Look at me, mummy! Now stay still while I shoot
The title sounds like a name an emo band would give their fanbase, but no! The eponymous brigade of strangeness is, in fact, His Majesty’s Super Secret Service (okay, that’s not the actual name, but it should be). Engaging in rip-roaring adventures in the 1930s, the quartet is called in to battle (with guns) an ancient evil, and you’re coming along for the ride. The aesthetic, all sunshine and sandy ancient civilisation (complete with improbable mechanisms) is rather Uncharted. Gameplay, however, is firmly in co-op shooter territory. You may have already decided that you know exactly what to expect here and, to an extent, you’d be right. But Strange Brigade has a few tricks up its impeccably tailored sleeve.
The fundamental cycle is typical of the genre. You progress ever-forward through a level peppered with enemies, trigger a wave of foes every now and then that you have to defeat before you can move on, and overcome a boss fight and/or siege event at the end. All of that is done well, but it’s the extra touches that ensure it stands out. Unusually for the genre, it’s played from a third-person perspective, though this shouldn’t be a huge surprise from the developer of Zombie Army Trilogy. This offers a wider field of view than usual, a small but important boon in a game that throws dozens of enemies at you from multiple angles. What’s really unusual – and equally welcome – is the effort Rebellion’s put in to present the campaign as a single-player experience.
There are story cutscenes before, during, and at the end of each level (they’re all skippable, don’t panic). The narrator will also regularly chip in with tongue-in-cheek comments during play, yet this is only the beginning. The levels could easily have been designed solely with offline play in mind, being full of paths and corners to explore or ignore as you wish, and multiple puzzles (some optional, some not). It’s a campaign with meat on its bones.
The all-important combat and vanquishing of mythological beasties is, thankfully, great fun. Each of the four characters has a few unique attributes, and a unique amulet power charged by killing enemies and then absorbing their souls (er, we are the good guys, right?). For example, the excellently-named Professor Archimedes de Quincey can find some loot the others can’t, presumably thanks to his background as an archaeologist, and has an amulet that unleashes scarabs that home in on enemies. Plucky Lancastrian Gracie Braithwaite, meanwhile, has an amulet that drags an enemy in for a powerful melee
“FULL OF PATHS TO EXPLORE OR IGNORE, AND MULTIPLE PUZZLES.”
strike, and sees her grenades recharge faster. In most respects, though, all members of the brigade handle the same.
You carry one primary weapon, one infinite-ammo pistol, and one grenade type. Everybody has access to the same armoury, and there are opportunities to change your loadout during a level if you find it’s not working out for you. You can find gems that act as weapon mods (good), though the weapons themselves don’t vary as much as you might hope (bad). Strange Brigadely enough, I don’t really care.
Whether you’re playing a story level or one of the Horde stages, there are plenty of environmental hazards around to help you out. An important part of the experience, there are spinning blades, flaming floor panels, explosive barrels (this is a videogame, after all), and fiery lamps to shoot and thin out the numbers with. But, uh, try to make sure your teammates aren’t too close when you trigger one of these toys. They won’t thank you if they are.
Speaking of the team, about 90% of my time so far has been spent playing solo (read my in-depth online review next issue), which is testament to how much fun it can be offline. But here’s the thing – there’s no friendly AI. Play offline, and you’re on your own, with the narrator regularly coming out with lines such as “well done, team!” that’ll make you feel pitifully lonely. Whether you’re being strange alone or with others, however, it’s a brigade worth joining.
A lovely place for a holiday. Apart from all the undead out for your blood.
FORMAT PS4 ETA OUT NOW PUB REBELLION DEV IREBELLION
Below Enemies lunge when they get close. Keep ’em at bay with your boomstick!
Right Survival is always easier with a friend or three (and well-placed oil lamps).
Above left You’ll find these cat statues throughout the game. Shoot them!