I had no idea what to expect when I received Strange Brigade from Rebellion late last week. I’d seen the trailer last year and then purposely went radio silent on all the subsequent footage and info thrown around the internet. I was hooked the moment I laid my eyes on it and I wanted to experience everything for myself without any spoilers or subtle hints at what I’ll be doing. Strange Brigade is a great take on the action-adventure co-op genre with the added benefit of providing precarious puzzles for us to peruse as we hunt the horrific hordes of the unnatural undead!
Much to my delight, Strange Brigade is just as much fun to play on your own as it is to play it with up to three other human companions with a seamless drop-in/out process for those who wish to have some company on their epic adventure. The question is, did Strange Brigade manage to keep me entertained with it’s over the top Britishness, even more than We Happy Few, and it’s tip-top combat or was it too cheesy for its own good? Let’s find out…
Strange Brigades story is rather generic yet delivered perfectly. Our cast of unlikely heroes are on a mission to seek Seteki, the Witch Queen, and take down her horrific hordes of dastardly dead minions. Not only that, you’ll come across mummified monstrosities, scary skeletons, ghastly ghouls and even more unsettling undead fiends! You can brave the main story campaign solo or make room for friends and strangers to join your motley crew as you embark on this awesome adventure. Each level will take you approx an hour to complete, whether solo or with friends, and each comes with its own intro video (a still image cutscene) and exposition delightfully described to you throughout by the well-spoken narrator.
Strange Brigade is basically an open-region combat game where you move from one area to the next and take out all of the enemies in order to proceed. However, Strange Brigade stands above all the rest with its introduction of puzzles, tombs to raid, lack of cover-based hiding, multiple paths, and cryptic door puzzles. Personally, the game felt like Tomb Raider, Uncharted and Zombie Army had all been thrown into a blender and then glued together with a nice cup of tea! There is enough combat here to keep trigger-happy players more than entertained and a decent amount of puzzles and collectables to keep the exploration fans amused as well. I completed the game last night, so let’s take a look at my thoughts!
Just before I get into detail, there are two modes to the game – a capped framerate and uncapped (under V-sync on or off). This was present in the previous Sniper Elite games as well. I played the entire game with V-Sync off on my PS4 Pro and didn’t experience that many drops – I’ll talk about this more below, but from here on, presume I’m on the Pro and with the framerate uncapped.
If you’ve ever played Sniper Elite, Tomb Raider or Uncharted before then you’ll know exactly how the game controls. All throughout my playthrough, I felt like I was spreading butter on a nice warm piece of toast – it’s that smooth and satisfying! It’s your usual layout in terms of controls, Left stick moves, Right aims, L2 is take aim and R2 is fire. We also have a punch/kick command with R1, which also doubles as a ‘head stomper’ – just like in the Dead Island series – and L1 throws your chosen Grenade/Bomb/Molotov cocktail. The face buttons are also nice and simple – Dodge, Special unique move, reload and change your weapon. The only other controls you have are up on the D-pad uses a health potion and the touchpad displays your objective.
It’s all very nice and easy to remember and everything works brilliantly, allowing you to get straight into the action without faffing about trying to get used to the controls!
Who am I?
In Strange Brigade, you have access to four characters (a fifth one appears to be coming in a future patch for free!) – however, none of them are very different from one another. Visually they are as different as you can get, from a female mechanic-like style to a rather spiffing gentleman. The main differences are the rather amusing one-liners and conversations each one comes out with and their one unique special move. As you defeat your ferocious foes, they drop some form of spiritual energy which can be absorbed into your amulet you carry. Once yours is full, you can unleash all hell upon the devilish demons as you tap Circle and perform your move. Again, these vary from character to character with one pulling an enemy near, putting TNT on it, then kicking it back into the swarm of creatures as it blows up, another has you jumping in the air and returning to earth with a power-punch as you cause everyone within a circular distance around you to combust.
