Strange Brigade belongs in a museum.
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.
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