Strange Brigade

Strange Brigade be­longs in a mu­seum.

PC GAMER (US) - - CONTENTS - By Ian Birn­baum

Deep in the bow­els of a sa­cred tem­ple, my buddy has been stabbed to death. An an­gry mummy—com­pletely and right­fully pissed off that a bunch of dicks are steal­ing their gold—is chew­ing on his face un­til his corpse dis­ap­pears. He reap­pears in a sar­coph­a­gus near me. I open the door, and out he pops, good as new, back into the fight. He shoots the mummy that had pre­vi­ously killed him be­fore the un­dead sap can climb off the tiles. When it comes to mak­ing ex­cit­ing com­bat mo­ments, an in­stant-respawn sar­coph­a­gus isn’t ideal. Any other co-op shooter would have play­ers fall wounded to the ground, un­able to get up un­til a friend fights their way over and ap­plies a ban­dage. This forces play­ers to stick to­gether. It’s ex­cit­ing, it mixes things up, it forces play­ers to stay mov­ing.

The sar­coph­a­gus, by con­trast, tele­ports a dead team­mate out of trou­ble and into the back of the room. I was stand­ing next to the sar­coph­a­gus, shoot­ing zom­bies and ca­su­ally hit­ting a but­ton to bring friends back to life. It’s a weak way for a game to en­cour­age team­work. Then again, that’s how Strange Brigade han­dles most things.

Four ad­ven­tur­ers—a merce­nary, a pro­fes­sor, a war­rior, and a me­chanic—walk into an air­ship. This is the Strange Brigade, a team that goes a-plun­der­ing, raid­ing tombs, solv­ing puz­zles, and shoot­ing the un­dead. Each mis­sion helps un­lock bet­ter weapons and new spe­cial abil­i­ties so the Brigade can kick more ass on the next mis­sion.

The raid-loot-up­grade loop is a com­fort­able one, but I’ve never seen it look as sparse as it does here. I can choose from a few weapons, and my up­grade op­tions are sim­i­larly lim­ited. When I earn enough to move on from the start­ing shot­gun, ma­chine gun, and sniper ri­fle, I spend money on a dif­fer­ent shot­gun, ma­chine gun, and sniper ri­fle. Some spe­cial weapons like flamethrow­ers and cross­bows show as pick-ups dur­ing mis­sions, but these are strictly tem­po­rary.

The char­ac­ters are more or less iden­ti­cal, so no mat­ter who you pick, you can use the same equip­ment. This flex­i­bil­ity makes sense, ex­cept any­one can be any char­ac­ter in any game, even if that char­ac­ter is al­ready taken. In one game with ran­dom team­mates, three of us showed up play­ing as the pro­fes­sor.

For such a sim­ple con­cept, it’s amaz­ing that Strange Brigade is fun at all. A lot of it comes down to the shoot­ing, I think. Re­bel­lion spent a lot of time fine-tun­ing its guns with the Sniper Elite se­ries, so each shot feels punchy. The en­e­mies all started look­ing the same af­ter a while, but the most im­por­tant thing about a horde is its size. Sur­viv­ing against im­pos­si­ble odds, reach­ing the end just as I am down to the last hand­ful of ammo, is al­ways a thrill.

There are also puz­zles scat­tered through­out each tomb, but they’re noth­ing sur­pris­ing. Doors can usu­ally be un­locked by fol­low­ing the com­bi­na­tion writ­ten on a nearby wall. And ev­ery puz­zle is solved with a gun—lit­er­ally, as the only way to phys­i­cally move puz­zle pieces is by shoot­ing them.

Quite Im­proper

Strange Brigade takes place in Egypt, in a rip-roar­ing fantab­u­lous news­reel ver­sion of the ’30s. There’s a strange ra-ra jin­go­ism go­ing on as the Strange Brigade sets out to ‘dis­cover’ these tombs. But the set­ting is mostly an af­fec­ta­tion, an ex­cuse for Re­bel­lion’s scriptwrit­ers to re­ally rub on the raz­zle daz­zle. And boy, do they go for it. A chip­per nar­ra­tor keeps a com­men­tary go­ing, and it’s full of al­lit­er­a­tion and phrases such as “der­ring-do”. His English ac­cent is so thick you could spread it on a scone and feed it to a corgi.

None of this is ir­ri­tat­ing enough to make Strange Brigade un­fun, but I be­gan to ache for a new idea, a sur­prise that would pull me back in. En­joy­ing Strange Brigade de­pends on how much fun I can have with my friends, and noth­ing at all to do with the game. And that’s too bad, be­cause my friends will fol­low me around to bet­ter games—games where the ad­ven­ture has some­thing to say and the ac­tion has new ideas to ex­plore.

I be­gan to ache for a new idea, a sur­prise that would pull me back in

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