Aside from the special move though, who you pick is purely cosmetic as everyone can equip themselves with the same weaponry and there are no stats such as more health and less speed or faster reload times for the sacrifice of less ammo. I both like and disapprove of this notion though. Sure, it means everyone is the same and it’s fair play no matter how far you’ve got over someone who is playing the game for the first time, but it also means that people will rarely change from the default character they pick at the beginning. I noticed this online where everyone I played with was the same woman, as she was the first one in the character selection screen. I would have liked it if the characters had their own stats or meaningful differences outside of the special move.
That being said, the developers have included a trophy which actually requires you to play a level as all four of the characters – so maybe they also saw the issue that each character is only cosmetic and the only way they could get people to experiment would be to force it via a trophy? However, I’ve played as all four because I love the rapport each one has and it’s great hearing new things being said rather than the repeated lines of playing the same character over and over. Seriously though, the characters get more and more British as you play! Gracie, for example, is supposedly a Lancashire lass but she sounds more like a Yorkshire one to me. I’m not sure if the actress who voiced her really is from up north but to me, she’s the most Northern girl I’ve heard in a video game so far.
Weapons of Mass Destruction:
Okay, so the character selection process is a little disappointing with the lack of any meaningful differences, but what about the weaponry? Unfortunately, this also has a similar effect to the characters for me. At the beginning of Strange Brigade, you have access to four main guns, two pistols, four throwables and one amulet. Each character has their own default loadout, but you can easily readjust it in the menu screen before a mission or in-game via a weapon crate. Now, the choice of weapons are okay, Machine guns, Pistols, Shotguns etc… but just like the character, you’ll find one you like and stick with it – there is no incentive or sense of ‘want’ to try out any of the others.
I initially played as Nalangu who came pre-equipt with an automatic rifle – this is the weapon of choice that I used on all of my characters as it may be weak but it’s fast, has a lot of bullets and isn’t that bad in terms of accuracy. The shotgun is really only good for close-up enemies and the pistols are okay but very, very slow. you do have the chance to buy new weapons before you start a mission with any gold you have acquired within your adventure, but they can get quite pricey and it’ll probably take you a few playthroughs of each level in order to afford them all.
As such, I’m on the fence with the selectable weaponry as I would have liked more of a selection and more variety. You can also pick up gems which can be used to enhance a weapon’s abilities – which is cool! You can make your bullets ricochet, set enemies on fire, heal you upon killing someone etc… but these can only be placed within the main weapons (not the pistols) and you can only equip one at a time. Again, I feel this should have been extended to the pistols as well, as you can only carry one main gun, one pistol, one throwable and one amulet at a time.
What’s in the box!
Throughout your adventure, you’ll find a few various crates for you to open or pay for. The ones you find and open by holding Square are usually containing gold or gems for you to collect, with the odd one giving you another collectable in the form of a book or document. The interesting crates though are the ones you pay for. These come in two variants, 500 and 1000 gold. If you pay to open one then you’ll be given a random ‘prototype weapon’ – this is where the variety and fun come into play!
These weapons are awesome and the whole process reminds me of Gene Rain as in that game you could also buy weapons which had a limited use before they were destroyed. In Strange Brigade, you can obtain weapons such as a magnificent flamethrower which lights up the screen with a multitude of burning mummies, a crossbow which fires out darts with TNT strapped to them which guarantees an explosive result, and even an automatic rifle which freezes the enemies, which is pretty cool! As with the guns in Gene Rain, these guns only remain active under certain criteria. 1. If you die then you lose the weapon, 2. If you run out of bullets then you lose the weapon, 3. If you buy another weapon then you lose this weapon, and 4. If you enter a cutscene to a new area then you lose it.
However, what I found useful is that you can stockpile a weapon for later on. Pressing Triangle will swap between your main weapon and your pistol but if you pick up a prototype weapon, Triangle swaps between all three – meaning you can grab one and save it for later on if you wish. Just be sure to use it before you die/move on otherwise you’ve just wasted your money!
