Kicking off a post-Gamescom season of major releases on all platforms, Rebellion’s Strange Brigade is a title that flew under the radar for a while but is still as much fun as when we first got play it about a year ago. Here’s our review of the Xbox One version.
A surprise announcement to us at last year’s E3, Strange Brigade also made an appearance during Gamescom last year. It was already playable at that time, and made a good first impression as something different out of Rebellion’s stables – whose Sniper Elite and Battlezone titles have been well received during the last few years.
Strange Brigade looks and feels like it was built on the engine/framework used for Sniper Elite, but Rebellion’s chosen a very different approach for the game. Where Sniper Elite is all about careful mission planning, sneaking up on enemies and a limited amount of ammo, Strange Brigade is all about over the top action, explosions, deadly traps and going in guns blazing. Both games do feature very long levels though, so at least they’re similar in that sense.
The Strange Brigade is a group of heroes/guns for hire who head to Egypt in the 1930s, where an ancient Witch Queen has come back to haunt the lands with her evil creatures in tow. So yeah, it’s a bit like those Mummy reboot movies from 20 years ago in its setup, but also in its approach – your time with the Strange Brigade is meant to be fun, not thought-provoking. You’ll encounter a few (sometimes optional) puzzles here and there, but nothing that’ll stop you in your tracks for too long.
Every level in Strange Brigade has you assuming the role of one of four heroes – although cooperative multiplayer is supported as well for the entire campaign. Armed with regular weapons as well as a few supernatural powers and abilities (why else would they be strange, right?), levels are nicely paced and never get boring despite their long-ish nature. There will be sections of exploration (among pyramids, excavation sites, caves and desert areas – your typical Mummy/Indiana Jones scene), when suddenly your progress will be halted when a horde of undead monsters start swarming in.
Defeating these is where Strange Brigade sets itself apart from Sniper Elite – all hell breaks loose and there’s no escape. You wouldn’t want to escape either, as combat in Strange Brigade is fun. Besides your regular weapons, you can also pick up plenty of special (extra powerful) weapons – quite often conveniently located at the scenes of these battles. They quickly run out of ammo, but it’s easy to relocate and find a different weapon to use instead – or use some of the throwables you have. For added fun, you can also trigger traps to take care of these monsters – crushing them, making them feel the cold steel of a spike trap, that sort of stuff. They don’t seem to learn from their friends meeting an untimely fate either, so you can just keep hitting those trap triggers if you want.
There is plenty of enemy diversity with melee-oriented minotaurs, fire-breathing menaces and spear throwing soldiers of the undead, but because of the horde attacks you run into you’re guaranteed to see quite a few of each enemy type. At least there are plenty of ways to take them out, and you can experiment a little with what works best for each enemy type – though boss fights are most unique and challenging in how to approach them.
After you beat the campaign, you can also try out the Horde mode (which mainly focuses on the horde-like battles you also encounter in the main game) or the Score Attack mode – which has a multiplier component thrown into the mix and encourages gameplay that’s even more action-oriented than the base game. In addition, Rebellion will also be releasing post-release DLC content as part of a season pass – which should add more campaign levels as well.
Although the gameplay is that of a solid action adventure that should appeal to anyone who likes a bit of mindless fun, what made it stand out to me (and this has been true from the first hands on I had back in 2017) was always the presentation. Presented with an over-the-top kind of (almost comic book like) bravado, Strange Brigade has an excellent narrator that really makes it feel like you’re watching the adventure unfold as a classic TV/cinematic (or even radio) experience. I thought “TV Batman” a few times, in a positive and nostalgic kind of way of course. Sure, it’s cheesy, but it’s fun.
Strange Brigade may not win any awards for its gameplay and I’ve played better action adventures, but it’s abundance of character and style made sure this was a game I was playing with a smile on my face from beginning to end. Can’t wait to do it again in multiplayer.