I wanted to love Strange Brigade, I really did. I played it at EGX last year and had a lot of fun with it. Rebellion, the developers, have built the Sniper Elite franchise up and reached a pinnacle with Sniper Elite 4 last year, and I had high hopes for their new adventure. Sadly, my expectations were set too high.
It’s no easy thing, trying to launch a new franchise or IP, and I’m certainly not writing off Strange Brigade. It has charm, and certainly has a lot of potential. But, just like the early Sniper Elite games, it feels like Rebellion are still finding their feet.
So, what is Strange Brigade? It’s a single player, or up to 4-player co-op, jaunt through 1930s Egypt where an ancient evil has risen, and the eponymous Strange Brigade must swing into action to save the day. It has a certain style about it, think of the classic adventure novels of yesteryear and you might get a feeling for how things play out. There are 1930s newsreel style introductions to each mission, the characters are a blend of post-colonial and mid-20th Century women’s empowerment. A cheery narrator keeps you entertained with comments on your dashing heroics, or hints to the next puzzle. It all feels very much like an adult version of The Famous Five or The Secret Seven. It might not be for everyone, but I very much like the vibe that Rebellion have instilled in Strange Brigade.
My high hopes for the game were based on my experience with it last year during my EGX hands-on. The elements of the game that I found attractive and enjoyable then are still present and correct, but, after a while, the formula of the game becomes a bit repetitive. Most games that aren’t in the Mario series end up falling into a similar pattern repeating the same gameplay loops. The recent DOOM toyed with repeating gameplay patterns but had enough variety within them to keep it fresh. The joys I found with the Sniper Elite titles though, were that their levels were broad and open enough that you didn’t necessarily need to lean on the same rinse-and-repeat approaches to enjoy each level. In fact, you quite often had to adopt a different approach on each level to meet the unique challenges.
What I have found with Strange Brigade is that the levels, well-crafted as they are, follow very similar patterns. Mild adventuring and combat, big set-piece combat against several waves of enemies, puzzle time, more adventure and combat, big final set-piece combat against waves or a boss. It’s all perfectly fine, and on a 10-point review scale, I’d be giving it a nice round 7. You often remember those 7/10 games, sometimes much more so than the 8/10 games, and I have no doubt that some people will get a real kick out of this.
The puzzles are generally straightforward, whether they are for unlocking routes to gold or weapon modifiers, or for completing the mission. There are doors locked behind Pipe Dream-esque panels that you must shoot into order, to larger scale puzzles requiring beams of light to be arranged to open a door. Some of the side puzzles become more interesting later in the game. One regular puzzle requires you to find a crib sheet telling you the order to shoot the three panels on a door. In the Pirate Caverns (yes, pirates in Egypt!), this puzzle is in a trap filled maze, with the crib sheet split up in different corners of the maze. It adds a fun twist to what is usually an easy puzzle to complete, but the rewards for these are lacklustre.
I say lacklustre because the weapon and upgrade systems are uninspired. There are three types of weapons you can take into battle – rifles, shotguns and submachine guns – with more powerful ones unlocked with gold acquired through killing the mummies and skeletons that inhabit this version of Egypt. You can modify these slightly with runes that you might find behind the puzzle doors, but the modifications only have a slight impact. The bigger upgrades apply to each character’s runic power. Collect enough relics, and the characters can unlock a new power which can be unleashed after acquiring enough souls from fallen foes. Your powers are perfectly enjoyable, but often I forgot they were present and ready to be used.
The best weapons, particularly the powerful flamethrower, can be bought from chests along each level with the gold you collect on your travels. These weapons add some much-needed spice and flavour to the combat, but sadly they all have limited ammo. Quite often, I avoided using them unless desperate, just to avoid wasting their potential. Other parts of the combat are improved through the various traps that you find during the various set-piece battles, but again, all too often the traps are the same throughout the game.
I’ve enjoyed my time with the game, interrupting a skeleton pirate shindig around a piano was amusing and the Score Attack mode adds some much needed dynamism to proceedings. Score Attack is much more liberal with the weapons you have access to while there are more traps and exploding barrels to utilise to defeat your foes. Nothing is actively bad here, it really is the repetitive nature of the levels that gets a bit grating. More variety to the combat, or less linear levels would add a lot to the adventuring. If you have some friends playing, then I have no doubt that playing together would add to the joy of blowing the hordes to pieces.
There is certainly a strong backbone to the game with the whole Strange Brigade, 1930s vibe. I have faith in Rebellion to come to the Strange Brigade in the future, as they did with Sniper Elite, and iterate, experiment and really make something special. For now, for me, it’s lacking the cutting edge I was so hopeful for.
The Verdict – On Target
Platforms Available – PC, Xbox One, PlayStation 4
Platform Reviewed – PC
Review based on Steam media account copy. For more on our scoring policy, please head here.