Strange Brigade is one of the more ambitious and downright ludicrous titles launching in 2018.
With its tiered objectives, waves of enemies and hidden secrets, Strange Brigade is perhaps the most interesting online experiences of the year, but having been fortunate enough to go to Gamescom and see what lies beyond, I now realise just how much I miss split-screen co-op in games of this type.
Strange Brigade doesn’t suffer for not having it, but it’s exclusion definitely feels like a big mistake.
Strange Brigade is a rib on 1930s movie culture with its pronounced narration, overexaggerated action setpieces, stereotypical character bases, and constant obsession with fantastical monsters and chests full of treasure. Your aim is always to outlast the opposition and bring back as much treasure and relics as you can.
The game’s campaign mode takes its cast of four characters into various environments, such as scorching deserts and luscious forests, on the trail of a missing comrade. But as you start to discover, things aren’t what they seem, and suddenly you’re butting heads with zombies, mummies, minotaurs, and goodness knows what else in pursuit of fame and fortune.
On the surface, Strange Brigade just seems like your average co-op shooter, teaming you up together to cause maximum carnage and destruction while fighting against overwhelming numbers. But it’s also a game full of hidden tombs, secrets, collectibles, looping them together with some challenging brain teasers.
And Rebellion seem to have got the pacing just right. One minute, you’re fighting more than your fair share of adversaries, next you’re trying to open a locked door by walking across floor tiles or twisting pipes to create a steady flow of water.
Where Strange Brigade succeeds in that regard is that it often requires players to actually work together to beat some of the tougher puzzles. Unless you know solutions beforehand, you can’t blindly walk your way through the game and because you’ve built up a bond, this can then help when you get into the tougher fights.
While the game is playable entirely solo, it does become clear quite early on that you’re really going to struggle with the difficulty. Let’s be completely clear, Strange Brigade is built and designed to be a multiplayer game. You will get the most benefit and enjoyment out of the experience by going online.
Which is why the lack of both split-screen and AI partners is both baffling and disappointing. One of my finest gaming memories comes from playing Gears sat on my couch with my partner, trading strategies, watching each others’ back and uncovering the story together. With Horde and Score Attack modes in here along with Campaign, I wonder how much more I might actually play Strange Brigade.
Because this is a solid game with really fluid, fun gameplay. There’s all types of weapon variety with a blunderbuss, machine gun, grenade launchers and even flamethrowers. And because of that you can always find a new and exciting way to keep the action fresh. Plus it never really gets tired listening to the old bumbling British baffoon commentate on your deeds.
All characters also offer something different with each having a different weapon specialty – though all characters can unlock all different weapon types throughout the game. However, they do maintain a unique melee attack. For instance, Rashida does a sort of curb-stomp as well as a stern front kick. Though each melee animation looks really out of place and prompts an odd animation from each character. Ultimately, though, they all feel pretty similar to one another.
And that’s another issue with the game, despite having four different characters ultimately they all end up playing in pretty similar ways. Though the games’ gem-augmenting system means weapon output can be customised and defined in a way that suits your playstyle. You can also mix up the action by shooting parts of the environment to set up traps for your enemies, like making them walk through a pit of spikes or a propeller blade.
Strange Brigade is absolutely stunning to look at, though. The environments are glorious, even if you’re not running the game on a PS4 Pro and it boasts a steady, stable framerate throughout. And with some of the boss battles really quite epic in scope, with occasionally dozens of enemies on the screen at one time, Strange Brigade really throws the action in your face time and time again.
Ultimately, Strange Brigade is an entertaining online experience, seperate from most other games in the genre with such a strong focus on puzzle solving. Its gameplay and level pacing works well and Strange Brigade looks lovely, but it’s a game that becomes overly challenging solo and can feel a bit repetitive in long blasts. Splitscreen co-op is certainly missed, and characters don’t vary too much, yet Strange Brigade remains one of the best online co-op games this year with its witty charm and fun gameplay.
+ Fantastic sense of humour
+ Stunning environments
+ Tons of hidden secrets to find
+ Nice, varied gameplay with good balance of action and puzzles
– Lack of split-screen co-op is a disappointing exclusion
– Repetition does seep in quite quickly over extended play sessions
– Becomes extremely difficult to play solo
– Characters tend to play the same way
7.5 out of 10
Tested on PS4
Code provided by the publisher