Everyone dies in the end…
As this is a multiplayer focused game (it has a solid singleplayer but you can tell it wants you to play with people), I went into this game expecting it to be a pain in the arse to play it on your own. Enemy numbers based on if you had many people playing, an ‘if you die, it’s game over’ mentality, puzzles which are a pain to complete solo, and possibly getting bored doing the same thing over and over. However, I was wrong on all accounts! woohoo!
Regarding enemy numbers, by default, it appears the level of difficulty you pick combined with how many players are on is how the game decides how many to throw at you. If you’re up for a challenge though, you can enable ‘Send max number of enemies’ in the mission select screen which will force the game to send as many enemies as it can on either difficult and with 1-4 players. The puzzles, which I’ll talk about next, are presented perfectly for any number of people to solve them without any issues or feeling like the game was meant for more players. I never once got bored of playing the game – each level is an hour long and I’ve played each one multiple times – you can even save mid-level if you’re playing solo so that you can jump back in at a later time.
Okay, so I missed out one point – ‘if you die, it’s game over’… Most games like this will force that upon you – if you’re on your own and your down then it’s back to the checkpoint. If there are multiple people playing then you can get revived and carry on – it was never fair to me as I like to play on my own and it presented a forced MP aspect into the game if you didn’t want to play the difficult SP mode. Strange Brigade actually tried to combat this mechanic and offers a rather do-able solution. If you die but you have a potion in your inventory (you can only carry one at a time), then you can auto-revive yourself from the sarcophagus upon death. This means that as long as you can grab a potion before you die then you can constantly revive yourself – which is bloody awesome!
Speaking of the health potion, you have two stages to your health bar in the game – max and min. At max, you have full health, obviously, but if your health drops below the min line, or you’re revived, then your health won’t auto-regen above the min line. It’s like a partial auto-regen which I thought worked really well – although I always kept the potion for revival unless if I found a second one, then I would drink the one I have and pick up the other.
That’s right, puzzles actually play a big part in Strange Brigade as our curious crew aren’t only out to rid the world from the angry antagonist, they are also out to line their pockets with gold! The puzzles you’ll encounter will vary but the majority of them are very similar and usually, they are the mechanism to open a doorway to collectables and loot. You’ll come across the Bioshock water puzzle, but in this case, you’ll have to shoot the panels in order to create a path from one node to another, doors where you must shoot symbols according to patterns you see around you, and even those puzzles where you hit a tile and all adjacent ones flip – in order to try and show the whole image.
There are also some environmental ‘puzzles’ where you must take control of a laser beam and use it to reflect off various crystals in order to open a door or activate a switch. These combined with seeking out and shooting all the cats on each stage (which make a loud ‘meow’ when one appears) and finding the hidden pots to smash, all help to keep Strange Brigade entertaining, varied and engaging – rather than just having one combat area after another.
What I also found was that the loot you find is ‘first come, first serve’ so you want to be there when a door opens so you can rush in and grab the loot first. If you let your colleagues grab it then it means they will get a higher overall amount of gold – this doesn’t really mean anything other than they can buy new weapons, but there is a trophy which requires you to earn over double the amount of any of your other crew members.
Once you’ve completed a level in the campaign mode, you unlock the ability to play through the same level in ‘Score Attack Mode‘. This is as you would expect – you get more points based on how creative you kill the enemies (so be sure to use the traps and amulet attacks as much as possible) and also how fast you can make it through each level. Upon completion, you’ll get a score and you’ll (hopefully) appear on the leaderboard for everyone to see just how good you are at Strange Brigade! Other than that, there isn’t any new unlockables or benefits over this bar the bragging rights you’ll have with your friends.
