Strange Brigade
Things are about to get a littleā€¦ strange.
It's the 1930s and you are one of four (five if you pre-ordered) unique individuals that make up the very fine, yet very bizarre, group known as the Strange Brigade. It's up to you to save the world from dastardly devils, unruly undead, and a bevy of bigger than life bosses. Just how do you accomplish this, you may ask? It's simple! You shoot, you loot, explore, and then you shoot and loot some more.

Such is the nature of Strange Brigade from Rebellion, the development studio that brought us the Sniper Elite franchise. Strange Brigade is a third-person action-adventure title that finds you and up to three additional friends making their way through vast levels located throughout Egypt. You will utilize an arsenal of weaponry and mystic powers to overcome foes brought back from the dead because the Witch Queen Seteki has returned after 4,000 years and wants to take over the world. Oh, that whacky Seteki. When will she learn? She calls upon some allies that range from the simple risen undead, to mummies, to queen's guards, to bosses that are several magnitudes larger than you are.

Strange Brigade
Adventures are always more fun with a buddy or three

Story levels take you throughout a variety of scenic locales in Egypt. Each include a ton of branching pathways, secrets, and a slew of puzzles to try your hand at solving. While the puzzles themselves aren't particularly hard, finding the proper solutions hidden throughout the environments may prove to be a bit tricky. Collectibles typically come in the form of idols and cat statues that you can find in each level. Finding all of the cat statues in a level, for example, will reward you with access to a bonus area before the boss fight in which you are rewarded with a heaping helping of gold, relic upgrades, and even additional lore.

Gold that you accumulate while playing can be spent during a level. You can pay to open weapon crates scattered throughout each level that will reward you with an ammo-limited powerful "prototype weapon" capable of dispensing a ton of damage against your enemies. It is a bit of RNG as to what weapon you get, but they are all very useful and pack a hell of a punch. I'm talking about weapons that include crossbows that shoot explosive tipped rounds or electro-charged shotguns that quickly clear out a surrounding horde. If you would rather bank your money until the end of the level, you are certainly free to do so. Saving your money for when you need it later to purchase weapons and other unlockable gear is never a bad idea.

Strange Brigade
In awe at the size of this lad

Throughout your adventures, you will undoubtedly come across chests that hold ancient relics. These relics can be slotted into your weapons to provide various augmentations, such as bouncing bullets or a life drain effect. You will want to take special note of the relics you use though because if you decide to replace them later on with something else, those initial relics will be destroyed and you'll have to find new ones to replace them. Relics are often found by carefully surveying the world around you. Many of which are tucked away in hidden areas that require a bit of puzzle solving to get to. These puzzles are usually fairly simple to solve once you understand what you are looking for. Some require you to shoot the proper sequence of buttons. Other puzzles require you to remember where certain blocks are as a test of your memory. Still others may task you with running around in an area to hit targets in a specific order.

Speaking of the environment, the levels are all visually fantastic. Players will see and explore desert dig sites, ancient tombs, areas full of flowing waterfall and lush flora, and more. Complementing the environments are a wide variety of well-designed and easily recognizable enemy types. Rebellion is really no stranger to creating intricate levels that not only manage to look great but also run great in the process. The game gives you the option of running in either DirectX 12 or Vulkan. I cannot speak for DirectX 12's performance, but Vulkan ran like a dream on my machine, never once showing a single sign of slowdown with settings set to Ultra and my framerate capped to 120fps.

For a good portion of this review, I unfortunately had to fly solo for my testing because of a variety of reasons (namely scheduling). However, the game does allow you to hop into a quick match, find a game via a server browser, or team up with three other friends right from the get-go. Moreover, while I am not 100% certain of this, I do believe the difficulty and enemy count scales based on how many players are in the game. You can, if you don't mind a challenge, set the enemy spawn count to max even if you are playing solo. If you do this in addition to cranking the difficulty up to the hardest level, you are in for a real challenging treat.

Strange Brigade

We already established that you can use guns to do battle against a huge group of foes, but is that all you will have access to? No sir, not by a long shot. While melee attacks are in the game, I found them to be most useful when going up against only a couple of weak enemies. The targeting seemed to be a bit too finicky for it to be reliable as a means of opening up an escape route. However, each character does possess a powerful amulet. These amulets give each character unique abilities that, once fully charged, allow them to quickly clear out a good chunk of enemies and potentially turn the tides of an encounter. New and upgraded amulets can be acquired as you progress through the game. Each character has four unique amulets that they can equip and swap around as desired at work benches or prior to joining a game. The amulets are powered up by absorbing the souls of your enemies. At least, I believe they are the souls of your enemies. They are floating blue orbs that appear after you kill something, so that's my story and I'm sticking to it! Once powered, you can unleash the devastation at any time. They can be refilled and used again any number of times over the course of a level, provided you have the means to power them up.

Other helpful tools include a variety of grenades and explosives that can give you the upper hand. Explosive grenades, land mines, fire grenades, and even dynamite are all at your disposal. Much like the weapons, you can swap around which explosive ordinance you have equipped at any of the work benches in each level. Unlike weapons, which require you to resupply their ammunition, the explosives will recharge over time. I like that. I like when non-RPG focused games do not really limit your use of weapons and instead just put them on a cooldown timer. It works really well in Strange Brigade.

