When it comes to co-op shooters, very few make an experience quite as naturally enjoyable and engaging as the team over at Rebellion. With the Sniper Elite series bringing some of the finest and most enjoyable co-op adventures around in recent years, the announcement of a new game from the team behind that very series was one that had many excited. Now that Strange Brigade has finally arrived though, does it warrant those early levels of excitement, or are we in for a dull affair with our team of adventurers?
If you’ve somehow not yet heard of Strange Brigade, the game pits players into the role of a group of 1930’s Secret Service agents that have been sent by the British colonial government to find and eliminate Queen Seteki. She’s the brutal and barbaric queen of Sahara Africa whose spirit has been released from the tomb it was sealed in 4000 years ago by unexpecting archaeologist Edgar Harbin.
Our group of protagonists, known as the Strange Brigade, consists of four playable characters, each of which comes with their own unique selection of weapons and abilities. These include Nalangu Rushida, a demon hunter with rapid reflexes; Gracie Braithwaite, a dab hand with explosives and useful combatant in close quarter combat; Prof. Archimedes De Quincey, a man with an affinity for magic and an ability to open ancient alcoves; and Frank Fairburne, a former serviceman with a rough exterior and an eye for a headshot opportunity. The latter is my personal choice for the ensuing adventure given the suspected family ties with our favourite sniping master from Rebellion’s other previously mentioned adventure.
Onto the game modes and players have three distinct options to choose from with Campaign, Horde and Score Attack. Each of these three modes can be played solo, whilst the option to join in with some multiplayer action with up to four players is also present before jumping into the game and offers a seamless transition should you choose to do so.
The Campaign is where players will spend the majority of their time with Strange Brigade and there are a number of different missions for players to get stuck into, all of which lead towards the eventual tracking of the evil spirit of Queen Seteki. Each mission does take between half an hour to an hour to finish depending on the difficulty and number of enemies selected, as well as player skill playing an important part – not to mention the additional time if you want to figure out each of the puzzles throughout each level. With nine unique missions available it’s definitely a decent length for such an adventure.
The gameplay is played from a third-person perspective and whilst the idea of the game and the story are of course much different, there are multiple gameplay mechanics that, along with the general feel of things, share a striking resemblance to the classic Sniper Elite series. Infact Strange Brigade is essentially what you’d expect to find if you were to mix the gameplay of the Sniper Elite series with the enthusiasm of Indiana Jones, before adding some elemental magic to the mix for variation – sounds pretty fantastic doesn’t it? Well you’ll be pleased to know it’s as fantastic as it sounds.
Throughout each of the levels, players will find a huge emphasis on co-operative play through the use of puzzles and specialist enemy types, which are much more easily progressed with the help of a team – especially when you get to some of the boss battles. Whilst the entire game can be enjoyed going solo from start to finish, it is much more enjoyable should you have a full team to run by your side.
Along with the multiple enemy types which mostly consist of variations of mummies, giant scorpions and imposing minotaur’s, each level also contains a number of different well-hidden collectibles for players to find along the way. The most enjoyable feature of each level however has to be the well-crafted puzzles and the well-hidden solutions that players must search for if they wish to unlock the riches behind each one. Most of the puzzles within Strange Brigade consist of either standing stones that must be pressed in a very specific order, or other puzzles that must be shot in an equally specific order, with three mistakes usually resulting in players being permanently locked out of the puzzle until they retry the level again. Each puzzle tends to have its own difficulty, with some proving exceptionally difficult and others rather basic memory tasks, but all of them provide a rather clever opportunity for players to actually do some thinking rather than following what is otherwise a mostly linear path through each level.
As for the magic involved, each of the characters come with their own unique magic abilities that offer a boost in combat and to use these abilities, players must first fill up their amulet with the souls of defeated enemies. Once the amulet’s charge is filled, players can then utilise their unique ability against the onslaught of enemies, which is often best used in heavily crowded areas. This isn’t the only place magic is used however as players will also need to come together to use the power of their amulets to progress through the story, with key checkpoints usually recognised by a large magic statue that requires destroying with the amulets.
One of the more interesting uses of magic in the game however comes from the magic upgrade gems that players can find throughout the game. These gems can make combat a lot easier too, due to providing weapons with upgrades such as increased damage, extra damage on headshots, enemy freezing bullets, or even the ability to earn health back upon each kill. This certainly brings about a change to how difficult things are with some things making gameplay easier, but with upgrades seemingly only found through chests after the completion of puzzles, the chances of finding one are purely dependant on just how good you are or how much time you spend figuring out the answer to each of the puzzles.
Besides souls for their amulet, players can also pick up gold from downed enemies as well as finding it strewn throughout the levels with gold then used to either buy magically charged weapons from chests along the way or saving it to buy new weapons to use within each level back at the menus with a decent selection of weapons ensuring players can find something that suits their style of play.
All in all though, if you put the magic aside, anyone who loves the gameplay of the Sniper Elite series will be right at home with Strange Brigade. This isn’t simply another Sniper Elite game with a fresh skin and some magical presence to freshen things up though, as there are a number of things that make the experience feel rather different and unique from anything we’ve experienced before, with the first of those being the vibrant visuals and level design.
No matter which level or game mode you find yourself on, there are very few areas you’ll find that look anything less than stunning thanks to the vibrant colours that are painted across every surface. From luscious trees and vegetation to periodic stone pathways and ancient structures, everything in Strange Brigade looks like it belongs there and truly helps the game feel alive and in-tune with the setting and era it attempts to portray.
Another feature that makes Strange Brigade such a joy to play, besides enjoyable gameplay and encapsulating visuals, is the voice of the narrator whose quirky comments, snide remarks and general comical commentary keep things flowing at a nice pace, even when there isn’t much of anything going on. There was numerous times in which I’d pause the game for whatever reason only to be met with comments such as ‘two sugars for me’ or ‘taking a break are we’. Of course this isn’t exactly a massive feature, but the inclusion of witty commentary is certainly something I for one enjoy and its inclusion certainly helped keep the lively emphasis set by the between-level cutscenes alive.
Away from the Campaign and players still have the Horde mode and Score Attack modes to get stuck into. Horde mode is the same as what we’ve seen before from Rebellion with wave-based combat taking place in one of four different, yet equally incredibly crafted, locations. Score Attack tasks players with completing a specific mission area whilst getting the highest score possible within the given time limit. To help with this there are also optional side objectives that if completed will weigh into the final score such as never taking damage and beating the par time, but the overall goal is simply to reach the end with the highest score in order to climb to the highest possible place on the worldwide leaderboard. It’s an enjoyable mode and for those who enjoy competitive play this will certainly prove a mode that offers replayability as players look to perfect every step of the levels.
Overall and whilst Strange Brigade may pose a striking resemblance to Rebellion’s Sniper Elite series in certain areas, this is certainly a game that holds its own. With enjoyable combat, luscious locations, fantastically designed puzzles and some brilliant storytelling, this is certainly a game that leaves a lasting impression. If you’re after a new action adventure title to add to your collection, there is certainly no reason not to jump in with the adventures of the Strange Brigade.