Developer Rebellion is best known for their Sniper Elite series of games—World War II shooters focusing on a lone sniper’s efforts against the Third Reich. While I’ve always enjoyed the Sniper Elite games, there is a lesser-known Rebellion developed series that acted as sort of a spin-off to Sniper Elite called Nazi Zombie Army with two sequels that were compiled into the more recently released Zombie Army Trilogy. Sort of like Call of Duty’s zombie mode, but with more of a Left 4 Dead flavor, Zombie Army Trilogy is a great four player variation on that Sniper Elite formula. When I heard about Strange Brigade, it seemed like exactly what I wanted: a spiritual successor to Zombie Army, at least in gameplay if not tone. Well, Strange Brigade is a little different than I was expecting, but in the most fun ways.
Set in 1930s Egypt, you play as a member of the eponymous Strange Brigade, comprised of mercenaries, academics, adventurers and treasure hunters at first trying to determine the fates of a few of your colleagues. Soon, it’s discovered that the dark magics of an ancient priestess were disturbed, resulting in all sorts of horrors emerging from the surrounding crypts–like mummies, giant scorpions and all sorts of other undead or fantastical creatures. The Egyptian setting is great, and not one that is seen too often. It’s an inspired backdrop for the type of exploration and puzzle solving that Strange Brigade encourages.
Strange Brigade is a third person shooter that can be played either in single player, or with friends in co-op modes. Most of the time, you will be using rifles, shotguns, pistols and explosives to fight off waves of enemies, but there is the occasional puzzle to solve to break up the action. More so than that, there are often secrets that can be found by looking off of the main path, usually with puzzles of their own to solve. The whole thing is tied together by the ubiquitous narrator with his era appropriate affectation, and enjoyable sense of humor. If you find him too annoying as you adventure, you can always turn down the frequency of his remarks in the options, but I ended up finding his voiceover amusing.
Gunplay in Strange Brigade is satisfying, but geared towards more of an arcade-like feel instead of the more realistic approach the Sniper Elite and Zombie Army Trilogy games had. Ammunition is very abundant, but most weapons fire slowly, so even with enough bullets the hordes can start to close in on you. You can make use of the abundant amount of traps that Strange Brigade has throughout its levels—like spiked floors, flaming walls, giant swinging blades and more. There are also piles of explosive barrels conveniently placed in most battle arenas that can take out groups of enemies. The traps are some of the most fun ways to dispatch foes, and if used intelligently, make life a lot easier for the Strange Brigade. If a friend is defeated in combat, you can’t just rescue them at their incapacitated body like most co-op shooters. Instead, you will have to rescue them from a nearby sarcophagus, or they can opt to expend a healing potion as a means of escape. Though Strange Brigade can be challenging, even at its hardest difficulty Strange Brigade feels like it could potentially be harder—I’m hoping for increased difficulty in the future.
Puzzle solving is actually a pretty integral part of Strange Brigade. Even if you decide to stay on the main course and eschew hunting for treasures and collectibles, you’ll have to solve a puzzle to proceed. These puzzles aren’t super complicated though, and they are pretty fun to collaboratively figure out. Once you have it solved, it’s just a matter of going through the steps on subsequent playthroughs. While having multiple people trying to figure these puzzles out does help, it’s not essential—solo players should have a little rougher time, but not by much.
Throughout gameplay, either by killing enemies or collecting treasure, you will accumulate gold. Gold can be used in-game to buy more powerful weapons (whose use is exhausted after their ammunition is spent) or you can save your currency for outside of missions to buy new weapons. Each character can use all weapons, even though they do have different default starting weapons. Weapons can also be upgraded by socketing gems into them that are found through exploration. Each character has their own unique abilities, and they also have access to a unique set of “ultimate abilities” in the form of different unlockable amulets.
Enemies range from slow shambling husks to mummies and other creatures associated with Ancient Egyptian-themed horror. Enemies don’t just swarm you with numbers, though—there are enemies bearing large shields to hide behind, or others that lob projectiles from afar. Some tougher enemies will require the Strange Brigade to focus on weak points to defeat.
There are three main ways you can play: through the campaign mode, horde mode, or score attack. Campaign mode has a story with cutscenes, and each of the nine levels gets progressively harder than the last in terms of the amount and types of enemies you face. Horde mode is exactly what it sounds like, but instead of just progressively harder waves, each set of fifteen waves makes up a round. If you and/or your team are defeated, you can opt to start at the last round you were defeated at. Horde mode has its own four maps that are based on existing locations. Finally, score attack is the ultimate arcade mode for Strange Brigade. It also has its own extremely streamlined versions of levels. With lots of health potions, ammo, and free powerful weapons sitting around score attack is all about getting combos to get the highest score possible, making score attack the most competitive mode.
While there are only nine levels, they are pretty expansive with lots of little areas to find, and secrets nestled away. They’re also gorgeous, and full of detail. But once you explore them, and find everything there is to find, even playing on harder difficulties doesn’t make them much more interesting. There isn’t a greater drive to replay the levels, save for finding secrets you didn’t get the first time around, or finding gems to upgrade your weapons.
Strange Brigade isn’t perfect, and may not be what a multiplayer community that is used to long, grindy progression is looking for. But if you have a friend (or three!) that wants to run around and shoot mummies, zombies and other reanimated ancient Egyptian horrors then Strange Brigade is a great and fun way to pass the time, especially with friends—though playing solo is viable, and perfectly fun.
Strange Brigade is available now on Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and Steam.
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