I say, old bean, it’s time to travel back to the 1930s, an age of dashing adventurers, cunning puzzles, and ancient foes. The Strange Brigade are four plucky chums who protect the world from nefarious threats, their tasks assigned to them by a unseen yet eloquent lady via a radio transmitter on the airship that serves as home.
Their latest adventure has the team investigating the whereabouts of a chap by the name of Edgar Harbin who has got himself in somewhat of a pickle whilst investigating Seteki, a long dead witch-queen who definitely doesn’t follow the Queensbury rules. It’s up to the fab four (or five, as by the time the game is released a new character will be downloadable for free), assisted by a plummy English narrator with a perchance for alliteration, to discover Harbin’s fate.
Their campaign takes place over nine locations including a cursed village, a towering temple, and a mighty pyramid, all of which are infested by the servants of the beastly witch-queen. These evil creatures come in many forms, from slow moving corpses to acrobatic blighters who jump all over the shop and are ruddy difficult to hit because of it. There are also mini-bosses, Minotaurs who can only be disabled by precise shots to handily glowing parts of their anatomy, and end of level fights with giant statues who are devilishly hard to kill. Of course no level-headed chaps, or indeed chapesses as two of the brigade are ladies, would do this for free, so there’s plenty of loot and relics to be found which, as the narrator points out, “Would look lovely in a museum…. or our bank accounts.”
The Brigade each come armed with a main weapon with limited ammo that can be refilled at some damn handy ammo crates, a perky side arm, and a mystic amulet that bestows a special ability. These spooky devices must be charged with the souls of the dead, so it’s rather fortunate that there are swarms of the decrepit blighters around every corner.
This being the 1930’s, which is absolutely yonks ago, the weapons are unrefined beasts. The automatic weapons have a large amount of recoil and spread which means precise shots are jolly difficult, and shotguns have a limited range and slow reload. Whilst this isn’t to much of a problem when slaying the masses of undead as they tramp towards you, it does mean the boss fights are a right bugger. Trying to hit a small glowing spot on a rampaging statue of Anubis with machine gun is harder than trying to teach an uncouth oik which knife should be used for the fish course; it’s dashed frustrating.
Luckily that’s not all the firepower they have. There are suitcases that will bestow all manner of spunky firearms. These include flamethrowers and experimental rifles, but these have limited ammo and will cost you some precious loot. The Brigade will also find many traps in their path, but these can be turned to their advantage. Why shoot your enemy when you can slice them to bits with spinning blades of death, or toast them to a crisp with some well timed flames? Mystical stones may also be discovered and these can be embedded in to your weapons adding some rather fine abilities such as a the chance to freeze a pesky mummy or heal yourself with every kill.
Locked doors, laser puzzles, or that most dreaded of all barricades, wood, will all hinder our heroes, but even those who didn’t pass the Cambridge entrance exam should have no trouble working out the solution to these cunning conundrums. These can be very frustrating when one is playing online with a team who are not your chums and who refuse to speak the Queen’s English. Living in foreign parts is no excuse for that in my book, but many seem to disagree and may not even be polite enough to use a headset to communicate.
Your plucky reviewer was replaying a campaign mission which he had already completed with a team of random ruffians and we proceeded to a temple with one of the aforementioned laser puzzles. The heroic, and some might say ravishingly handsome, reviewer knew how to solve the puzzle, so he set forth aligning the stone, but on his way to the third stone the rapscallions began messing with stones and set them all off kilter! What followed was ten minutes of Benny Hill antics, running about and resetting the stones and the ruffians changing them as soon as he left the pedestal, culminating in this frustrated Englishman screaming obscenities down the headset along the lines of “Bloody well leave them alone!”
The scamps finally understood and let me complete the puzzle and we all moved forward to the mystical transportation device, but this requires all of the Brigade to be present, and as one of the ne’er-do-wells refused to join us the rest of the team could not progress. The writers of this tale, Rebellion, may need to look at these problems, as if you have one bad egg in your team who refuses to play by the rules they can ruin the whole experience. Locking the individual segments of puzzles in place when they’re correct could help, and also adding a rule that if the majority of your Brigade are waiting to progress at an impass, a timer of perhaps twenty seconds is given to the miscreant before they are mystically (and forcibly) transported to the rest of the team, that the rollicking tale might continue.
The adventure takes place through varied locations, all of which look rather spiffing and are chock-full with areas to explore and secret chambers to unlock. There are some particularly fine views in certain areas such as a gloomy wrecked pirate ship which also comes with the requisite undead pirates and timber shivering pirate captain mini-boss. Why are there pirates in a game about an Egyptian witch-queen? Well, why not? This is the 1930’s and anything goes.
The Brigade are a chatty bunch and includes the gruff cad Frank Fairburn and the astoundingly Lancastrian Gracie Braithwaite. They have with their own distinct personalities and will comment whilst performing certain deeds, but it’s the unnamed narrator who is the star of the show, quipping his way through the game and oft interrupting the cutscenes. Humour is very hard to get right in video games, but this narrator is jolly good and causes constant merriment and chuckles, although he does have an intense dislike for cats which may upset those who have feline companions. One has to wonder if players from lands other Blighty will understand the japes; they are as British as a nice cup of tea and cucumber sandwiches, so I enjoyed them immensely.
Although there are ancient potions that can be procured to give you exuberant health or resurrect you from the dead, Strange Brigade is one tough biscuit. Aside from the pernicious boss battles the game takes great delight in locking in you into an arena and throwing hundreds of enemies at you, so battles can drag on a little. As the game scales the number and power of enemies depending on how many plucky players there are, with four on your team certain areas can take upwards of fifteen minutes to clear which is just the wrong side of humdrum. That said the majority of the campaign is rip-roaring success and oodles of fun to play, whether alone or with pals.
Alongside the trepidatious campaign the chaps at Rebellion have included a horde mode where ghastly enemies attack in waves, and a time attack mode in which you can rack up huge scores with a multiplier and are given, for free, some of the best weapons in the game. The horde mode is the weakest of these, as much like the main game the battles can drag on for tad too long, but there’s never much threat. I managed to play continuously for over an hour and half with two other fine chaps on my team and only quit in order to write this here review, rather than the enemy proving too tough and beating us.
Strange Brigade is a jolly good wheeze. The 1930’s matinee cinema styling makes it unlike any other game on market and that’s a rare treat. The campaign, although dragging in a few spots, is just the right length and has replayability thanks to the many hidden treats to discover, while the score attack mode and horde modes are pleasant, if rather flimsy, distractions. Tuning the accuracy of the weapons would make me very chuffed, but as it stands this is a sterling effort from Rebellion. I look forward to the further thrilling adventures of (dramatic pause) The Strange Brigade! Tally ho!
Version Tested: PlayStation 4
Also available on Xbox One and PC