Strange Brigade (Xbox One Review)
Rebellion Developments have had an illustrious career in games. With a hand in games like Alien Vs. Predator, Rogue Trooper, and their crown jewel Sniper Elite, they’ve left their mark on the games industry over the years. There is an undeniable pedigree to almost every game. A pedigree they are upholding with Strange Brigade, adding yet another title to their venerated library of shooters.
Strange Brigade follows the adventures of a troupe of veteran “archaeologists”, or rather tomb raiders, on a mission to stop the ancient Witch Queen Seteki and her forces of evil. Players battle across a variety of stages based in Egypt, exploring tombs and valleys in an attempt to defeat Seteki’s champions. Even though these stages play in to the known tropes of the setting, they never feel shallow or repetitive. This is largely due to Strange Brigade’s focus on tight gunplay and the well punctuated narrator that keeps things lively with a 1930’s pulp spin.
Even when I was jumping through the same hoops stage after stage, it was always exciting thanks to the sense of discovery at the heart of Strange Brigade. Rebellion’s level structure hasn’t really changed all that much since Sniper Elite days, most notably Zombie Army Trilogy.. So seeing it evolve into something new is refreshing, even if it’s something as simple as avoiding the tried and true “corridor shooting in to battle arena” approach. Now there are puzzles to solve and treasures to collect, adding more value for players with every successive run through. And that’s before you mention the notebooks that flesh out Strange Brigade’s story a little bit more. It feels like every facet of Rebellion’s previous titles have been expanded upon, even if it is just a little more spice.
There are also 4 playable characters to experiment with to prolong your experience. Each character boasts unique playstyle, or that’s what Strange Brigade would lead you to believe. Nalangu has increased awareness to sense an enemy’s presence; Gracie is the CQC expert with a prowess for explosive weaponry; Prof. Quincey can gather souls at a distance and unlock hidden doors; and finally Frank is the resident marksman with lethal headshot damage and knows how to take a punch. Unfortunately it doesn’t feel like these attributes truly manifest in game. All of the characters can use whatever weapon they wish and function identically. The only real advantage seemed to be Quincey’s ability to open doors that no other character could. Although there some special Amulet Powers that do help to set the characters apart a bit more.
Amulet Powers are Strange Brigade’s ultimate abilities. In order to charge them you’ll need to collect souls from fallen enemies, slowly absorbing their essence and building towards your single use Amulet Power. These powers can range from transforming an enemy in to a ticking time bomb to the ridiculous Divine Poultry Punishment that transforms enemies in to helpless chickens. While they sound insane, they are well balanced and prevent Strange Brigade from turning in to a cakewalk; in fact they can feel a little underwhelming outside of those attached to Strange Brigade’s collectibles.
Relics, Canopic Jars, Bejewelled Cats, Journals, and Mountains of Gold are Strange Brigade’s stanchion to lock you in. There’s a vast array spread throughout every stage, often in quieter areas that allow you to take the surrounding environments and tackle the puzzles associated with them. Successfully obtaining one of these many treasure will new you new gold to buy extra weapons and gadgets or new Amulet Powers, as well as adding some additional exposition to Witch Queen Seteki. But the real rewards are the puzzles themselves. Puzzles break up the relentless fighting with hidden walls, secret switches, and cryptic clues. Taking time away from the hail of bullets to enjoy these puzzles is almost cathartic and helps create a different kind of pace in Strange Brigade.
However, if you’re the kind of player that would rather ramp up the chaos instead of solving Egyptian Rubik’s Cubes, you can partake in Score Attack and Horde Mode. Both of these modes stand beside the campaign and offer a more score orientated approach. While Horde mode has a finite number of stages, it offers players the opportunity to earn additional gear for the campaign in a Call of Duty Zombie styled affair. Score Attack is a more continuous series of stages that are unlocked upon completion of each campaign mission. Both are a nice distraction from the campaign and felt like an apt addendum to the closing chapter of Strange Brigade, although they don’t hold as much value as you’d hope.
Strange Brigade is Zombie Army Trilogy’s (ZAT) weird cousin, which might sound contentious given the lukewarm reception of ZAT. At its core Strange Brigade follows the exact formula, yet it’s far more refined to the point that drawing the comparison feels unjust. Strange Brigade is the pinnacle of Rebellion’s continued improvements on their previous titles and earns its spot as a cornerstone of their empire.