Developed by: Rebellion
Platforms: PS4 / XBOX One / PC
Genre: Third Person Shooter
Reviewed On: PS4PRO
Strange Brigade marks the latest release by game developer Rebellion, famed for their Sniper Elite series of games as well as the Zombie Army Trilogy (henceforth referred to as ZAT). Although this game would play differently to their previous efforts, the co-op aspect of it might be closer to ZAT where up to 4 players can join an online session to go through the campaign, horde, or score attack modes together. Without any further delay, lets get into it and see how their latest effort measures up.
Game Setting & Backstory
The game is set in Egpyt during the 1930’s. An archaeological expedition has gone missing and it is up to Nalangu Rushida, Professor Archimedes de Quincy, Frank Fairburne, & Gracie Braithwaite, the four members of the Strange Brigade to get in there and find out what happened. It doesn’t take long for the group to discover that something went very wrong which wiped out the whole expedition, and Seteki, the Witch Queen has been unleashed onto the world. It now falls to the Strange Brigade to travel to terrifying caves, abandoned villages, rambunctious ruins and lush jungles to stop these fiendish foes and save the world from the fate that awaits.
The game is divided into three categories, Campaign, Horde Mode, and Score Attack. I clocked in at about 20 hours in Campaign Mode and I believe the average campaign length should be about 15-20 hours depending on how much exploration the player would like to be doing. Horde mode is as the name implies going through hordes of enemies, wave after wave earning gold to unlock secret doors to get blueprints to buy better weapons. Score attack is a mode where the player would try to navigate through the levels and try and score the most points by killing the enemies with your weapons or the traps littered about. Before jumping into those modes, however, the player must choose which of the 4 characters to use and to customize their inventory loadouts. The choices include which primary weapon to use (shotguns, rifles, machine guns), sidearms (revolvers, semi-automatics), items (grenades, dynamite, landmines) and lastly amulet powers. The first three inventory categories contain the same weapons shared across all 4 characters except for the amulet powers. Every character will have access to 4 (unique to only that character) amulet powers which include calling a swarm or lightning to destroy the enemies you encounter. Besides that, by using gold obtained throughout the game, players will have the option to purchase “better” weapons that could be slotted with runes that augment them in different ways. Some of these runes enable the player to regenerate health after each kill, perform more damage with headshots, have their bullets ricochet off enemies and better armour piercing. Through exploration, the player can collect artifacts and when a full set is obtained, gives the player a skill point to unlock a new amulet power to use. With that, the player is now ready to mow through hordes and hordes of the undead which includes slow mummies, magic mummies, bombardier mummies, teleporting mummies, skeletons, bull champions, pirate captains and more.
I was quite surprised at how open the levels were in the beginning of the game. It was a big playground to run around in and the views were at times beautiful. There are a healthy number of puzzles littered about each level for the player to solve ranging from steam pipe puzzles, match the symbols in order, flipping the puzzle pictures and more. They are fairly simple but I did find myself challenged by some on occasion during my playthrough. I would say that the developers intended for the players to explore more as the gold earned from finding hidden chests will aid in purchasing the most “beneficial” weapons and items in the game not to mention unlocking more amulet powers. Just a tip, some of these artifacts do not sit behind puzzle doors but are carried by running treasure mummies (exactly like treasure goblins in Diablo 3) where if you don’t kill them in time the artifacts will disappear, so being aggressive in this instance would be good. Although I do find it quite unfortunate that there is no in-game or menu map to help the player navigate their surrounding so it can get disorientating.
What I Liked
- Game Setting – I like the era as well as the location the game is set in.
- The Narrator – One of the brighter spots of the game is the narrator always speaking with much gusto and aplomb.
- Graphics – The game looks good and plays at a solid 60fps. I don’t think I experienced any dips at all and there is even an option to unlock the framerate. Unfortunately, there are some very rough effects that do take it down a notch (fire effects look last gen)
- Challenge – The game can be challenging and it does force the player to strategize and utilize all the tools at their disposal including traps to overcome the hordes of enemies coming your way.
What I Wished Was Better
- Puzzles – They are for the most part simple but can be incredibly frustrating as some require you to really pay attention like looking through the tiny hole in a door you are trying to unlock to see the solution hidden behind it. Until my wife brought it up I didn’t realize that all the puzzles revolved around shooting something.
- Text Size on the Collectibles – I like that the game has collectible texts that flesh out the game backstory as well as the individual characters but the text is so small sometimes it can be hard to read. Considering the amount of extra unused space on screen they should really look towards making it bigger in a future patch.