Horde Mode is another fan favourite mode. You’re placed within an arena, an arena which grows in size each time you hit a new ‘stage’ milestone. You begin with a simple pistol and you must purchase your main weapon next as you aim to stay alive as long as possible – my best was just under an hour (uploaded below). The main difference here is you can only use the ammo refill station up to five times before you have to pay 3000 gold to buy five more reloads and the enemies come in bigger numbers the further you get. You can also use your money to unlock doors which leads to new secret areas which contain health potions, new gems and even quick access/escape points from the enemies.
I’ve spent about 10 hours in the main game and about five hours in both of these modes so far and I can see myself returning to them every time I have a bit of spare time. I would even go as far as saying that I’ve not had as much fun in any other games horde mode than I have with Strange Brigade for a very long time.
Strange Brigade runs at 1080p on the PS4 and 1440p on the Pro with increased visual effects, longer draw distances and improved Screen Space Reflections. I’ve played the game with V-Sync on and off and I prefer having it off, sure, the framerate dips a little when you’re setting everyone on fire and have a tonne of enemies all burning in front of you, but for the most part having V-sync off felt really smooth and super responsive, Turning it on mean a more stable framerate but it feels like it’s capped at 30fps, which really didn’t feel well after going from playing it unlocked for a few hours. I would say try them both and pick the best option for yourself.
Graphically though, the game looks gorgeous – as soon as you’re stood outside in the desert with the bright sun beaming down on you, you really begin to take in the beauty of the game. Later on, cutscenes will zoom into the character models of the enemies and show you how detailed and perfectly designed each and every one of them are, plus the overall aesthetic of the game is bloody brilliant. Strange Brigade left me with the feeling I had when I played Sniper Elite 4 for the first time – how the hell did they manage to create something that both looks and performs this well on these consoles?! If you can’t tell – I can’t falter the graphical design at all.
Audio wise we do have a few small problems but they are all listed in the info I got with the game which advises they are going to be fixed with a patch. It’s nothing major, just a few sound cues not working under certain situations. For the most part, I simply adored the sound design. The music is really fitting and a joy to listen too, the sound effects all worked really well, even though the BB gun sounding automatic rifle did get a little annoying, and the voices are simply superb. Seriously, the voice actors have done a great job with Strange Brigade, even if some of the accents sounded a bit too much exaggerated and ‘fake’, I loved hearing everything they had to say and I was surprised with how many original lines they had!
Hidden Valley + Horde Mode Videos:
Strange Brigade is one of the best action-adventure co-op shooter games I’ve played in a long time + it has lots of puzzles. When you’re not burning a mummy to a crisp with a flamethrower, you’ll be solving puzzles on the wall or stomping on a downed zombies head in order to crush what little life it has left within it. Personally, I felt the lack of unique character stats and the small number of weaponry a little disappointing, but overall there is a tonne of fun to have as you take on hordes of horrendous beings who will stop at nothing until you’ve been ripped apart. Strange Brigade is just as much fun and accessible in single player as it is in multiplayer with friends and strangers alike – however you chose to play it, you’re in for one of the best mindless arcade-style games you’ll play this year!
If you love Rebellions Sniper Elite series, with its unique design and bold colours, combined with the puzzles of Tomb Raider and the gun mechanics of Uncharted – then this game is for you. Sure, unlocking the platinum may not take you more than about 2-3 days, but I found I was playing this game and ignoring the trophies because I was having so much fun.
- Very good looking game with an amazing use of lighting and bold colours
- The soundtrack is great and the voice acting is second to none (although a little OTT)
- Pure action and fun - never a dull moment throughout the whole playthrough
- Horde and Score Attack modes prolong the game way past you have the platinum
- The combat is silky smooth and running the game at the unlocked framerate on the PS4 Pro was great with only a few minor hiccups
- The characters have one unique move, other than that they are just visually different
- Not much variety in terms of loadouts (not including guns you randomly buy)
- Enemy variety is also a bit limited - this didn't bother me but I know some people like it when you have many different enemies rather than a well designed small selection of them