Are you ready for a tantalizing trek through the ruins of Ancient Egypt? How about during the 1930s as one of four foolhardy explorers? Maybe you want to go it alone or team up with your friends as you combat hordes of horrific horrors, puzzle out ponderous puzzles, and track down alluring treasures? Well then Strange Brigade is the game for you! We got a chance to play quite a bit of the game recently and here, for your reading pleasure, is our riveting review.
Similar to other horde games (like Vermintide) you have a few characters to choose from before your adventure begins – each with their own perks they bring to the group. You have Nalangu Rushida, a female Maasai warrior from Kenya who uses an automatic rifle and Molotov cocktails as her weapons. She comes equipped with a special ability via her amulet power called Blazing Wrath of Ra – a huge blast that takes out multiple enemies around her. Next up is Prof. Archimedes de Quincey, my preferred character, an archaeologist from Oxford who wields a submachine gun (the Kingsley Special) and sticky grenades. His amulet ability is All-Consuming Swarm, a multiple-enemy homing attack. And let us not forget about Gracie Braithwaite, the Rosie the Riveter-esque brawler raised among the textile towns of Lancashire. She thunders into combat with her double-barrel shotgun and hand grenades as her weapons. Her amulet ability is called Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb, which will drag an enemy to her to be converted into an explosive projectile. Lastly, but certainly not least, we have Frank Fairburne, the “man with the coldest eyes in the Empire” due to the excellent marksman skills that he utilized in conflicts across the globe. Franky boy uses a .303 Huntsman rifle and a bundle of dynamite in glorious combat and his amulet ability, Chariot Charge, has him rushing enemies to send them flying only to explode when they land. Each character will also have a special trait they bring the party like close quarters combat, finding hidden passages, or faster movement.
Players can choose one character and customize before they start their mission. You can change the weapon you use, your sidearm, your throwable, and your special amulet ability. Unlocking new weapons and throwables is achieved by collecting gold while out on missions. Unlocking amulets will require skill points. Missions can be completed with one to four characters, though some are better suited for solo operations than others. I personally had the easiest time soloing with Prof. Archimedes but all of the characters abilities work well with each other when grouped together. It’s a game clearly meant to be enjoyed with the company of friends and strangers alike.
The last, unmentioned member of the team that will accompany you whether solo or as a group that I failed to mention is the narrator. Our nameless denizen provides narration to even the most mundane tasks and is delightfully well implemented. I look forward to hearing what he has to say with every mission and cutscene and some of his quips when you fail a puzzle and permanently lock it are downright chuckle-inducing.
I have to give credit where credit is due, developer Rebellion has made one great looking game. The environments are beautifully rendered and the various biomes you run across feel varied and alive. The character models feel mildly out of place in my personal opinion but that isn’t to say that they are not well done. I just feel like the style of them is ever so slightly off from the style of the environments. Really it’s very nitpicky and should serve to illustrate how picky I’m able to be about it because there’s nothing glaringly wrong to be upset about. The combat animations are fluid and blend well together when you chain actions together.
Enemies are another area where praise is due because they are numerous and varied. You have your standard horde filler characters that make up a good chunk of the mobs you’ll encounter but there is a slew of different models with their own textures and abilities that you’ll encounter as well. Each feels as varied as the next and really illustrates the care and detail that was put into the game’s development. Optimization seems to be on point as well with no hitching or slowdowns to report from me. Granted I have a powerful system but I have to note that hasn’t stopped high production games in the past from running like absolute garbage (looking at you Monster Hunter World and Bless Online). All in all the game seems well polished, optimized and ready for deployment across a wide breadth of gaming systems.
Ahh, the meat and potatoes. The part you’ve been wondering about. It’s all fine and dandy that the characters are interesting the graphics are good – but how is the gameplay? In a word? Outstanding. You’ll have three gameplay modes to choose from: Campaign, Horde and Score Attack. Score Attack will be disabled until you complete the first mission of the campaign. For the purpose of this review I’ll only be talking about the first story of the campaign mode, but in short horde mode is defeating wave after wave of enemies and score attack a speed run of sorts.
The level design in Strange Brigade is fairly linear but that’s not to say you won’t want to keep your eyes peeled – scattered throughout the levels are not only puzzles but the clues to the puzzles and they’re not always as simple as they seem. If you fail too many times at unlocking a puzzle door it will close forever and you won’t be able to get at its secrets and treasure (unless you restart the mission). In addition, you’ll want to be aware of various traps that can be sprung as hordes make their way to you, barrels that can explode or fire that can be dropped from above. What I’m trying to say is: it’s very important in Strange Brigade to pay attention to your environment. If you don’t you will miss a lot of fun secrets and make the missions much harder than they need to be.
For the purpose of this review, I’ve gotten permission to upload a video of the first mission playthrough so you can get a small taste of what gameplay is like. This is the first time I’d ever touched the game so if I’m doing something weird it was likely to go back later and look at it for the review itself. Enjoy!