Finally, if you still find yourself struggling to take down any of the mythical foes that you come across, you should take solace in the fact that the environment is there to help you. Keep on your toes and trigger a variety of traps scattered throughout to help keep the enemy count in check. Traps can include fire pits or spinning blades that will make quick work of even the toughest encounters. Just be sure you do not inadvertently stand too close to one of the traps, because you are not immune to taking damage from them. If you do take enough damage and you do not have a healing potion to chug, your teammates can "revive" you by rescuing you from a sarcophagus located a bit further in the level.

Strange Brigade

With the basics out of the way, I can safely say that Strange Brigade was a much better game than I had anticipated. It manages to combine a lot of what I liked about the objective and multiplayer focused Sniper Elite: Nazi Zombie Army titles with a more whimsical presentation. Speaking of the presentation, I am really digging the whole campy '30s adventure style they have going on. The boisterous narrator has not yet gotten stale, nor have the pre-mission story vignettes that really hammer home the look and feel that the team was going for here. There are options to disable or skip many of these narrative experiences if you want.

Unlike Zombie Army, Strange Brigade seems to focus more on exploration and expansive levels. This is nice change from the more linear level designs seen in games like Zombie Army or Left 4 Dead. There is still a set starting point and a clear end goal but how you get there is usually up to you. Alternatively, you can always backtrack and go down any of the other paths you chose not to earlier on in a level. While the core gameplay may seem similar, the push to a more open level design really allows the unique gameplay strengths of Strange Brigade to shine when stacked up against the competition.

I did have a few hiccups here and there, however. First, there is no dedicated jump button. You instead have a dodge roll. While this handy for getting out of tough spots, it still feels a bit odd to me to not have a dedicated jump button. I do realize that adding a jump button now, with levels that are clearly not designed for it in mind, would probably break the game in horrendous ways. Characters do automatically mantle and climb up ledges when possible, so it is not a huge deal breaker. Though, and this one might be an issue for some people, the weapon aiming feels a little broken when enemies get within a certain range of your character. I have missed plenty of shots that looked to be "perfect" because the enemy would position themselves in an area that said my reticle was on them, but the shot would miss.

Why? The best thing that I can figure is that the shot actually comes out of the character's gun. If the enemy positions themselves just to the right of the third-person character model, the shot will often miss; having been fired to the left of where I believe the shot should have landed. If the shot came out of the center of the screen, where the reticle is, I feel as though the enemies would have been hit without issue. This happened when I was playing solo, so I cannot even blame network lag on that one. You can work around this by rolling back and putting some distance between you and the enemy prior to taking the shot. While this did not cause me to fail a level, I can certainly see this becoming a more frustrating issue on the harder difficulties.

Strange Brigade

I also noticed that my melee attack would often track improperly and completely miss the enemy that was nearest to my character. Again, this did not cause me to lose any runs but it could potentially become an issue on harder difficulties. I will also note here that the game does not include a dedicated sprint button. Characters are capable of running but they will do so automatically after jogging for a bit and putting away their weapon. I would love to have manual control over this but I did not see that as an option anywhere.

Some moderate gameplay issues aside, I did have fun with the time that I spent playing Strange Brigade. I hope that the game has the longevity needed to sustain it over the months ahead. I do not know what future content plans are in store for the game but games of this nature tend to live or die by how much content is available. Out of the gate, the game does ship with at least nine story levels, at least four challenging and very lengthy Horde mode levels, and a Score Attack mode for those that want to push themselves to go fast and kick some ass in the name of getting the best score possible in the world. I do appreciate how even the Horde mode levels have puzzles to solve and an evolving play area that expands every few waves.

Strange Brigade
Rewarded for a job well done!

In the future, I sure would not mind seeing some Steam Workshop support for the game. Rebellion has already mentioned that a three-part mini-campaign is coming after release, alongside new heroes, weapons, and abilities. Personally speaking, I know that my friends and I enjoyed the Left 4 Dead games for a considerable amount of time after their release all thanks to the community made campaign maps. Just saying.

Strange Brigade has managed to scratch the itch that I had for a fanciful, fun, yet challenging and intense action-adventure experience. I especially enjoyed the game's large levels with multiple branching paths and hidden areas. The addition of puzzles offered a nice break from the lengthy combat sequences. There are definitely a few issues that may be a bit too much for some people to ignore. Hopefully, Rebellion addresses these in future patches. I'm also still going to keep my fingers crossed for Workshop support or additional (free) DLC announcements.

Strange Brigade - 4 out of 5 stars

Additional Information
Strange Brigade (Developed and published by Rebellion Developments)
Starting at $49.99 (USD) for PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One
Rated T for Teen for animated blood and violence
Game was reviewed on: i7-6700K at 4.5GHz, 32GB DDR4-2666, Nvidia GTX 1080 Ti, Windows 10 64-bit Version 1803
This game was provided to Total Gaming Network for review purposes.

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