strange bri­gade

Pre­pare for tales of der­ring-do and ad­ven­ture in the spiff­ing co-op shooter Strange Bri­gade

XBox: The Official Magazine (US) - - START - Daniella Lu­cas

Why has no­body done this be­fore? Sure, there are plenty of co-op shoot­ers out there, but you’d be hard-pressed to find another set­ting quite like this. With its mix of an­cient tombs, mum­mies, and Bri­tish cheek­i­ness, it’s rem­i­nis­cent of those over-the-top and clichéd ad­ven­ture nov­els—the kind of thing that In­di­ana Jones was also in­spired by. Think naive colo­nial­ism, tea breaks, and a sprin­kling of spike pits. It plays with its his­tor­i­cal in­spi­ra­tions in a way that’s very tongue-in-cheek, and plays out like a matinee view­ing at a 1930s cin­ema. With such a unique uni­verse, it makes for an ex­tremely com­pelling propo­si­tion.

Un­like Re­bel­lion’s other big game, Sniper Elite, the shoot­ing here is much faster and punchier. In­stead of pick­ing off en­e­mies one by one, Strange Bri­gade is all about get­ting messy, and con­trol­ling a crowd us­ing an ar­ray of weapons, spe­cial pow­ers, and traps. The guns feel chunky in your hands, and if you chain kills to­gether fast enough you’ll fill up bars for your char­ac­ter of choice’s spe­cial move, be that launch­ing a mummy into a crowd or let­ting loose a horde of in­sects. Death is merely a slight in­con­ve­nience, and another chance for the devs to have a lit­tle fun. When you die you don’t lose your progress, you merely pop out of a con­ve­niently po­si­tioned sar­coph­a­gus declar­ing “‘tis but a scratch” be­fore throw­ing your­self back into the fray.

All talk

In the demo we play dur­ing our visit to Re­bel­lion this month, there are ar­eas where you’re al­most com­pletely flooded by an ar­ray of stag­ger­ing mum­mies—easy to dis­patch on their own, but dan­ger­ous in num­bers like th­ese. Luck­ily there are plenty of clas­sic ex­plod­ing bar­rels and even traps you can trig­ger to help with crowd con­trol. Early on there’s a pil­lar that pops up with swirling blades, cheek­ily marked out with a sim­ple ar­row and the words ‘shoot me’ point­ing to a glow­ing orb on top of it. The ob­vi­ous­ness of it is re­fresh­ing, and feels in keep­ing with the tongue-in-cheek style of the game.

Else­where we dis­cover a cave in the cor­ner of one area that throws a fake mummy on a stick at us, which sur­prises the nar­ra­tor with a cheap jump scare. While the low­bud­get ham­mi­ness of it doesn’t frighten us, the scream of the ever-present nar­ra­tor of our ad­ven­ture does, and while you never see him, his pres­ence feels very much like another mem­ber of the Strange Bri­gade. He of­ten in­ter­jects with his own thoughts about

your sit­u­a­tion, or draws your at­ten­tion to puz­zles in the area. He’ll con­grat­u­late you when you do some­thing bril­liant, but can also be un­re­li­able, lur­ing you into traps for his own amuse­ment. We’ve never seen any­thing quite like it in another game, so how did such a unique and in­te­gral el­e­ment come to be?

“It was lit­er­ally Jason Kings­ley [Re­bel­lion’s CEO] that came up with that,” Steve Briscoe, lead de­signer on the game, tells us. “Back when we were sort of try­ing to so­lid­ify what we wanted from the vibe of the game, what we es­sen­tially had was sources and ref­er­ences that came from var­i­ous dif­fer­ent ar­eas that were quite dif­fi­cult to lock to­gether, you know? When I was talk­ing about things like H Rider Hag­gard and the Boys’ Own Ad­ven­ture type in­spi­ra­tions; they’re okay, but they don’t re­ally cover a visual medium.

“So it was the un­der­stand­ing that what we re­ally wanted to be do­ing was ref­er­enc­ing those old black and white ad­ven­ture films with all their hokey­ness and their naivety. [The nar­ra­tor] jumped out of that—Jason ze­roed in on this idea of the voice of the guy talk­ing over the trailer and say­ing, ‘Come back next week for the fur­ther ad­ven­tures of the Strange Bri­gade!’ and try­ing to get that kind of in­ten­sity into it, and that hu­mor. And then we ex­tended it from that, es­sen­tially say­ing, ‘Well, that’s cool; let’s ac­tu­ally build that into the ex­pe­ri­ence and make the cin­e­matic ref­er­ences that the game is al­ready draw­ing upon a more in­te­grated part of the game as a whole.’ In the fin­ished game you’ll see that clas­sic cin­ema feel come across in lots of dif­fer­ent ways.”

“It’s al­most a bit fourth-wall break­ing at times,” adds se­nior de­signer Tom Rigby, “but in­ten­tion­ally so. It’s fun to play with that kind of thing and have that kind of lit­tle tool to mess about with to see what hu­mor you can get out of it.”

