The team at Rebellion are no strangers to creating intriguing shooter experiences having previously developed the Sniper Elite franchise, as well as the supernaturally inclined coop adventure, Zombie Army Trilogy. A lot has changed in the three years since Zombie Army Trilogy had players taking down hordes of nazi zombies, however, and Rebellion has gone on to release Sniper Elite 4 in the interim. They’ve had some time to really grow as a studio, fine tune their storytelling and gameplay. Now with the release of Strange Brigade they’ve got a chance to flex their muscles and give their fans a truly epic and unique adventure experience.
Strange Brigade follows the antics of a motley crew of adventurers, each bringing with them their own unique flare and useful skills to the team. The fiery redhead, Gracie, has a history as a factory worker making her quicker with her hands and effectively lowering the cooldown between grenade usage. The young professor Archimedes, on the other hand, has a sordid past of being forced into joining the Strange Brigade after he lost an entire group of students to a supernatural event. His experiences with the occult make him better suited to finding secrets tucked away in the world. Super soldier Frank has a more hit points thanks to his tougher skin and his past experiences with assassination mean his headshots are more effective than his colleagues’. Rounding out the four base characters is Nalangu, a tribal Demon Hunter who has found herself chasing a higher calling with the Brigade.
Upon release, Rebellion have made the Gentleman’s Pack DLC available free for a limited time, which introduces a fifth member to the squad, Winston Bey. Bey’s abilities seem to be a blend between Archimedes and Frank as he has more health, and the ability to gather the souls dropped by enemies from farther away. Each individual character is also equipped with specific amulets which are powered by the souls of defeated enemies. Each character has three different amulets (two of which will require skill points to unlock) with varying functions to help dispatch the hordes when things get out of hand. These can range from simply turning an enemy into a chicken so that they’re no longer an issue, to unleashing a wave of fire from the sky to turn your foes to ash in the wind.
Strange Brigade’s campaign features nine individual missions, each taking approximately an hour of play time to complete. This can fluctuate, of course, depending on player skill and how much time is spent searching each mission for the elusive collectibles such as cat statues, urns, and priceless relics. While Strange Brigade is undeniably a third person shooter with players choosing between a healthy array of firearms and explosives with which to arm themselves, the game does present players with a variety of puzzle mechanics that must be overcome to proceed through each mission. In some instances this will mean that players must stand on a switch to activate a target that they then must shoot in order to open doors or lower gates. In other areas players may find themselves targeting light beams to hit specific crystals or searching for a combination that must then be shot into a door to unlock it. These brief moments of problem solving are a breath of fresh air between the brutal, action heavy assaults of undead and mummified hordes.
There are nearly a dozen basic firearms available to players in Strange Brigade, with several more variants being available as limited use bonus weapons hidden amongst the gold and precious gemstones in each level. Only a handful of these weapons are available at the beginning, however, with the rest needing to be purchased with gold earned from looting the dungeons, caves, and pyramids that you’ll be exploring. The available weaponry is one area where Rebellion has really improved over their Zombie Army Trilogy days, which mostly limited players to various types of sniper rifles. Strange Brigade gleefully makes shotguns, SMGs, snipers, and semi automatic rifles available as long as you can afford the unlock.
Strange Brigade’s gunplay feels comfortable and effective, as you would expect from a dev team that has the experience that Rebellion has under their belts, but where the fun really lies in taking down these hordes is not with the firearms but with the traps. Each level of Strange Brigade is meticulously designed to allow players to plan out elaborate takedowns of large amounts of enemies. Running circles around specific pillars, for example, and then shooting the orb on top can trigger a series of blades to rise up out of the pillar and spin, chopping down anything close by. Other traps release spikes from the floor to impale enemies, or bursts of flames. Even stalactites from the ceiling of a cave can pose a hazard for unsuspecting mummies as they shamble toward your crew.
While it’s blatantly obvious that Strange Brigade is a game meant to be played with friends, it is entirely possible to tackle the game as a solo player. There are no AI bots to fill in during your buddies’ absence, but that’s not a bad thing as they’d probably just get in the way of you setting up a chain of explosions down the corridor anyway. There’s only a couple of instances in Strange Brigade where it feels like you really need a partner or two to get by, and these are usually related to activating switches and getting to your prize in a timely manner, though there is one particular boss that requires players to cover a lot of ground in order to cause any damage and this can be frustrating to accomplish alone.
While Strange Brigade’s mountains of collectibles are plenty on their own to keep players coming back and exploring the game’s beautifully designed world from the lowest, darkest dungeon to the highest peak of the pyramids, Rebellion have chosen to go to the extra mile and include two additional gameplay modes. The game’s Horde mode is pretty much what most players would expect given the name. Anybody that has put any kind of time into Black Ops I era Zombies mode in Call of Duty and missed the simplicity of just trying to take out as many waves of the undead as possible are sure to find joy in Strange Brigade’s horde mode. Each area is a slightly modified map based on the layout of its respective mission, with doors and weapons being sealed behind paywalls. Players earn gold for taking out the enemies that become increasingly more difficult as each wave ticks by.
Like Horde mode, Strange Brigade’s Score Attack takes the campaign’s levels and condenses them into linear, bite size events that are more conducive to speed running than plundering. Players face shambling waves of enemies, racking up impressively large combo numbers as they move through the level. Each level has a series of objectives ranging from completing the course in under par time to not taking damage to getting a certain amount of kills with traps or headshots. Completing these objectives and earning higher combos increase the player’s final score, earning them bragging rights among their fellower Brigaders. At launch there are nine available Score Attack levels, however the maps for each level show a second location marked with a padlock and the phrase “Coming Soon!”.
Strange Brigade’s quirky cast of characters, including the alliteration admiring narrator, are all incredibly well written with voice acting and dialogue that feels natural while being charming and humorous. As alarming as the unusual events the group encounters throughout the game’s story, it never really attempts to take itself too seriously. There are plenty of quips about taking the gold to “fund research” among other silly comments, but for those who might find that the characters banter to be too much there are options to lower the frequency of these chats in the menu.
With three different difficulty settings, the choice to minimize or maximize the amount of enemies you’ll be encountering in each mission along with the ability to mix and match characters and weapons to accommodate your individual playstyle Strange Brigade is surprisingly accessible to players of all skill levels. Whether you’re tackling the undead alone, or with a group of friends, there’s a lot here for players to sink their teeth into.