s definitely noticeable compared to everything they interact with.
The music is mostly standard adventure fare. It’s fitting and never feels out of place however, it doesn’t stand out for the most part. There’s exciting thematic music that picks up during boss fights, while quiet, curious tunes play out during exploration. It’s enjoyable but there’s little to separate it from other such music.
The sound effects however are fantastic, with the sound of gunfire, the hammy narrator, the quippy Brigade and various explosions all playing over each other wonderfully. Stone plates sliding into place during the many puzzles is always a relief and there’s also an incredibly satisfying jingle that plays upon finding a relic, which I never got tired of hearing.
At its core, Strange Brigade is a game based around shooting. You’ll be shooting thousands upon thousands of mummies, scarabs, giant scorpions, armored undead warriors and other problematic, perilous pests. Shooting these myriad monstrosities is extremely satisfying, as all the guns just feel wonderful to use. The mechanical clicks from reloading and extra feedback from headshots allow you to fall into a simple gameplay loop that never got old. It also helps that the various weapons have distinct advantages and disadvantages, so it’s easy to find something you’ll like to stick with.
Supplementing your main weapons are two other trusty tools: your handgun, which lacks damage-dealing capability but makes up for it with infinite ammo, and your amulet, which can be charged with souls from defeated enemies to unleash powerful attacks like lightning. If your main guns, sidearms and amulet all fail, you can also trigger countless different traps as the hordes pile on. Spinning blades, falling logs, spears from the floor and more, there’s plentiful ways to manage your enemies.
As the threat of undead foes mounts, so too does the firepower of the Strange Brigade. In between missions, you can spend the gold you’ve collected on new guns, grenades and handgun types. You can also acquire new amulets with unique powers, though you’ll need to have discovered different sets of relics. It doesn’t stop there, as you can also find different gems to upgrade your guns. An ice gem applied to a shotgun adds serious stopping power by freezing enemies in their tracks, while other gems might increase reload speed and rate of fire, turning an automatic rifle into a machine gun. By tying progression for the guns and amulets into the gold and relics, players are actually encouraged to take their time exploring the various environments, solving puzzles, finding the different relics and hoarding gold.
Finally, there are the many puzzles. Sometimes you’ll have shoot different stone images, other times line up beams of light. Regardless of what you’re asked to do, it never felt impossibly challenging. Instead, the puzzles gradually increased in difficulty, asking the player to recall things they had learned earlier. Combined with the plentiful rewards, taking on these puzzles was actually a lot of fun. There’s an important addendum however: all of this assumes you are playing in co-op, as that’s what the puzzles are designed around. Running around frantically trying to handle the different puzzles solo is a decidedly less enjoyable experience.
Strange Brigade is a ton of fantastic fun in co-op. In an age where post-apocalyptic, serious situations are all the rage, I can’t emphasize enough how refreshing it is to play a game where you can kick back, gun down hordes of foes and pal around, all in a game with a cheery tone. In addition to the campaign, there’s also a nifty horde mode, where you can really strain your skills against waves of undead. With that said, there’s no denying that the story isn’t really compelling and it’s simply nowhere near as fun to play by yourself.
If you have at least one friend who will play this with you in co-op, then Strange Brigade is well worth picking up. If not, I’d advise a more wait-and-see approach. Rebellion Developments has picked out a fantastic setting to play around in and I hope we see more of it in the future.