“Yeah, and he very quickly be­came his own char­ac­ter,” Steve adds, “and fun­nily enough, even though you never see the guy, he ac­tu­ally has got his own bi­og­ra­phy and name. I don’t know if we’ll ever show it to the player, but Gor­don Ren­nie wrote this guy, he sounds like a bit of a messed-up dude, but it then al­lowed Gor­don to write th­ese twists on this idea of the nar­ra­tor. So he’s not just call­ing out what the ac­tion is—he can do things like say ‘I won­der if the Strange Bri­gade are go­ing to no­tice that very ob­vi­ous lever next to the door…’ or ‘Let’s go and ex­plore down here, Strange Bri­gade!’ and then they walk into a trap and he goes ‘Sorry! Sorry!’ He be­comes a present char­ac­ter in the game rather than just purely am­bi­ent au­dio, which is re­ally fun.”

Lev­elled out

While the demo we played was only a small sec­tion of what will be a much larger fi­nal game, we could see in­ter­con­nect­ing ar­eas in the dis­tance that hinted at where our ad­ven­ture might take us as well as a few hid­den trea­sures and puz­zles that sug­gest that the fi­nal game will have a lot to tuck into. While each area is de­signed with co-op in mind you can also play it solo, with the level adapt­ing to your team size.

“In crude terms, es­sen­tially, the en­emy num­bers will go up when you’ve got more play­ers, and difficulty will get mod­i­fied in var­i­ous dif­fer­ent ways,” Steve tells us. “There’s also a rea­son­ably sig­nif­i­cant puzzle el­e­ment to the game, and that has to adapt for co-op as well so that puz­zles—not in ev­ery case, be­cause some puz­zles are de­signed to be sim­ple enough—but in some cases you’ll re­quire all of your team­mates to help solve the puzzle. So that’s a way that it will de­velop.

“But also, the char­ac­ters them­selves, and their load­outs and spe­cial abil­i­ties, are all de­signed to play to­gether a lit­tle bit. It’s al­ways a tricky bal­ance to get it work­ing well in a sin­gle-player game, and not de­mand that peo­ple play co-op, but also for it to be en­hanced by co-op. I think we’ve got that bal­ance right, so it re­ally clicks as a co­op­er­a­tive game, but I think it’s a dif­fer­ent kind of co-op game.”

“It’s been de­signed as co-op from the start,” Tom adds. “It’s im­por­tant to say it’s from the ground up co-op—we’ve not tacked it on at the end. When you play co-op, ev­ery­thing changes a lit­tle bit, and it tries to pull you to­gether a bit more. That’s very im­por­tant I think—at least to me. I want peo­ple talk­ing about the ex­pe­ri­ences they had with the game—to me that’s a suc­cess­ful mul­ti­player game, when some­one comes away from it and says, ‘Oh you did this and I did that and we had this cool ad­ven­ture!’—that’s great, that’s what we’re re­ally aim­ing for.”

“We wanted to ref­er­ence those old ad­ven­ture films with all their hokey­ness”

powerful chums

Each char­ac­ter has a cor­re­spond­ing trait— the bril­liantly-named Archimedes De Quincey, for ex­am­ple, is a scholar, while Nalangu Rushida is a wayfinder. That may just seem like a brief de­scrip­tion that gives you a rough idea of their fight­ing style, but there’s more to it than that. Scat­tered around the world are se­cret caves, blocked off from tra­ver­sal, with sym­bols etched on them that cor­re­spond to your trait. Ap­proach them as a cer­tain char­ac­ter, and they’ll open for you, re­veal­ing trea­sure… or maybe more. For ex­am­ple, Gra­cie the en­gi­neer can ap­proach any door with a ham­mer icon, and gain ac­cess to some­thing the other char­ac­ters won’t. It’s a nice in­cen­tive to ex­plore each area as all of the sep­a­rate char­ac­ters, but there are plenty of other rea­sons to hunt out ev­ery nook and cranny, as Tom ex­plains: “The lev­els are crammed with all th­ese amaz­ing things to find and see, that re­ally ex­isted, and so hope­fully that’ll be a re­ally good in­cen­tive to go back and play.”

Of course, there are also plenty of col­lectibles to hunt down for all of the com­ple­tion­ists out there, in­clud­ing things like canopic jars that were used to store the or­gans of the an­cient Egyp­tians in the af­ter­life. You can also build up a greater sense of the nar­ra­tive by col­lect­ing scat­tered diary pages, Tom tells us: “You can un­lock more of the story by hunt­ing around and find­ing frag­ments of things that might re­veal more about the Strange Bri­gade or the peo­ple that came be­fore them.”

From ev­ery­thing we’ve seen, it’s clear that Re­bel­lion is pour­ing a lot of heart into this. From the hun­dreds of hours of re­search the team put in to get the feel of a hammy 1930s novel just right, to the hid­den de­tails of the lev­els, and the wit­ti­ness of the cheeky nar­ra­tor, this is set to be one rip-roar­ing ad­ven­ture. Thank­fully we also don’t have long to wait—the devs weren’t keen to give a set date, but are adamant that they’re in the fi­nal stretch and that we’ll be play­ing it be­fore the year is out. Stay tuned.

“The lev­els are crammed with all th­ese amaz­ing things to find, that re­ally ex­isted”

above While you will be fight­ing a lot of mum­mies they all feel very dif­fer­ent in their ap­proach.

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