by Sean Martin
reviewed on PC
LOUD AND LIVELY
Rebellion’s loud and lively adventure shooter, Strange Brigade, is a game that doesn’t take much puzzling out (except perhaps the puzzles part). It’s a game which has rooted itself very much in one aesthetic: the 1930s pulp adventure. You take command of the Strange Brigade, a group of somewhat mismatched fighters, tasked with exploring the tombs of antiquity and battling whatever ancient evils they discover there. In practice, this plays as a mixture of arena shooting, treasure hunting and puzzles. I was initially impressed by how good looking the game was, the arenas and tombs, wonderfully designed for a horde killing experience, plus it does do what it sets out to, fulfilling the 1930s aesthetic admirably. But as I went on I started to noticed a few issues.
IF YOU HAVE FRIENDS
When you begin the game, you choose one of the four party members: Frank Fairbourne (a soldier), Archimedes de Quincey (an archaeologist), Nalangu Rushida (a demon hunter) or Gracie Braithwaite (a factory girl?). Unfortunately, if you play the single player, this is where their character development ends. I was disappointed to discover that in single-player the rest of the brigade is completely absent (even in AI form). It feels lazy, especially when the game is so obviously designed for a party of people, so much so that there was barely any point adding a single player mode, especially one that feels as token as this. If you play single-player mode, you will see the other characters about every two hours and they will use the opportunity to spout a few buzzword phrases before disappearing again.
But the actual party gameplay is good (if you have friends). The sections where you are trapped in an area to survive wave after wave of varying enemy types, creates a really great horde mode. You have a mixture of weapons: machine guns, pistols, shotguns and rifles. You also have a variety of grenades and a special combat ability. This combat ability is linked to your amulet, which you use to interact with the varying ancient objects of the world. When I played through, I chose Gracie, the Lancastrian factory girl, partly because I was curious how she ended up fighting the ancient forces of evil, but also because I’m a northerner (represent). She was pitched as the close range fighter, but I found a good deal of adaptability to her build, kitting her out with a rifle (for satisfying headshots) but then beat down and stomped on whoever got close. You also have unlimited pistol ammo, mainly because shooting is required for some puzzles and is one of the central ways you have to interact with the world.
A BIT MUCH
As you galavant around, stealing treasures and fighting undead creatures, your exploits are narrated by a prim and proper British gentleman. He’ll make some jokes and use lots of alliteration, but after a while he really started to get on my nerves. Literally every encounter or anything that happens, he’s there, spouting something. I get that he’s supposed to infuse the game with flavour, but what he says adds so little and is only very occasionally funny. We get it, the game is set in a 1930s pulp adventure, we understand the aesthetic and the setting - you don’t need to ram it down our throats. But this kind of reflects the whole problem with Strange Brigade. Play wise, the game is sound enough, with a variety of enemies, a good horde mode, satisfying party shooting and a selection of weapons. But the game is trying way too hard and it just allows you to see how devoid of personality the whole thing is.
The problem with pulp fiction, pulp characters and pulp plot-lines, especially those British Empire, Victorian-esque adventure stories, is that they are facile. I feel if you were to make a game like this now, you would take the aesthetic, but move on from that shallowness, adding depth to the characters and the stories. Strange Brigade is a sound party shooter, stylish and good to play with friends. It’s a nice romp, but the actual content feels very facile to me, lacking in terms of any meaningful engagement with the player.
Good horde mode, stylist visuals, fun four player combat
Pointless single player mode, facile characters with little player engagement