Strange Brigade is a strange beast. This brand-new title by Rebellion Developments is a chimera of ideas taken from other co-op shooters out there. However, it would be hard to really compare them to titles like Killing Floor or Rebellion’s own Zombie Army Trilogy. This third-person shooter is mediocre as a game, yet I can’t say its wholly bad in the end. This is due to it’s one redeeming factor; its aesthetic design.
Strange Brigade leans heavily on its setting. This is the perfect representation of a 1930s Pulp Adventure serial, complete with an abundance of alliteration artfully articulated by the game's corny British narrator. All the classic clichés are on display as a badge of honor, from flying dirigibles to uncovering ancient tombs to fighting the main antagonist, the vengeful spirit of an Egyptian Empress hell-bent on conquering the world.
It’s cheesy, but in a way that is genre savvy. If Strange Brigade does anything right, it's capturing that spirit of adventure in its presentation alone, right down to the Doc Savage facsimiles of the Brigade members themselves. Each character is an action stereotype, from the gruff mercenary to the token noble savage. Outside of some minute unique abilities, they are pretty much interchangeable.
This lack of individuality extends to each hero's background. It's not a joke when I say the standout character is the game's omnipresent narrator. He gleefully recites ham-handed dialogue and providing terrible one-liners for the player. Mileage may vary in how much you like the narration but he never overstayed his welcome for me. If anything it enhanced the adventure atmosphere, especially when your main characters lack any distinct personality on their own.
The aesthetic is ultimately part of the charm of Strange Brigade and why the game is bearable despite carrying major flaws. Much like Cuphead last year, Strange Brigade attempts and mostly succeeds in standing out via a unique presentation. The pulp adventure story is a ripe setting for video games. Even so, we rarely see it nowadays in favor of the old standbys of orcs and space aliens. With the narrative done in this self-referential way, it highlights the strengths of the setting and how unique it could be.
Sadly, Strange Brigade's many flaws hold it back from greatness. A game like Cuphead plays to its strengths as a challenging run and gun with tight controls. A game like Strange Brigade falls flat due to rampant control issues that hinder the overall experience. The third-person controls are very floaty, with characters jerking around like a crab while aiming their weapons. This is especially troublesome when lining up shots against enemies. Small hitboxes and hit detection can occasionally spoil the weapon aiming, which leads to a lot of stray bullets even when a monster is in spitting distance from your muzzle.
The lack of precision, even with single-shot ‘sniper’ rifles, becomes a major issue when dealing with massive hordes of enemies or boss characters. Most of the bosses have the standard ‘shoot me’ light on their bodies, but a precise shot is extremely difficult due to how the controls are implemented. Moving and shooting are no better. It can be done but it's best used for a spray and pray tactic. In fact, outside of bosses, spray and pray is perhaps one of the best ways to mop up large hordes of enemies, along with triggering traps and throwing grenades.
Of course, there's more to the title than shooting. There a ton of puzzles in Strange Brigade, but Rebellion has thankfully made them both optional and rewarding to solve. Large-scale puzzles include finding hidden symbols or following a predetermined path to a treasure chamber. Smaller puzzles are minigames of snake and symbol matching, which can open smaller ante-chambers to uncover loot. All the puzzles are fairly simple challenges, and while they do get repetitive, they're usually a good break from the action.
What you get as a reward for going off the main path is usually piles of gold, codex reading, or special relics. Each of Strange Brigade's nine main story levels has a few collectibles to find, from shooting turquoise cats to uncovering ancient Egyptian relics. Doing so not only adds to your overall score but gives you enough gold to buy more weapons or points to unlock magical amulets. These powers have a ton of fun effects, from the standard fire and lightning damage to turning enemies into chickens. This encourages rampant collecting everything, as that's the way to unlock every character's full ability set.
Sadly, the content is sparse in Strange Brigade. There are only nine story levels to explore plus a smattering of horde mode and time attack levels. The enemies you face are not that diverse; different flavors of zombies, skeletons and giant scorpions pretty much are all you see. Just because it's Egyptian or pirate themed doesn’t make this any less like similar games on the market.
That said, Rebellion already has plans for free monthly updates and a season pass for the future. The plan is to add more adventurers, weapons, costumes and even a whole new trio of missions. At the very least Strange Brigade will get a few months of content updates to keep things from getting stale.
Strange Brigade excels as a multiplayer experience, but only the horde mode really stands out as enjoyable from start to finish. Surviving waves of enemies against tougher odds and dwindling supplies. Spending your gold to buy weapons or even manipulating the environment to your advantage. This offers a challenge that is lacking in the main storyline, where the difficulty setting adjusts the number of zombies on the field. Sadly, there is no couch co-op, which I personally think is a missed opportunity.
Still, despite these massive flaws, there is no denying that Strange Brigade is fun, even if it's in short bursts. Story levels are long, taking at least a half-hour to an hour to complete. Rushing through the game will make the whole experience a chore. Playing it in bursts of maybe two full levels made it more enjoyable. In these short sessions, the setting and personality help smooth out the mediocre gameplay.
At the end of the day, Strange Brigade is just a mediocre game with passable controls and repetitive multiplayer. There are glimmers of fun in the smaller moments but everything outside of the presentation really struggles to encourage playing beyond a single run through the campaign. It is the quintessential guilty pleasure for me though, a game you know is bad, but you find enjoyment out of it anyway due to hitting the mark on certain factors, and for those daring enough to try it for themselves, it may fall that way for you too.
Our Strange Brigade review was conducted on PlayStation 4 with a copy provided by the publisher. The game is also available on Xbox One and PC.
Strange Brigade oozes personality and has a strong in-game aesthetic, capturing the charismatic essence of 1930s pulp adventure stories. Sadly, it suffers heavily from mediocre controls and repetitive gameplay, making it a hard sell for even the most intrepid explorer.(Review Policy)
- Pulp Adventure...
- Clever Use of the Narrator...
- Some Good Puzzles...
- Fun in Multiplayer at Times...
- ...With All of It's Cliches.
- ...Razor Thin Development Elsewhere.
- ...Repetitive Gameplay Overall.
- ...Needs More Multiplayer Modes.
- Floaty Controls and Gunplay.