Aside from RPGs, co-op shooters are my bread and butter. I lost track of the time I spent in games such as Left 4 Dead, Vermintide 2 and Killing Floor 2. Kicking ass and taking names with a few buddies riding shotgun is a feeling even the perfect cup of coffee can’t bring out. Just when I thought I was satisfied with what co-op games I had, here comes Rebellion with Strange Brigade– a co-op title with a unique 1930’s adventure film vibe. Let’s see what the fuss is about, shall we?
Strange Brigade is a third-person co-op adventure developed and published by Rebellion. It was released for PC, PS4 and Xbox One on August 28, 2018.
Story & Narrative
I’m with John Carmack when it comes to the story in an all-out action game. As such, the barebones story of Strange Brigade doesn’t drag down the rest of the game, not even for a bit. The game is set in the 1930’s and is centred around a secret group of paranormal investigators funded by the British government. Think the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen meets The Mummy. You get to play as 4 agents employed by the agency, who get to go around the world, kill some paranormal stuff and find ancient relics for ‘safekeeping’. The story is pretty reminiscent of the various Mummy films in the sense that some fool archaeologist awakens ancient big bad and you’re called in to solve the mess.
The base cast includes the professor with some nifty gunplay Archimedes de Quincey, the soldier turned fortune hunter Frank Fairburne, the hardass Gracie Braithwaite with her strong right hook and the witch-warrior Nalangu Rushida. Each has their own backstories, personality, motivations and abilities. There is a narrator who explains in-game events and your actions in an exaggerated and hilarious voice that remains fresh throughout the game. The story develops through the brief cutscenes that play out before each mission.It basically tells you to go here, stop that from doing this and that’s about it. Pretty barebones, but like I said, that’s more than enough.
Gameplay & Mechanics
Strange Brigade is more akin to Zombie Army Trilogy than Left 4 Dead when it comes to the gameplay. Your choice of character (alone if solo or with three others in co-op) is dropped into these big maps which are more or less ancient burial grounds or dig sites teeming with the undead. The game gives you a general objective but you are free to explore the map at your leisure. The maps are filled with treasures, secrets, traps and puzzles. From the get-go, Strange Brigade strikes this really nice balance between exploration and combat. There are points in the game where all you do is fight enemies and points where you can sit back and explore the areas to your heart’s content. Exploration is rewarded and highly encouraged with money; which can be used to buy new weapons, relics; which are used to unlock abilities and lore notes; which shed light on story as well as the backstory of our brave adventurers.
Sniper Elite and Zombie Army veterans will feel right at home here. The shooting is accurate, satisfying (especially the headshots) and fluid. The third person view hardly hinders the flow of the combat. There are times when the FOV gets cramped as you’re cornered against a wall and can’t aim properly. But these are few and far between. The third person combat is complemented by a rolling manoeuvre and a spider sense-ish indicator that shows up when an enemy creeps behind you. The controls are responsive and tight, making the constant rolling and aiming a breeze. There are a wide variety of weapons to choose from and unlock, including pistols, rifles, shotguns, SMGs, and semi-automatic rifles. All of them feel good and are viable in all scenarios. There are a variety of explosives too because the undead loves the smell of fresh dynamite in the morning. You can also use the plethora of traps lying around to make undead mincemeat and that is greatly appreciated.
There are four characters available to play as of now, with one more coming on launch day and the rest later. Despite each character having their own passive and active abilities, all four feel more or less the same. Frank’s passive is that he can make headshots explode and has more health, but he doesn’t feel much different from the rest of the characters during the combat. The variation does spice up as you unlock more powers. Still, it would have been great to have a class system as seen in Vermintide.
When it comes to enemy design, Strange Brigade features plenty of enemy archetypes with each having their own attack pattern, speed and threat level. The problem is that there isn’t much visual variety between them. You’re either facing skeleton or mummies. With a unique theme like this, Strange Brigade surely could have come used some more engaging and varied enemy design. Another gripe I have with the game is the clear lack of challenge in the main campaign. I was able to solo the campaign on the maxed out difficulty in under 12 hours. The only times you’ll die are during hectic boss fights and that too is uncommon. A game with such strong focus on co-op definitely needs more challenge.
When you’re not filling undead things with lead, you’ll be solving the plethora of puzzles spread throughout each map in Strange Brigade. The puzzles here are often simple and doesn’t leave your head scratching for hours. More often than not, you’ll be finding the correct pattern of tiles, stepping in pressure plates and solving the pipe puzzle from Bioshock. Thanks to this simple design, the pace of the game never gets too slow. The rewards make the puzzles worth solving.
Aside from the single-player campaign consisting of 9 maps, there are two extra modes titled Horde and Score Attack. They are basically what they sound like. Score attack requires you to clear a section of enemies under a time limit while accomplishing certain feats. There is a global leaderboard if you are into that sort of thing. But by far, the most engaging mode to play co-op in is the horde mode. Not only is it challenging, but it encourages teamwork and allows you to use the traps lying around in the most creative ways. This is one mode I could play all day and not get bored.
Visuals, Performance & Sound
Strange Brigade might not break new ground in terms of graphics, but the art style oozes charm and fits right into the whole 1930’s adventure setting. The particle effects and textures do look quite dated when compared to its peers, but that won’t mitigate the hours of fun the game provides.
It wouldn’t be fair to analyse the performance of Strange Brigade on the dinosaur GTX 750 I used to run the game on. But it suffices to say that the game hardly dipped below 40 fps at 1080p and low settings when paired with an i5 7500 and 8 gigs of DDR4 RAM.
The sound design in Strange Brigade is decent, but nothing extraordinary. The music does its job and is reminiscent of adventure flicks such as Indiana Jones (although not as iconic) and King Solomon’s mines. The sound effects, however, could use some more beefiness, whether it’s the sound of a springing trap or the powerful pop of a shotgun.
Strange Brigade is a fun and charming co-op action game with great gunplay, rewarding exploration and a balanced pace. Only time will tell what role post-launch content and season pass affects will have in maintaining a strong player base. If you’re a fan of Volition’s earlier outings and co-op shooters in general, then Strange Brigade definitely worth checking out. If not, well there is always a first time and Steam sales. Just make sure to grab some buddies, open a can of whatever you like drinking and step into the shoes of the Strange Brigade.