Called upon during the world’s most desperate hours, the Strange Brigade uses their skills, immense weapon loadouts, and their own supernatural powers to combat the forces of evil. In their latest adventure, you are tasked with exploring Egypt during the 1930’s to defeat the Witch Queen Seteki and her horde of undead mummies, giant scorpions, and pirate loyalists. Will, our heroes, prevail or will the untold horrors from beyond the grave spread across the planet? Find out in the next exciting adventure of the Strange Brigade, or just keep reading this review.
At its heart, Strange Brigade is an online cooperative third-person shooter for up to four players, set across nine lengthy campaign missions, set across long-lost villages, desert pyramids, darkened tombs, lush valleys, and plundering (undead) pirate-infested caverns of the damned. However, the game’s atmosphere, charm, and the setting feels ripped out of the classic adventure films and stories from the same period. I was immediately captivated by the game’s presentation, which looks quite sharp and runs smoothly on an Xbox One X. The enthusiastic in-game narration from Glen McCready (who you may recognize from Zombie Army Trilogy) does an outstanding job. I couldn’t help but smile or chuckle at every little side comment, reaction to new enemy types that appeared, and his complete disgust for the sacred feline animals of ancient Egypt: cats.
Before launch, the game included four uniquely designed characters each with their personality and distinction. A fifth hero is being released free to those that pre-ordered or purchased the game within the first 30 days, and additional characters are planned to be added post-launch. Each of the characters come from a different part of the world, joined together by the need to vanquish the forces of evil. Professor Archimedes de Quincy, who I played during my first playthrough, is an Oxford scholar and archaeologist (the Indiana Jones of the group), whereas Nalangu Rushida is a female Maasai warrior from Kenya. Although each of the characters has a different primary weapon equipped a the start, they each share from the same pool. Only a small amount of weaponry is available at the beginning, broken up into three categories; primary, sidearm, and grenade.
Primary firearms provide a good range of different types depending on how you want to play, from submachine guns, shotguns, to repeating rifles and semi-automatic rifles. Sidearms are quite basic, and fit within the game’s narrative, ranging from standard issue pistols to an ultra-powerful Wesley revolver (designed after the Webley revolver). Each weapon has various stats, such as damage output, the rate of fire, and accuracy, as well as the time it takes to reload and how much ammunition, can be carried at any given moment. Grenades come in different flavors, separated by how much damage they dish out and their blast radius. Primary weapons use ammunition, which must be refilled frequently, whereas sidearms have an unlimited supply to use. Grenades can be used as often as you would like, but do feature a cooldown timer. Molotov cocktails, my favorite grenade type, can light up dark caverns as well as set bumbling mummies ablaze but lacks the sheer carnage that comes with setting a landmine or tossing sticks of dynamite. There are also temporary “super” weapons that are purchased using gold during your adventure that disappears once the ammo is depleted. There is something so satisfying to watch a dozen undead monsters burst into flames at the same amount, crawling along the ground in agony.
For the most part, semi and fully automatic weapons have abysmal recoil and accuracy, which comes into play when dealing with bosses. These powerful and massive enemies have certain glowing areas that must be shot multiple times to advance to the next phase. Add in waves of enemies and trying to dodge boss attacks at the same time, and these encounters can be quite troublesome when playing solo.
New items can be purchased using the gold collected during your adventure, which unlocks its use for all characters. This accounts for primaries, sidearms, and grenades, but unlocking new amulet powers is strictly tied to collecting relics in each level. But, let's take a step back and discuss how gold collecting works in Strange Brigade when playing with others. Instead of sharing loot, each player gains precious gold from killing enemies (having a killing shot), and by opening/destroying crates and chests. Although you are all working towards the same goal, competition may arise between who can run to the chests first. In the end, raising the difficulty and increase the spawn rate of enemies to max (something I don’t recommend when playing alone) will increase the amount of gold you’ll find. Not to mention every level is full of hidden rooms, and passageways off the beaten track, making exploring every area in a level to be well worth the effort.
With weapons being shared between all characters, the unique amulet powers is genuinely what separates each character from one another. As previously mentioned, I played through the campaign using the Professor first (who happens to have the uncanny ability to open hidden passageways marked with the Eye of Ra). His amulet powers range from summoning a swarm of scarabs that track their prey, to summoning a bolt of lightning that travels through multiple foes, either killing them instantly or immobilizing them for a short time. On the other hand, Frank Fairburne can summon undead warriors to fight by his side, while Gracie Braithwaite can toss foes into others in the form of exploding missiles. Your amulet power is charged by collecting glowing blue orbs, or souls, from defeated monsters. Using your amulet, you can draw them towards you, although if you are playing cooperatively, other players may be vying for the same souls, creating a tug of war between the souls. It’s an intriguing mechanic along with not sharing gold that adds a bit of competitive spirit to a cooperative experience.
Ancient chests full of gold aren’t the only thing to find during your adventure, as levels have a set amount of hidden relics, gems, canopic jars (sacred Egyptian jars used to preserve its owner for the afterlife during mummification), as well as blue statues of cats (representing Bastet, the goddess of warfare). Gems are used to upgrade weapons, adding effects in the process, such as setting enemies on fire or letting your bullets ricochet around the environment. The cats are easier to find than the canopic jars, as you’ll hear crying cat noises when they appear. If you happen to find all six in a level, you’ll gain access to riches beyond your wildest dreams right before reaching the boss area. Throughout your adventure, you won’t only be dealing with the undead army of Seteki, as every locale is ripe with traps to avoid or use in your favor, and environmental and brain-teasing puzzles to solve. At one point you may be triggering spinning blades that will spring up from a wooden structure, rolling fire, spike traps, and avoid blades swinging down from the ceiling. Usually, these can be easily avoided, but when getting swarmed, and you will be continuously swarmed, it's very easy to lose oneself. Environments also are quite interactive, featuring metal torches that can drop fire on unsuspecting enemies, swinging logs, or barrels that explode spectacularly. However, these objects are only highlighted in red when aiming down the sight of your weapon.
Outside of the primary narrative game mode, Strange Brigade also features a horde mode and a score attack mode. Both are recommended to be played after collecting the campaign, as you’ll unlock new areas to play by completing campaign levels. The horde mode features replayable checkpoints once reached, so you don’t have to start over from the first wave every time. The game does have a separate season pass that adds a three part mini-campaign, new weapons, outfits, amulet powers, heroes, and more.
Strange Brigade is a robust online cooperative experience to play with friends and strangers alike. The presentation is hands-down one of the best experiences I’ve seen this year, from the visuals, level design to the game’s music and sound effects. Also, I tip my hat off to the talented Glen McCready who continually narrates throughout the adventure. It’s a shame that the character doesn’t have additional outfits or customization outside of weapon loadout at launch, but with free and paid downloadable content in the future, Rebellion may be supporting this fun third-person shooter for quite some time.Note: Strange Brigade was reviewed on Xbox One. A digital copy of the game was provided by the publisher/developer.