Rebellion are no strangers to a spot of co-op gaming, whether it’s playing with a buddy through the Sniper Elite series or its spin-off Nazi Zombie Army, but Strange Brigade is their first real attempt at creating a co-op shooter to stand on its own two feet. From World War Two and zombified Nazis, they’re stepping even further into history to the 1930s with British agents heading off to the corners of the world to tackle all manner of mythological threats.
It’s a great thematic period that hasn’t really been featured in games and it’s lent a brilliant humorous twist by the thoroughly British narrator that accompanies all the action. String together a number of rapid kills, end up in all kinds of trouble, find some of the secrets tucked away in the corners of the world and he’ll always have something pithy and a little bit silly to say. Without him, the game really wouldn’t be anywhere near as enjoyable.
Up to four of you can head into the fray, taking on reanimated skeletons, zombies, mummies, bizarrely giant scorpions, snazzily dressed minotaurs in shiny blue and gold armour, and pirates, because of course there are! The standard fodder will just shamble toward you, not taking too many bullets and hits to go down, but when you start getting to the larger beasts and boss enemies, there’s a real concerted effort to whittle down their health and avoid their much more dangerous attacks. The scorpions are vicious, the minotaurs will charge at you and bosses can have earth shattering magical attacks. Those bosses can bring a nice layer of humour, such as Captain Tiberian and his stereotypical pirate banter.
Like a 1930s Charlie’s Angels cruising around on a blimp, the Strange Brigade run bravely into the action with a selection of rifles, submachine guns and shotguns, all of which can be unlocked, customised and upgraded. These upgrades can add some elemental effects or have some other positive kickback like giving you a sliver of health for every kill – that’s a particularly handy one! While it’s still being tweaked before launch, I would say that the feel of the third person gunplay takes a little getting used to, with auto aim on console not being quite strong enough for something that’s meant to be fun and lighthearted. It’s a tad too easy to spray bullets everywhere but where you want.
Each level strings together a number of battle arenas where the mythological monsters attack you, coming from all sides. You don’t just have to rely on your guns and grenades, but can also trigger a number of traps within the levels. These can be as simple as explosive barrels, or spike traps, spinning blades and massive cleavers that swing cross a doorway. There’s just as much pressure to using these as there is to trying to land a few headshots in quick succession, as you need to shoot the trigger spot at just the right time to catch that group of enemies in the trap. Of course, there can be some strategy to the timing of this, and with up to four of your running around in co-op, it can get very chaotic.
Well versed in the supernatural, the Strange Brigade don’t just wander into danger with a rifle, but also with a magical amulet each. This collects the souls of the enemies you defeat, building up until you can unleash powerful amulet powers. The ludicrously named Professor Archimedes de Quincey, for example, starts with an amulet power that unleashes homing flames that bounce from one enemy to the next, letting you wipe out half a dozen enemies at once.
Quincey is joined by the red jacketed Frank Fairburne – huh! – Gracie Braithwaite and Nalangu Rushida. Each has default weapons, such as Fairburne’s Westminster 1895 rifle and Rushida’s Chamberlain Automatic rifle, and a variety of throwable items. They also have specific attributes, so Rushida’s Spirit-Warrior training lets her move faster and use a Vampire Strike to gain more health from each melee hit. A lot of this is customisable, spending gold earned through play to unlock the other guns for a character and finding new amulet powers.
It would be all too easy for this to have an overly jingoistic, out of touch feel, but Rebellion were very aware of potential pratfall through development, trying to keep the humour. The cast isn’t just regimented Brits with waxed moustaches atop their stiff upper lips, but much more varied and diverse. On top of that, where characters are from parts of the world outside an episode of Morse or Midsomer Murders, they’ve made to sure to cast actors from that country, region and ethnicity.
While fighting the undead and the mythological is the name of the game, it’s not the only thing you have to do. Levels are built around a handful of major battles where you’re swamped with enemies, linked together by smaller little clusters and the odd little environmental puzzle blocking your progress. Tucked away in the corners, you’ll find weapon chests where you can spend the gold earned through the level for souped up versions of the main guns like an automatic version of the burst fire rifle, through to eccentricities like grenade launchers. There’s also puzzles that range from finding and shooting triggers and doors locked behind minor observational hurdles, through to huge mazes that deviate well off the main path and feature smaller puzzles within. If you want to explore, they’re bound to be a great diversion and time-sink.
Playing co-op is where this game will be at its chaotic best, that’s for certain, but you can go it alone if you so wish, following through the story. That’s accompanied by a fairly straight forward horde mode and a score attack mode that constantly pushes you into the fray. Score attack is a fun and intriguing twist, keeping you on the front foot, trying to take out the enemies as quickly as possible in the name of bonus score multipliers. It certainly makes a nice change of pace from the usual fare.
Strange Brigade is coming together to be a good bit of fun. Rebellion are homing in on co-op gaming and so it’s no real surprise that Strange Brigade plays a fair bit like Nazi Zombie Army minus the sniping. What helps it really stand out though is the setting, the mythological beasts, and the humorous narrator that really gives you what for.