Strange things happening.
Strange Brigade set tongues a’wagger last year thanks to its campy, serial 30’s trailer. Now, just over a year later, that same over the top, pulpy adventure has returned. And as the game closes in on its release for August 28, we had a chance to take in the bizarre adventure of this so-called Strange Brigade in some gameplay that – whilst fun enough when playing by yourself – shows off just how much of a co-op experience Rebellion Games have made.
Building off the Indiana Jones vibe, Strange Brigade offers up a vibrant Egypt for you to explore as you work your way to re-murder the resurrected witch Seteki. Don’t expect any huge open worlds – what the game delivers are tight sections similar to spaces in the Uncharted series, though the sections give you enough space so as to be able to roam around as you shoot your way through a horde of skeletal ghouls, pirates, scorpions – and of course, mummies. It’s a use of space that works well for the game, putting you in a position where you feel you need to move all the time in fear of being overburdened by the undead, offering high ground and small tunnels you can use to funnel enemies in before blasting them away with a shotgun.
But as you do hurtle through these burial sites and tombs – all manner of undead ghouls hot on your heels, you’ll be treated to an Egypt basked in vibrant sunlight, making every stone, plant, and for some reason, the bridges pop with colour. Even the dank tombs you’re illuminated in a wonderful cartoony glow. Given the tone of the game, it seems like a natural choice for the adventure to lean into the whimsical colour scheme – but it leans into said whimsy in another big way.
That being the role of the narrator. Accompanying you along on your adventure is a narrator whose use of the Queen’s is jolly well spot-on – sorry, it’s surprisingly contagious. Yes, whether you’re stamping on the head of a skeleton, pausing the game, or walking towards a blockade, that old-timey voice will be with you every step of the way. Now, you might think that could get annoying – and for some, I imagine it could very well be the case. But I loved the over-the-top enunciation of the commentator, whose every quip managed to bring a chuckle or smile. It doesn’t hit the heights of The Stanley Parable, but it’s an inclusion that adds a little something extra to your adventure.
Especially because the majority of that adventure is you covering the ground in the limbs of Seteki’s goons. Choosing a loadout made up of a primary, secondary, and an explosive, Strange Brigade might not boast the biggest arsenal, but there’s enough there to get you through most situations. The special weapons you can pick up from treasure chests will give you a little extra oomph when it comes to boss fights. What was fairly surprising though was the onus on managing your supplies. Even though ammo refill boxes are fairly regular, running out of ammo mid-horde isn’t an uncommon sight. And the need to keep an eye on how many bullets you have left in the chamber gives a bit more urgency to each shootout.
But even if you’re running low on ammo, there’s enough bits and bobs lying around areas to give you an easy way to clear out the undead – and by “bits and bobs lying around” I mean deadly structures strategically placed in the level. The traps you activate go a long way in lending a helping hand when needed, being activated to send spinning blades around and around or triggering a swinging axe to cut down any ghouls that try to get into your murder party. The traps – being the mindless structures they are – obviously can’t tell between you and an undead mummy, so it’s worth keeping an eye out before you take a wrong step. But watching a teammate run into a spinning blade while being chased by skeletons is a pretty funny sight.
Littered across each level is a handful of puzzles. The “puzzles” that you need to solve to say, unlock a door, aren’t really puzzles as much as they are finding and shooting switches – which is as challenging as that sounds. There’s a couple of extra different brain teasers thrown in for good measure, ranging from pip connection puzzles which are pretty much the same as the hacking sections from Bioshock, and sections that need you to step on stones in a certain order. The term “puzzle” might a be a little too generous for the game, the sections only really serve to act as ways of bridging one wave of enemies to another.
But it seems like the puzzles had to be made to be so simple because – more than anything – Strange Brigade is very much a co-op game. Don’t get me wrong, you can play it from start to finish in single-player but it will feel a little generic. But teaming up and rolling out as a full brigade makes all the points we’ve already made feel bigger, more exciting – and most importantly, gives way to the random acts that only take place in co-op. Having a teammate lead a swarm of skeleton pirates into the room you – their comrade with no bullets left – and then both of you being killed is one such act of randomness the game gives way to. Honourable mentions also go to having teammates run into traps, set off traps you’re standing next to, and the weird hypnotic circular movements you and your teammates will naturally begin to do as you wait for the final teammate to show up and start a new objective.
Strange Brigade is the latest in a slew of co-op games we’ve had this year, and whilst it might not offer anything wholly new or challenging in its gameplay, it more than makes up for it by delivering on the campy and colourful escapades it gives way to. If you’ve had your fill of saving the world from zombies and aliens or playing through something that’ll leave you an emotional wreck, the Strange Brigade offers a light-hearted bit of fun that should be a must for any of you with a solid group of friends looking for a new game to jump into together.