Strange Brigade PC Review
Having played all three games packed into Zombie Army Trilogy – the first two when they were released independently and also when they were included in the Trilogy set when the third game released – it is easy to see how Strange Brigade proceeds to take ideas that Rebellion had crafted in those games. The developers add to the formula with more engaging level design, polish and an improved presentation, which while doesn’t make Strange Brigade innovative or the must have coop game of 2018, it does however make it better than Zombie Army Trilogy and pushes Rebellion’s cooperative third-person shooter games in the right direction.
Gone is the dark and depressing atmosphere of Nazi Germany filled with zombies. What we have is a more brighter sunny 1930s Egypt filled with mummies, undead warriors, scorpions, bizarre minotaurs and many other mythological monsters all gunning to kill the team known as Strange Brigade. This is due to the archaeologist, Edgar Harbin, discovering a tomb for the barbaric queen of Sahara Africa, Seteki, and now her spirit has been released into the world. Queen Seteki is rather unhappy with what happened in the past when she was overthrown by her people and sealed away, so strikes revenge on anyone trying to stop her rising an undead army to conquer Egypt. This leads to summoning the services of the trusty Strange Brigade, sent by the British Secret Service, to parachute into Egypt to put a stop to this.
The story is rather throwaway, but it is the presentation mixed with the narration that makes it an enjoyable experience through the game’s nine campaign stages. It’s very similar to how House of the Dead: Overkill offered a grindhouse feel, except this goes further. The voice actor speaks in a stereotypical old English accent and delivers the story, comments what is happening on screen or on player actions. It’s such a simple thing to do, but it adds an extra layer to the game, as he interrupts scenes to add dialogue or even speak to the player by offering a tip in an amusing manner.
Narration does get repetitive if you keep replaying levels, but first time playthroughs will be worthwhile listening to the narrator delivering his jolly bag of tips, jokes and requests with well written humour and dialogue that can only be purposely done to make you laugh at the 1930s overenthusiastic storytelling. Comparing this to Zombie Army Trilogy brings a night and day difference, as that title lacked any sort of personality or persona – it’s a World War II zombie game, yet here, with the 1930s classic film adventure theme mixed with a voice actor who performs the narrator role exceedingly well and is given solid dialogue, brings personality and life to what could easily have been another cooperative game without its own distinct character.
Four characters are available with their distinct trait – there is a fifth as a free download – that make up the team Strange Brigade. For anyone who blasted through Zombie Army Trilogy will most likely understand the basic nature of Frank Fairburne (that last name might ring a bell for Sniper Elite fans), a hero that starts with the default rifle and a trait for bonus damage headshots. Other characters do have more exciting traits. Nalangu, for example, has added senses that let her know when enemies are coming out of her line of sight. Each hero comes with their preferred equipment set and a special amulet offering a magic power. Since this is the 1930s, weapons, both primary and sidearm, are based around that era, so expect to pop a cap in some mummy ass with Westminster 1895, Champerlain Automatic Rifle, Kingsley Special Repeater, Laine P12 and a few a others, while a item category contains stuff like grenades and dynamite.
Amulets add more unique characteristics, as they offer a power that helps clear enemies once a metre has been built up from collecting souls from fallen enemies. Each hero has 4 abilities, but only the first is available, as the others must be unlocked through finding hidden relics scattered around the levels. Frank’s amulet begins with a shoulder charge that sends an enemy flying forward then exploding to hurt surrounding foes, where as Gracie pulls her enemies in and then launches them away. These powers become stronger through unlocks. Frank can gain six rapid head shots or even summon enemies to act as decoy to help clear the outnumbering enemies. This is another area improved, as now the playable heroes are built with more identity than they ever were in Zombie Army Trilogy.
The formula for each level sticks closely to Rebellion’s zombie game where players progress through a rather linear stage with a few split paths to accomplish the objective. There is going to be a lot of comparison with their previous game, because this is a spiritual successor to that series, but even so, it should be noted that each comparison is always in favour of Strange Brigade, thanks to all the improvements. Levels are now packed with more traps and puzzles, getting players more involved with the environment so that they are more than a shell housing violent activity, while gold from killing enemies can be spent on special weapon chests that are found dotted around a mission that hold more powerful guns – think Call of Duty zombie mode to get an idea how that works. Any gold not spent is cashed in to a bank at the end of the mission, which can be used to unlock permanently new weapons to equip before starting a mission.
So far this sounds like standard stuff, and while you might be expecting this paragraph to be the one that demonstrates what makes Strange Brigade special, don’t, because there isn’t really anything here that makes it standout as a video game. But sometimes video games aren’t trying to do that – they just want to bring fun. The gun play is fast, simple and straightforward and the puzzles featured don’t tackle much of the brain, but it just comes together in a package that works well and offers an amusing time slaying hundreds of monsters while surviving towards the end of the level. A bonus is that anything with friends is instantly improved, so you have up to four players fighting through the Egyptian caverns, forests, villages and tombs, spotting traps and using them to cut (spinning blades), flatten (hanging logs) penetrate (spears) or burn alive (actually I guess that is burn dead?) with hanging lanterns.
Playing the game with friends is simply the best way to play Strange Brigade, not only is it more exciting with company, but it makes end of level boss fights less frustrating, since with more friendly foes for them to attack, the less time your character is given the attention. It also helps having the extra eyesight, because hidden away in each mission are usually around 20+ collectibles that fall into one of few categories – letters, blue cats, relics and jars – that will unlock various things in the game. I must stress that even though it is ideal to play cooperative, if you can’t always find buddies to play with, Strange Brigade is still enjoyable on your own, especially if you want a challenge by sticking up the difficulty and turning on the option that increases enemy waves for four players, while still only playing on your own. This is the game at its most challenging, a true test of masochism for anyone who is into that stuff.
Once done with the campaign’s three difficulties there are still other things to do that feature full four player coop with its Horde mode and Score Attack. Horde mode has become a staple in cooperative games, and so with a small selection of levels, players must fend off waves against increasingly difficult enemies lasting as long as possible – it’s standard stuff for a horde mode. Score Attack takes sections from the campaign and puts an importance on speed and skill, as big points come with a combo multiplier that clocks up with kills, depleting the longer you take to do the next kill. Stylish kills will earn more points, such as using traps and explosives in the environment. Both these are fun inclusions, but don’t feel fleshed out. It’s more of a “we had these levels in a campaign, let’s use them to make more modes” feature.
Strange Brigade is a solid recommendation for anyone looking to dig into some old school third-person shooting wrapped in that Left 4 Dead campaign style with an added bit of 1930s distinct flavour. Strange Brigade isn’t a stand out title, it’s most likely not going to be on any Game of the Year lists, but a game doesn’t have to be innovative if it can capture something fun, and Strange Brigade does that. Not only is it a decent looking title that isn’t too demanding to run on a PC, but it takes its theme and runs with it confidently, offering a bloody good time with friends blasting through an Egyptian themed world that I don’t think I’ve been able to do in that setting since Serious Sam 3: BFE. With more to come through downloadable content, Strange Brigade could certainly find reasons for people to come back to it for that “one more time” addiction.