Tally-ho… Strange Brigade is spiffing good fun – and if that sounds odd to you then best prepare yourself because there are plenty of classic British gentlemanly expressions delivered by the excellent narrator who leads us through the story. The narrator may be rather cheesy – think The Mummy kind of one-liners – and while I enjoyed the banter and humour, I do feel that the rather British tone and nature may be lost on some folks… oh well.
Set in the 1930s, the Strange Brigade is made up of an eclectic mix of four rather strange guys and gals, each with their own background and skills. Their job is to defeat an ancient witch-queen called Seteki who is hell-bent on unleashing her undead army upon the world.
Enter all manner of undead nasties, from mummies to pirates. Additional variants are introduced at a steady pace throughout the game and while tricky, they still only serve as cannon fodder for you to chew through. You see, it’s all rather too easy. Only the odd sub-boss causes a minor irritation – they can only be hit in specific areas – and this weak spot can be quite the challenge to hit depending on the weapon you currently carry.
Several huge end of level bosses also stand in your way but like the extra enemy variants, they are only impressive in their size and detail, each one can be easily bested with a little perseverance and some training of the hordes that follow them. Suffice to say, boss battles are made even easier if you jump online with three others, which also makes the battles significantly shorter.
Despite the ease of managing enemy hordes, at times things can be quite hectic with enemies constantly around you. The chance of being blindsided is high and to help, a neat icon is displayed as an outstretched hand on the side of the screen you are about to be attacked from – it took a while to learn to keep an eye out for this, but eventually it saved me from death on numerous occasions.
Each area is also littered with traps that can be used to slow down or even maim the hordes of enemies rushing your position. Some traps serve as a gauntlet run that you must negotiate, but for the most part you control when they are set off.
Gems can be found usually in hidden chests and then slotted into your weapons for a buff. There’s also plenty of loot to pocket, which can be used to purchase additional firearms – the more expensive ones can slot up to four gems so it’s worth saving your pennies. Each character then has access to these weapons and gems, but it’s worth playing with each one to find your favourite – Amulet abilities and character buffs can make all the difference if they match your play style.
Using all the Brigade’s skills in coop is certainly the best strategy; it’s a shame then that when playing online characters aren’t singular. Running around a level with all four of you as the same character is just silly and a waste. It’s also a shame that the AI didn’t join you when playing solo, thereby allowing the use of abilities via a command wheel.
Each set of four amulets is unique to each of the characters. To charge the amulet it must feed off the souls of defeated enemies. Once full, a powerful attack can be unleashed, which is usually best saved for a sticky situation or when you can easily harvest enough souls to refill the amulet. Only one is available at the beginning of the game, with additional amulets unlocked once you have found a complete set of relics, which are marked out in your archaeologist’s notebook – often these are hidden within a tomb that lies behind a puzzle (or two).
Although Strange Brigade is a third person shooter at heart, it does dabble into Tomb Raider territory with some lite puzzling, which rewards you with a whole host of collectibles. From simple door combinations and tricky tile puzzles to mysterious icons and laser puzzles, nothing is too difficult and many of the solutions are hidden within the environment. Ultimately they are fun though and offer a nice reprise from combat.
Each of the nine levels is vast with many fine vistas to enjoy. Each area is lovingly themed and littered with things to distract your attention. Taking an hour or so to negotiate, the path twists and turns with multiple routes that almost always meet up in a middle area. It is worth exploring each route though. While some simply lead to a dead end, many reward your exploration with a new puzzle or collectible – sometimes even both.
Beyond the campaign, Horde mode will keep you busy – to get to the end will mean one heck of a slog; I lost two hours just completing the entire first round of waves in one area! Then there’s score mode or if you fancy showing off, jump in and beat three other players in campaign score and be top of the Brigade. Ultimately, Strange Brigade suffers from not opting for a Left 4 Dead/Vermintide style of deploying enemies and as you get better weapons and buffs, it all becomes a little too easy, even on hard mode. Despite the fun factor, it’s impossible to ignore the repetitive nature of each level.
While Horde mode is hardly original, I will be sticking at it to get to the end of all the areas. Starting with standard weapons, you have to kill enemies and gain more gold to buy more powerful firepower – sound familiar? You can also unlock the level and find new areas or solve a sequence of events to gain a new powerful weapon all while fending off the horde. Ok, so yes it all sounds very much like COD Zombies, but Strange Brigade manages to forge it’s own identity despite the similarities.
With overtones of Indiana Jones and the tongue in cheek narrative of The Mummy, Strange Brigade is far from serious. Despite it’s shortcomings, I really enjoyed the game and I can’t wait to see what’s next for… THE STRANGE BRIGADE!