Strange Brigade Is Actually Not That Strange [Hands-On Preview]

I’ve been sitting here trying to think of some witty, overarching lesson to draw from my few hours with Strange Brigade because, on paper, it might not sound too impressive. It’s developer Rebellion Developments’ upcoming cooperative third-person shooter mixed with the pulpy adventure media from the early 1930s that inspired the Indiana Jones trilogy and other films like it. But while it seems to be a functional, by-the-numbers shooter at its core, its personality and decent cooperative gunplay seem like it could betray the blandness the game initially gives off.

Strange Brigade stars the, well, Strange Brigade: a group of four special operatives tasked with stopping an evil Egyptian god from unleashing her mummies and monsters on the world. While the plot is mostly relegated to short cutscenes between levels and lore-ridden collectives, it serves as the impetus for the hordes of undead as well as the levels you’ll be shooting those undead in. And while the style looked like as a mere framing device for the game, it ended up being the most memorable part of my preview.

Strange Brigade Preview: Pronounced Announcer

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This is all embodied within the disembodied announcer that hovers around the game omnipotently proclaiming feats, objectives, the story, and more as he sees fit. He captured the game’s 1930s tone brilliantly with the Transatlantic accent and cadence mixed in with witty observations and awesome alliteration. In what would usually be a dry moment, he’d crack a good joke or turn an otherwise clinical informational line into a helpful, well-written quip. He knew when to chime in and helped the game establish its desired mood and time period; a time period that games don’t typically try to imitate.

While the narrator was the high point of Strange Brigade’s style, the rest of the game built itself around that aesthetic. Its cast of characters and environments appeared as though they were drafted out of an old adventure novel. The appropriately named Archimedes de Quincey, Nalangu Rushida, Gracie Braithwaite, and Frank Fairburne are the game’s four travelers and look as though they would feel right at home plundering the remote stone ruins in the jungle and dark, mysterious caverns in the game.

Those locales were filled with deadly traps and glorious amounts of booty. Simple puzzles littered about reward you with some gold or a weapon while the traps help you dispose of the scores of enemies regularly swamping the screen. Indiana Jones would be proud of these treasures and death traps as they match the spirit of the game, but they also serve as ways to break up the pace from all the shooting.

Strange Brigade Preview: Tomb Brigader

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And you’ll be doing a lot of shooting. Channeling its cooperative roots, it mostly focuses on overwhelming the players with swarms of mindless undead that prioritize big numbers over big brains. The game is all about constantly moving and firing and not letting the masses box you in take you down.

It’s here where the game slips into a true co-op zen state where it doesn’t require strict teamwork or coordination (on the difficulty I played) and takes on an interactive chatroom-like quality. That’s not as much of a damning indictment as it sounds, especially considering that some people play for exactly that type of experience. Some games like Destiny 2 and Ghost Recon Wildlands thrive on mechanically sound co-op that doesn’t always demand that everyone lean forward and communicate like Seal Team Six.

Although, while most of the shooting didn’t take too much thinking, my preview was not a total cakewalk. Bigger, more devious mini-bosses and bosses were peppered into most areas and tested our team’s skill. The hardest of the hard were bullet sponges capable of moving more quickly and unleashing more deadly attacks, all of which kept us frosty enough to stave off monotony.

These skirmishes pushed us to use our best abilities and weapons, which incentivizeus to search for treasure and gather gold. Amulets play out like Ultimates in Overwatch where, once charged, can lead to a devastating attack. That’s the goal, anyway. While I did not get to try all of them, the abilities didn’t seem have the earth-shattering effect that I was hoping for, and thus, pushed me to stick to my guns, literally.

Coins are used to buy new weapons and serve as the game’s economy system. While more standard weapons fill the shops, players can also get powerful prototype guns. These firearms are better left for the bigger bosses and add a pinch of strategy to the shootouts. It’s hard to judge how long the tail is on buying upgrades, but, if done correctly, can extend the life of the game and always give the player something work towards.

Strange Brigade Preview: The Big Score

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The extra modes take advantage of the game’s economy as well as its technically sound gunplay and cooperative core. In addition to the campaign, players can squad up and jump into Horde Mode and Score Attack. Horde Mode is most likely close to what you think it is: a boiled down, sectioned off part of the game that chops out the narrative and focuses on the shooty bits. Enemies get tougher as the finite waves progress and players have to choose between having to open up parts of the map and buying better gear.

Score Attack is like Horde Mode, meaning that it is also a story-free slice of the game with an arcadey bent. A multiplier starts every time you take down an enemy and ticks down when you stop murdering for a few seconds. Chaining together kills is key to nabbing a high score and gives the mode a friendly, yet competitive edge. Both modes aren’t dramatically new ideas, but distill the game’s cooperative nature into sections that are purely about the gameplay.

And that’s big takeaway I had with the game. Strange Brigade doesn’t feel like it’s full of totally new ideas but it works well enough for what it is and it looks like it’ll be an entirely serviceable co-op shooter like Ghost Recon Wildlands. Although unlike Wildlands, Strange Brigade has a style that sets it apart and isn’t copied out of a generic Tom Clancy book that only old dads read. Instead, it looks like it was copied out of an old adventure book, something far more novel and, ironically, less explored. Much like its narrator, the game left me on a cliffhanger on whether or not its unique aesthetic could outweigh its functional but relatively average shooting mechanics. It looks like we’ll have to “tune in next time” when the game releases on August 28 to find out.