This one certainly came out of nowhere hey? Much like the hordes of undead zombies, mummies, skeletons and pirates clawing their way up from under the earth, Strange Brigade was just all of a sudden right in front of me.
Coming from Rebellion, the same studio that develops the Sniper Elite titles, Strange Brigade is a welcome breath of fresh air. Part Uncharted, part Left 4 Dead, Strange Brigade takes a simple premise and cranks the dial up to 11.
Best played in co-op, but also hugely playable solo, Strange Brigade sees the titular, secret British group on a mission to stop the evil undead Queen Seteki from destroying the living.
All in a day’s work for the Strange Brigade.
Strange Brigade Review
At its core, Strange Brigade is a fairly standard 3rd-person shooter. Each of the four (or is that five) characters come equipped with a primary and secondary weapon, grenade and Amulet. The primary weapons fall into the rifle, machine/shotgun category while secondary weapons are pistols.
Grenades include the standard, molotovs, sticky, mines and eventually decoy grenades. When you first start up Strange Brigade, a few of each weapon class is already unlocked. To use the others, you’ll need to earn gold by playing and buy them.
Thankfully, earning gold is just a byproduct of playing and you’ll soon have 10s of thousands of pieces in your vault. You will need to save up though. The most expensive weapons cost upwards of 60,000. The weapons you equip will all rely on your personal preference and there’s no real disadvantage to trying out something new.
Scattered throughout the levels, usually at each checkpoint, is a weapons chest where you’re able to switch primary and secondary weapons and grenades and amulets. As long as you’ve unlocked the weapon you can use it.
These weapon chests occur fairly frequently too, so the option to swap will come up pretty quickly if you find you’ve chosen a dud.
Amulets are what governs your character’s special ability. Each character has four Amulets, each providing a different special move. One unleashes a barrage of lightning, another shoots fireballs and yet another turns a group of enemies into chickens for you to conveniently stomp.
Unlocking new Amulets is different from the weaponry, however. Instead of spending gold, you’ll need to earn upgrade points. The only way to earn these is by finding sets of four treasures. Each level contains six of these treasures and they’re found by completing puzzles and exploration.
Also found in treasure chests are special Gems which can be used to upgrade your weapons. Theses Gems grant your weapons special abilities like absorbing health, freezing or burning enemies, less recoil, better headshots and so on.
Finding your best combination of Gems is about trial and error. Mix and match until you find the ones that work for you.
Play Your Way
Much like the guns, your preferred Amulet will depend on how you choose to play. That’s actually a good way to think about Strange Brigade in general. Rebellion has created a simple, yet robust system that gives players a huge amount of choice regarding how they play the game.
If you want to gradually explore, unlock everything and find every secret you can do that. Treating Strange Brigade more like Uncharted is totally doable. Conversely, if you want to jump in, blast some zombies to pieces and create some chaos, you can do that too. There’s lots to do in Strange Brigade and definitely something for everyone.
Being a 3rd-person shooter, the core gameplay loop is to shoot the enemies and proceed forwards, but Strange Brigade adds a few novel twists. Your Amulet is charged by absorbing the souls of the undead. Each enemy you kill drops a glowing orb which can be absorbed by holding R2 or walking over it.
Once the Amulet is charged you can unleash your attack and devastate a group of shambling zombies. Particularly fun is when you’re able to charge your Amulet, murder a huge group of enemies and immediately charge your Amulet again. It’s doable in solo, but definitely easier when you’re playing co-op.
In fact, it’s in co-op that Strange Brigade unsurprisingly shines best. I’d spent most of my time with the game playing single player, but once I joined with another PowerUp! writer Strange Brigade became even better.
Co-op is King
There were dozens more enemies in each level, puzzle layouts and solutions were different and the pacing was far better. Not that playing single player wasn’t any good. It was. It’s just clear that Rebellion intended Strange Brigade to be played as a shared experience and it shows.
With more than one player, I was able to set up traps more effectively, charge my Amulet more frequently and simply revel in a hell of a lot more carnage. It was utterly brilliant.
Playing co-operatively also helps to highlight the differences between each of the characters. One can perform better headshots, one can find hidden rooms, one is a better melee fighter and one is faster. They’re subtle differences, but ones that are missed when you play each character separately.
Additionally, Strange Brigade throws some competition into the mix by players not sharing the collected gold. If you want more gold, you’re going to have to get to it first. It makes some levels a mad scramble to see who can open a chest first or who can kill the most enemies.
Aside from the campaign, Strange Brigade also includes excellent Horde and Score Attack modes. Both increase Strange Brigade longevity by offering different takes on the formula and giving players an awesome challenge. Be it to survive or to beat each other’s scores.
Flawed but Fun
The actual gunplay in Strange Brigade won’t be everyone’s cup of tea and I found it a little cumbersome and janky initially. I had to fiddle around with my stick sensitivity until I got it into a place that worked well. Once I did, I had a much better time.
It’s not perfect though. Aiming still feels a little sluggish and trying to hit headshots always seems like more trouble than it’s worth. It’s a bit of a shame that a shooter’s controls aren’t totally spot on, but it’s a small issue that doesn’t ruin the overall experience. It’s one worth mentioning though.
In terms of visuals and sound, Strange Brigade is an absolute star. Much like Uncharted, Strange Brigade eschews the next-gen browns and greys for bright colours. Green, blue, yellow, red, purple, they’re all here and in bright, outlandish shades. It gives Strange Brigade a certain Wizard of Oz, over-the-top flavour that fits the style and theme.
The same goes for the level and character design too. Not quite realistic, but not cartoony either, Strange Brigade sits somewhere comfortably in the middle.
At the beginning of some levels, you can see far off into the distance and it was only later I realised that I was looking to the end of the level. It’s pretty impressive to be able to so clearly see what’s laid out in front of you and Rebellion has done just that.
All the colours of the bow man
Having such clear and bright visuals is also a boon for exploration. Each level in Strange Brigade has a labyrinthine quality to it and without good visual indicators and markers, you’d easily get lost. I’m not talking about Bloodborne or Dark Souls levels of interconnectivity, but Strange Brigade certainly rewards those who venture from the beaten path.
Aside from finding the special treasures needed to purchase new Amulets, whilst exploring you’ll find each level’s six cat statues, four canopic jars and various diary entries. There are plenty of collectables, but not so many that you’ll be tearing your hair out trying to find them.
And again, should you not care about finding them, it’s no big deal. The cats give you extra treasure and the diaries flesh out the lore, but they’re hardly necessary.
The overall theme of Strange Brigade is that of an early television serial. Cutscenes play out in sepia tones and are accompanied by a very proper and very British voiceover. The voiceover guy is a constant as you play uttering Britishisms like “Good Show” and “I’ll be needing a stiff cup of tea after that” as he reacts to the action on screen.
Initially, I thought I would get tired of him, but Rebellion has wisely used him sparingly enough so that he adds flavour but doesn’t get on your nerves.
Strange Brigade is definitely a game I wasn’t looking forward to, nor expecting to enjoy as much as I have. It’s a simple premise wrapped in a great package and delivered with an addictive shoot and loot gameplay loop.
If you’re looking for something to play that neither requires much critical thinking nor an emotional investment, Strange Brigade is for you. Turn it on, turn it up and got to town on those zombies.
Especially good when played in co-op.
Strange Brigade was reviewed on PS4 using a digital code provided by the publisher.
Game Title: Strange Brigade