Although Strange Brigade has adequate gameplay, which is improved if you play with others, the developers seemed to focus more on gimmicks and selling DLC than developing a worthwhile campaign.
Type: Single-Player, Online Co-op
Genres: 3rd Person Shooter, Adventure
Release date: 27 August, 2018
Strange Brigade (SB) came up in a Humble Bundle monthly, and had pretty good reviews, so I went ahead and activated it for myself. I don’t play many shooters, but didn’t mind the idea of having another one available. Not long ago, some of my friends bought the game while it was on sale, and we gave it a shot. I’ve played both on my own and with them, which is easy to switch back and forth between, and beat all the stages. Does this make for a noteworthy brigade, or just a strange game to avoid?
SB is a 3rd person shooter, with you buying 11 primary and 4 secondary weapons, obtaining 9 gems with useful powers, and looking for historical artifacts that unlock amulet abilities. These abilities are charged up by absorbing souls, and can do things such as raising undead soldiers or freezing enemies. Each of the 4 characters fight enemies with their own emphasis. For instance, Fred is a marksman who deals splash damage if he kills enemies with head shots, while Nalangu steals HP by doing melee damage. The gunplay is okay, though you get into a cycle of retreating to maintain distance because enemies become much harder targets up close. I try to melee enemies if they get too close, but it can be unreliable, as you’ll make a slight misjudgment and whiff an attack. Plus, the results vary widely based on the foe, as you either knock them down and get a free kill, or your melee attack barely hurts them.
There are 3 game modes in SB: Campaign, Horde, and Score Attack. Campaign Mode consists of 9 stages, which tend to take around 40 minutes to complete, if you’re exploring and searching for secrets. You’ll follow the storyline this way, and unlock the same stages for Score Attack Mode. In that mode, you play through short sections, clearing waves of enemies as quickly as possible in order to earn high scores. There’s little point to it, and it feels gimmicky. Horde Mode is a lot like the Call of Duty zombie survival waves, and you have 8 areas you can play in. You aren’t able to bring over weapons you unlock from the campaign, having to rely on meager starting gear. As you survive waves of enemies, you’ll use the money you earn to purchase stronger guns, gems, and ammo refills. There’s no reward for beating a round of this mode though, so you’d only play it if you got bored.
It’s possible to play with either the mouse and keyboard or a controller, and I opted for a controller. I didn’t notice any issues with the controls. Movement is controlled with the ‘L joystick,’ while aiming your weapon is done with the ‘R joystick.’ When your amulet is charged, you can activate it by hitting ‘B.’ ‘Y’ cycles through your weapons, and ‘A’ is a dodge roll. Tapping ‘X’ reloads your weapon, and holding it down will interact with background objects. In order to fire your weapon, you have to aim with the ‘L trigger’ first and then hit the ‘R trigger’ to shoot. Otherwise, ‘R trigger’ will draw in souls to you. ‘L bumper’ tosses your explosive, which replenishes itself over time, and ‘R bumper’ is your melee strike.
The playable characters are members of an elite, underground organization that keep tabs on supernatural forces that could be a threat to the world. Much like the 1999 movie, The Mummy, an Egyptian necromancer is freed and starts raising the dead, with a goal of creating a massive army to conquer the planet. You’ll pursue this threat through tombs and ancient temples, seeking to prevent the end of the world. Although you observe the characters in cutscenes, with how intrusive the narrator can be, I get a stronger sense of his personality than any of the people you play as, who are just kind of there. They don’t have much dialogue, and don’t get an opportunity to show their personalities.
I would say there’s nothing wrong with the graphics in SB. There’s a wide range of options available based on the power of your PC, and the backgrounds have a decent amount of variety considering you remain within one country. However, whenever you find a relic, instead of showing you a 3D representation, it’s the same thing every time. An autonomous object wrapped in bandages.
The music somewhat reminds me of a movie soundtrack, because it invokes a feeling of exploration and adventure with its strong percussion elements and quick tempo. However, I don’t really notice it very much while playing. All of the cutscenes are voice-acted, though the narrator has the most spoken lines. I think the quality is pretty good, though if you dislike his personality, it’ll be a negative.
- When playing with others, you can revive fallen players by finding a sarcophagus and breaking them out. There’s a time limit for it, but it’s long enough to save them.
- Some of the gems have interesting effects, such as ricocheting bullets and freezing enemies.
- The last boss battle was more engaging than other boss fights.
- There are quite a few puzzles, which seemed to be an emphasis of the game. They’re all so easy though, making it come across like a lackluster minigame instead of something the original inhabitants would have put in to keep out trespassers. The way some traps are set up, so that the person entering the area can activate them, instead of the defenders, also makes absolutely no sense.
- Once you’ve played through the game once or twice, you have little incentive to keep going back for more, unless you’ve missed a secret. The 4 characters play differently, but they don’t have different experiences in the stage. Admittedly, Archimedes is able to open secret rooms that are entirely inaccessible to anybody else, but this makes it feel like a punishment for not playing as him.
- When playing with others, certain items are shared while others aren’t. For instance, diaries can be picked up by every player, one person destroying a cat statue activates it for everyone else, and relics are shared. However, the blue vases have to be destroyed individually, and gold and gems can only be picked up by one person. It’s illogically inconsistent.
- Most enemies hobble and shuffle along, which seems appropriate for the undead. However, their strange movements can make shooting their heads difficult. Plus, most of the bosses require you to hit precise targets to do any damage, which is artificially made harder with mobs of enemies preventing you from getting off clean shots.
- You’ll want to practice killing enemies with your secondary weapon, because the infinite ammo it provides makes it invaluable in various situations. If you are able to fend off most threats with just the pistol, it’ll make tackling tougher foes with your primary weapon easier. It’s also important to be mindful of where you can replenish your ammo.
- Enemies can spawn in from anywhere, since they’ll just materialize out of nothingness. You’ll want to pay close attention to the ghostly hands on the edge of the screen, as that lets you know an enemy is just about to attack you.
- Once you place a gem onto a weapon, you can’t remove it. However, if you don’t like that gem on that weapon, you can replace it with another one, but it’ll destroy the gem already attached.
Although I enjoy the gameplay of SB, I don’t think it offers enough content for the high price it sells for. The fact that the base game has less than 10 stages, all of which take place in Egypt, while portraying this group of adventurers who’d tackle problems globally, doesn’t mesh well together. It builds expectations for other rip-snorting treks and dastardly evils that need vanquished, but you only get to play through one adventure. Selling DLC that has a few more stages, characters, and weapons, which easily could have fit into the main game, also doesn’t jive well with me. Adding in that the only way you can play with others is for all of them to have their own copies of the game, since there’s no local coop available, doesn’t help my perspective on the pricing of the game. There’s simply too much competition out there for me to recommend spending your money on SB.