- Story – It feels like an afterthought. Yes, we do have collectibles as I mentioned before that fleshes it out but all I could think about is why couldn’t it be done in the game itself so the player can be more invested in it? What’s disappointing about it is that reading through (I had to move myself closer to the TV) the story sounds very interesting and quite terrifying as to how it all unfolded. It just feels like a waste that it was left in the background.
- Characters – They have their own individual unique personalities at the start of the game and that is as much as you are going to get until the end. They don’t really expand on it besides a few collectible texts. Supposedly, they all have their own unique special traits, but I found that besides being aesthetically different, picking any of the four would not result in a drastically different playstyle. For example, Professor de Quincy has an ability to open “secret hidden doors” that the other characters cannot until you discover that what is behind those doors is the same behind every chest you will open. That made me a little disappointed as I expected something different.
- Gameplay – The shooting does not feel punchy enough especially since you will spend a large majority of your time (like 95%) shooting things. Guns don’t really feel much different from one another besides what type they are to how many runes you can slot in them. It just feels very half baked, like they knew what they wanted to put a system in and it did not go deeper than it should have. Even the runes themselves only add a miniscule layer of strategy or satisfaction by using them as they feel very underpowered. The vampiric rune adds so little health every time you kill an enemy. The ice rune only procs when it feels like it even though there isn’t any description saying it is not supposed to be doing that and the enemies unfreeze immediately anyway after shooting them just once. It just ends up being so meaningless.
- Inconsistent World-Building – The game is supposed to be a very campy and silly ride but sometimes this game just gets so inconsistent on how silly it wants to be. The only supernatural force is supposed to be the villain Seteki and yet puzzles in the game have floating magic glyphs that open doors. I kid you not, somewhere towards the middle of the game you pull a lever to release a flying magic glyph to open a door. There is a boss in the game who has a door stuck to his hand. He is not holding it, there isn’t a grip, it’s like glued to his hand PS2 era style. Those are just a few examples and It can get jarring sometimes. As a player, I wanted to go along with it but at times even I couldn’t help but just question some design decisions.
- Level Design – Earlier on I mentioned that some of the levels were very large. At first, it was nice as it gave you space to manoeuvre around the hordes but then it gets apparent that these levels were meant to be played by four players as it starts to feel too big. Then in contrast towards the end of the game, some levels just feel so cramped like it was designed specifically for one player and I had no doubt how it could lead to frustration. Sometimes two ammo packs are placed right next to each other. One level has undead on the ground for you to stomp on just because. Why the running treasure mummy?
- Music – I honestly cannot remember anything memorable from my playtime. I think maybe just once towards the end of the game is when I realized that the game had any music.
What I Disliked
- “I need these for my numanismatic collection” – Is what Professor de Quincy says way too many times when he picks up gold or opens chests that contain gold. Having more recorded dialog would be nice.
- A Lack of a Map – It could just be me, but I just kept saying to myself throughout that I wished there was a map for navigation. It would have been a great addition to have one as when you want to go back to a previous locked door it can get disorientating as you might forget where it is in the level because its too huge or placed too far away.
- Better Indicators for Collectibles – There are times where while walking a cat sound will play and it is up to the player to find that cat statue and shoot it. Shoot all of them and at the end of the level, you can open a treasure door. It would be great if I didn’t have to freeze in place and turn around slowly trying to figure out where the cat is because all you have guiding you is just simply knowing you are where you are supposed to be to see it. Even books just have these “soft embers” to highlight them that makes it very easy to miss.
- Enemy Direction Indicators – I first noticed this feature very late in the game as I was wondering why they did not have any. The enemy Indicators are shown at the edges of your screen as hands reaching out to you. It was so faint that I spent the bulk of my playtime not noticing them at all.
- Technical Problems – During my playthrough, I did experience some bugs that were somewhat hilarious. I reloaded a checkpoint only to find that I had to reopen the chests around the level again and got different items (maybe it is randomized) and fires would not go out. They would just burn forever. The narrator would echo in a closed space even though he’s a disembodied voice. I could be wrong but the last boss fight against Seteki was bugged as well as I think I unintentionally skipped a section of it and beat her.
- Boss Fights – Now I don’t inherently dislike the boss fights. What I feel hampers my enjoyment if that for a game that revolves around shooting everything, it can get frustrating to shoot at a specific weak point or target and for it to not register at all. I got quite frustrated on the Titan of Seteki boss fight because I kept shooting at a target point blank and it just would not hit. I also had a mild suspicion that some of these boss fights were meant to be a team effort.