STAFF REVIEW of Strange Brigade (Xbox One)

Tuesday, September 25, 2018.
by Jennifer Dingle

Strange Brigade Box art What do you get when you cross Indiana Jones with Left 4 Dead? That’s probably the best way to explain Rebellion’s latest co-operative game. Strange Brigade is a third party shooter that promises to be thrilling and filled with perilous puzzles and tantalizing treasure, as it pays homage to old school serials with a supernatural adventure that takes place in 1930’s Egypt.

In terms of the game’s story, the witch queen Seteki has risen after a 4,000 year slumber. Only the Strange Brigade can defeat her, but to do so they must face off against her army of undead in ruins, caves and jungles, in their quest to rid the world of evil. A team of four likeable heroes make up the brigade and add their unique skills to the quest to defeat the wretched monsters that have overtaken Egypt. Gracie Braithwaite, who looks as though she was plucked directly from a Rosie the Riveter poster, heavily relies on grenades and shotguns. Frank Fairburne, the former British soldier, is armed with a rifle and dynamite. The scholarly Archimedes de Quincey uses his submachine gun to fend off the fiendish foes, and finally, the statuesque (and my personal favourite!) Nalunga Rushida, the African hunter with a mean kick and an automatic rifle.

Gameplay is pretty straight forward. Sure, it’s somewhat mindless but it’s great fun! Shoot lots and lots of enemies in horde/arena style levels. There are a few objectives to complete and numerous puzzles to solve (more on that later), but you spend the majority of your time constantly shooting a seemingly never ending wave of enemies. You begin your adventure with a pretty basic gun and a grenade of your choice, but you can upgrade your equipment at work benches found deep within the ruins and overgrown vegetation. You can also purchase some very powerful weapons from chests, like a flame thrower or a blunderbuss, but they are removed from your inventory once you’re out of ammo. Money for upgrades is earned from downed enemies or by finding chests scattered throughout the levels.

When your enemy perishes, they leave a glowing blue orb behind, and with a pull of the right trigger, they are collected to power your amulets special ability and used to cast a powerful area of effect spell. This was such an effective way to deal with being surrounded! I often found myself deep amid a swarm of mummies anxiously awaiting to use my amulet; then delivering a devastating blow to everything around me.

There are three games modes to play. The campaign, a Horde mode (self-explanatory) and a Score Attack mode to test your skill. You can definitely play alone, but there are no AI characters to assist you in your solo adventure; you’re all on your own. I did ok on my own playing in the campaign, but only made it to Level 3 in Horde mode before becoming completely overwhelmed. This is a game that’s meant to be played with others.

Strange Brigade is truly a collectors delight. Each level is filled with hidden secrets, chests to unlock, and hidden chambers filled with gold that can easily be overlooked... It seemed I always found something new each time I repeated playing through level. There are relics to be found that allow your character to increase skill points and upgrade your amulet abilities. Oh, and you might want to keep your ears open for a cats’ meow! There are blue glass cats hidden in each level, and collecting all of them will reveal a room filled with treasure before a perilous boss battle.

My biggest complaint with Strange Brigade is the loot system. In this generation of gaming, not sharing loot among all players is unacceptable in my opinion. I can’t begin to tell you how frustrating it was to open a room with two treasure chests and have your companion (I did play some local cooperative) receive a stash of gold while you receive a measly comic book collectible. This is especially problematic if you are playing with randoms online rather than friends. I get that it’s meant to be competitive, but it definitely took away from the co-op fun.

I also found the enemies tended to be slightly ‘bullet spongy’, which could be especially annoying in the later stages of a level when you are bombarded with swarms upon swarms of foes. Perhaps Rebellion wants the player to rely on the numerous traps and puzzles that can be found within a level, but firing 3-4 shots into a low level skeleton when you are being swarmed is enough to make you want to throw your controller in frustration.

Speaking of traps, I thought they were very well implemented, both in the campaign and horde mode. It was extremely satisfying to round up a group of skeletons and mummies and trigger a whirling fan or a swinging blade that smashed and/or sliced them into pieces. And as for the puzzles, as promised, Strange Brigade was filled with hidden treasure only to be uncovered once you complete a puzzle, like shooting symbols in the correct sequence or stepping on the right stone to open a door. Too many attempts and the door is looked for eternity (or until you restart at the previous checkpoint!). Perhaps I’m a grizzled veteran (I have played my fair share of Zelda games!); but I found that the puzzles in Strange Brigade were not challenging at all. Sure, they were fun, but just way too easy in my opinion.

Strange Brigade really didn’t have much of a soundtrack, and very little music to note, except for the cutscenes and boss battles, but the atmospheric sounds in the game were perfect. As you’re traipsing around ruins and tunnels, the eerie moans of a mummy in the distance really adds to the supernatural of feel the game. The voice acting was pretty great, especially the narrator, who really made it feel like a 1930’s serial with his sarcastic quips and constant breaking of the fourth wall. Visually, Strange Brigade was fantastic (especially stunning in on the Xbox One X and a 4K TV). There was so much detail in the environments, I often stopped and looked around and took in the beautiful surroundings.

I should also note that Rebellion has some great community support. They recently released some free content, including a new character, and there is more to come. They can also often be found giving out gifts of some nature when streaming and interacting with the community on their social channels. It really stands out how committed they are to the player experience and should be commended on their efforts.

Despite some of its shortcomings; I highly recommend playing Strange Brigade. Yes, the loot system can leave much to be desired, and the gameplay can be a bit frustrating at times, but it’s great fun, especially with friends. Oh, and the addition of lots of collectibles and a horde-like mode add a high replay value. It’s a solid title to add to your collection. Grab some friends and go onward Brigade!!

Overall: 7.9 / 10
Gameplay: 7.0 / 10
Visuals: 8.0 / 10
Sound: 8.0 / 10


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