Video game remasters have been quite the rage for the past decade or so. Cynically, they let the publisher cash in on nostalgia but optimistically, they act as relics of another gaming era. STRANGE BRIGADE is fittingly one of those relics and while it is releasing for the first time in 2018, its structure, look, and gameplay make it feel like a remastered game from the last generation that I missed the first time around. Even if it doesn’t look or play like the newest title around, its solid action, well-paced puzzles, and pulpy style make it worth playing through with a few friends.
Playing with a few friends is almost necessary, given how focused the game is on co-op. Players can pick up to four (soon to be five) different characters in the titular Strange Brigade that all have slightly different stats and abilities. Aside from their special amulet powers, their unique personalities and passive gameplay traits are hardly noticeable once you jump into the meat of the game: shooting a ton of zombies.
Strange Brigade Review: The Brigade That Slays Together, Stays Together
Or mummies. Or pissed off sentient statues. Or pirates skeletons. Or those hard-to-find cat statues. There are a lot of things to shoot in Strange Brigade and, thankfully, shooting feels functional and relatively smooth, if woefully inaccurate at a distance. Enemies rarely move quickly enough to strain the controls and the game likes to prioritize quantity over a smaller number of smarter foes.
It’s more about continually moving around, activating traps, and grouping hordes together for huge kill chains. While it is as dry as the Egyptian sands solo, this sort of “kill the giant mass of enemies” gameplay thrives in co-op. Gunplay is involving enough to require your attention, but not all of your attention. This approach makes it feel in tune with its cooperative nature and gives the game an interactive chat room-like quality. It may not always be exciting, but it’s never boring and games like Ghost Recon Wildlands have shown how those style of game can work and work well.
In theory, Strange Brigade should be as monotonous as it sounds but it narrowly avoids that fate because of its pacing. Much like its treasure-hunting aesthetic, it encourage the players explore its branching paths for secrets in between shootouts. Levels are littered with simple matching or shooting puzzles that require some light cooperation. You’ll all be scouring the environment for symbols or playing a simplified version of the pipe hacking mini-game from the first Bioshock to unlock more booty. They’re simple but intelligently spaced between the combat at just the right intervals to keep it from growing stale.
Strange Brigade Review: All for One and None for You
Although for a game all about gathering treasure as a group, it’s not generous with how it splits up said treasure. Kills only reward the killer with gold, which is expected. But chests are not divided up as fairly as they only give their spoils to whomever opens them up first. It takes the fun out of looting since a bad egg can hog all the cash leave the rest of the squad with crumbs.
Most of the collectibles are treated the same way. Picking up one of the many different types of doodads doesn’t always spread to the team, meaning you’ll have to vocally call out each time one of you finds something. Not only is it tedious, but it goes the whole mantra of the game. It’s not “All for one and one for one,” but more like “All for one and f*** you, Jeff, you have to keep up to get the cash and collectibles.”
Relics one of the few shared collectibles shared across the Strange Brigade cast and they’re used to buy amulet upgrades. There are four per character and can be purchased with skill points gained from collecting a full set of relics. But since sets are split across different levels, you’ll most likely go through the majority of the game with the same bog standard amulet power you had since the first level. Putting sets in the same level could have given players the ability to experiment earlier on in the game instead of waiting near the end to buy a new power.
Strange Brigade Review: Progression Depression
This is indicative of the game’s bigger problem with upgrades in general. Even though you’re always collecting gold in each mode, it doesn’t add to any overarching pool of cash where you can level up and enhance each person in the Strange Brigade. Progression feels hollow as a result since your cash only lets you buy one-use special guns and unlock other weapons. Simple character and weapon upgrades would have gone a long way and added a welcome bit of RPG-like growth and replayability.
Instead, the game derives its replayability from its other two non-campaign modes: Score Attack and Horde. Both are exactly what they sound like. Score Attack slices off campaign levels that emphasize keeping up a score multiplier and Horde mode is a semi-endless, wave-based survival mode inspired by the zombies mode in Call of Duty. Even though you most likely know what you’re getting into, they both succeed because of the shooting and how those modes encourage team play.
Everything, even these modes, is coated in the game’s signature 1930s style. It wasn’t taken exactly from Indiana Jones’ playbook, but rather the pulpy media that inspired Indy. Enemies are introduced with title cards and pun-filled descriptions. Cutscenes are usually fuzzy, black and white videos narrated by the game’s effective omniscient announcer. His Mid-Atlantic accent livens up the gameplay as he uses alliteration and cunning wordplay to describe the events on the screen while rarely repeating himself. The mysterious figure never overstays his welcome and is the best use of the game’s unique presentation.
Strange Brigade would have been a standout game in 2008. In 2018, it’s a serviceable third-person shooter with a heavy emphasis on co-op. And the 1930s style gives the co-op more life, even if it lacks the RPG-like persistence to truly keep players hooked. It may occasionally feel like a relic, but like the members of the Strange Brigade have shown, sometimes that’s just what you’re looking for.
Strange Brigade was reviewed on PS4 via a digital code provided by the publisher.