Like other people who’ve made co-op games, the good people at Rebellion have said that their third-person shooter Strange Brigade (Xbox One, PlayStation 4, PC) was designed to be played with friends, but can still be fun for those who don’t play well with others. As one of those latter folk, I decided to put their words, and their game, to the test.
Here’s my review of Strange Brigade as a single-player game.
Inspired by the same kind of pulpy novels and adventure serials as the Indiana Jones movies and the Tomb Raider games, Strange Brigade casts you as one of four adventurers who must travel to Egypt to rescue a coworker who was supposed to stop someone from opening a cursed tomb, but obviously failed because then this would be a very short game.
At its core, Strange Brigade is a solid if typical third-person shooter, albeit one that swaps the ability to duck for cover with a handy tuck and roll. You have a variety of guns at your disposal, including rifles, machine guns, and pistols; ammo and health packs are often left lying around where anyone can find them; and nailing an enemy in the head is more effective than shooting them in the chest, legs, or crotch. Which is something you can easily do thanks to the game’s solid controls…well, once you dial back their sensitivity, that is.
Where Strange Brigade starts to distinguish itself with its supply of grenades. Unlike most shooters, where you have a limited number of grenades unless you find more, here they’re a renewable resource. The same is also true for the magical attacks you do with your amulet, which can light multiple enemies on fire, or send out a devastating shockwave. Though these are so powerful, and take so long to recharge, that they work more like smart bombs than a magical attack in a role-playing game.
Also, while similar shooters usually pit you against enemies who shoot back, most of the ones in Strange Brigades are mummies and skeletons who come at you en masse. And while there is good variety of enemy types — including ones who run fast, are acrobatic, or throw stuff at you from afar — most of the mummies and skeletons make up for their lack of fine motor skills by attacking you from all side simultaneously.
The levels in Strange Brigade also give this a different feel. Having multiple pathways and large areas to explore may not be unique, but it works well here, especially when you’re being attacked by a ton of enemies. What makes them unique, though, is that they’re full of traps you can trigger when needed, and not just the explosive red barrel kind, either. Shoot an orb on a small tower and you’ll temporarily set off a set of spinning blades, while similar triggers can turn on platforms that contain spiked poles or flaming jets.
Further making Strange Brigade different, and engaging, is that while you’ll constantly run into enemies as you’re making your way from point A to point B, you’ll also, on several occasions, find yourself trapped in an area, unable to move on until you kill all the enemies within. Again, not a new idea, but because this game’s environments are so large, and are full of traps, it makes these moments feel more like round of a survival mode like “Horde” from Gears Of War 4 than a shooter that locks you in a room with multiple enemies. There’s even chests that will rent you a really great gun for a couple bucks, kind of like what they have in the “Zombie” modes in Call Of Duty.
In fact, there are times when Strange Brigade really feels like what I’ve always imagined “Zombies” in Call Of Dutywould be like if they had a single-player option. After all, shambling mummies and skeletons are basically zombies. But what sets this apart from those modes, especially the “Nazi Zombie” ones in Call Of Duty: WWII and Call Of Duty: Black Ops II, is the influence of 1930s adventure movie serials, as evidenced by this game’s bombastic narrator and over-the-top presentation. And, of course, the mummies.
All of these elements work really well in concert to make Strange Brigade a solid third-person shooter, one of the best since, well, Rebellion released Sniper Elite 4 in 2017.
As for whether Strange Brigade works as a solo experience, the answer is “yes, but….” While it works really well on its own, the game’s somewhat campy vibe, wide open areas, and clever traps make it slightly better when you play with good friends who embrace both the spirit of the game and the spirit of cooperation.
In fact, the biggest bummer about playing Strange Brigade solo is that your character also has to go it alone, and isn’t joined in their adventure by the rest of your team…y’know, under the control of A.I.
The lack of computer-controlled companions isn’t the only disappointing aspect of Strange Brigade, unfortunately. For starters, there’s only one difficulty level, a problem for those who want a challenge or, conversely, want to feel like the bad ass hero of a 1930s pulpy serial. This is especially true if you go it alone, since some parts — especially the boss battles — don’t seem like their difficulty has been adjusted for someone playing solo.
Along the same lines, it’s irritating that there’s tons of ammo lying around, and your handgun is one of those snazzy ones that never runs of out bullets, but health vials are few and far between, and you can only carry one at a time. Though whoever on the team suggested that you be allowed to run away while enjoying a healthy beverage should be given a raise and a promotion and a corner office with a nice view.
Strange Brigade could also do more to distinguish its adventurers. While each character starts off with different guns and grenades, there are steamer trunks throughout which gives you any gun or grenade you want. Which means that the only real differences between the characters are their magical amulets. And, well, their accents.
The lack of a map in Strange Brigade also makes it hard sometimes to know where to go, and where you’ve already gone, especially in areas that have similar topography.
Also, for those of us playing this game on our own, it’s slightly annoying — though completely understandable — that the cutscenes and narration talk as if all four characters are present, even when it’s just you. Again, something that wouldn’t be a problem if, when playing solo, the other characters were A.I.-controlled companions.
Even with these minor issues, though, Strange Brigade is still an engaging, exciting, and often unique third-person shooter. Doubly so if you’re a fan of 1930s movie serials, pulpy adventure novels, or just movies and games that were inspired by them. And while it’s best played co-op with people who will, y’know, cooperate, it still works really well for those of us who’d rather go it alone.