Strange Brigade review: More of the same, but in Egypt

Credit: Rebellion Developments
Credit: Rebellion Developments /

Strange Brigade stays true to Rebellion’s formula, almost to a fault.

Title: Strange Brigade
Developer: Rebellion Developments
Publisher: Rebellion Developments
Platforms: PlayStation 4 (version reviewed), PC, Xbox One
Release date: August 28, 2018

Every good game has some satisfying element one wouldn’t normally expect to be satisfying. In Rebellion Developments’s new game Strange Brigade, that element is the run animation. Push the thumbstick forward, and the camera pulls back as the characters break into a full sprint. It makes one want to run around just to see that animation.

Strange Brigade takes a tried-and-true third-person combat formula and transplants it to a pulpy, faux-serial 1930s Egypt replete with grainy interstitials and narration delivered with gusto and a stereotypical British accent by Glen McCready.

One might find the aesthetic grating in any other game, but Strange Brigade avoids overstaying its welcome by playing the aesthetic straight but not seriously. The narration often breaks the fourth wall, especially when players pause the game (a personal favorite is a request for two sugars in the narrator’s coffee).

Each of the playable characters is a standard dime novel trope painted with broad strokes; the “native” trained to hunt demons, the tough Rosie the Riveter stand-in who’s good with explosives, the grim veteran and the academic who seems just a little out of his comfort zone. Strange Brigade will add a fifth character at launch, but the character was unavailable to play at the time of review.

Each of the playable characters is a standard dime novel trope painted with broad strokes …

Outside material gives the characters more depth. Several authors wrote an anthology that more fully explores the characters’ histories, motivations and how they entered the Strange Brigade. These characters are not the only members of the Strange Brigade; the leader, Lady Imelda Webster is the Charlie to these Angels, only ever appearing by voice giving information and exposition and the first mission of the game is centered around a search for a lost member of the Brigade. What is clear is these four, Nalangu Rushia, Gracie Braithwaite, Frank Fairburne and Archimedes de Quincy, are the best.

strange brigade
Where we dropping boys? / Credit: Rebellion Developments /

Strange Brigade is a fairly standard third-person arena shooter; the nine-level campaign consists of closed-in spaces strung together with linear paths of varying length. There’s a mix of period-accurate and science fiction weapons for players to use along with magic powers (called “amulet powers”) players can activate once they kill enough enemies. The campaign throws hordes of enemies at players regardless of where they are in the level, leading to a feeling of sameness.

The game’s Horde and Score Attack modes split this loop into their own modes; Horde takes the arenas, and Score Attack lays claim to the linear paths and hallways. Neither Horde nor Score Attack bring enough new to the table or are different enough to call for more than a cursory exploration. Both take place in modified versions of campaign levels and either ramp up the difficulty too quickly or are too short to be worth the player’s time.

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  • Should players go off the beaten path, they can find relics that award new amulet powers for use. There are also canopic jars and cat statues to shoot that give augmentations for weapons, such as ricocheting bullets.

    The game’s amulet powers act as a form of crowd control, being able to kill several enemies at a time. These change from character to character and each is worthwhile enough to justify having each character in a four-player co-op session instead of each player playing the same character.

    Strange Brigade makes several smaller changes, but not all of them are for the better. One particularly annoying change is the game moving the character all the way to the side of the screen when players aim instead of keeping the character relatively centered. It can throw off players in the early going, and it’s something they might never get used to.

    Similarly, very few of the guns have scopes on them, preventing players from being able to get many long-range shots off. In particular, scopes would have been helpful on many of the rifles like the Westminster 1895. The base sensitivity is also rather floaty, and it feels like the reticle is never quite where players want it.

    The base gunplay is arcade-like but satisfying. The sound design helps drive this feeling home. The lighter weaponry emits a small ping with a stereotypical echo one might find in a Western and the heavier guns, such as shotguns and rifles, let off a plunk that sounds like the wood in the guns is slamming together.

    Each gun feels different, too. Players will find their favorites but situations change often enough they’ll be switching out guns at checkpoints on a regular basis. This is especially true when comparing solo and cooperative play; shotguns rule when playing solo where burst damage is king, but machine guns are preferable in co-op where sustainable damage is a requirement.

    strange brigade
    BOOM! / Credit: Rebellion Developments /

    That said, many of the stock guns feel weak to the point it might not be worth using them. Strange Brigade locks players in arenas with hordes of enemies so often grenades and amulet powers with a high area of effect damage become players’ first choices. Even the most powerful stock weapons can take three to four hits to kill some of the later enemies.

    With enemies swarming around players, they don’t exactly have the luxury of time to wait for a base enemy to take three shotgun blasts to the face. Melee is even preferable to stock weapons. It is at least consistent; one button press to knock enemies down and another to (literally) stomp their face in.

    Strange Brigade makes the mistake of making these weapons a little too powerful.

    The best weapons are locked in chests found through levels. These range from a flamethrower to a gun that shoots two bullets to a gun that (finally) has a scope on it. Strange Brigade makes the mistake of making these weapons a little too powerful. The weapons can’t be reloaded, so they’re only usable for a limited time but they’re so powerful it makes one wish the base weapons could’ve been a bit stronger.

    Similarly, Strange Brigade introduces enough new elements that it feels like Rebellion was given a mile and took a yard. The gameplay is good, but it skews too close to the developer’s norm to be truly great. After seven games with these base mechanics, Rebellion could’ve used this opportunity to expand upon them further or change them entirely.

    Strange Brigade’s difficulty scales well in co-op. On higher difficulties, the game feels like a genuine challenge no matter the number of players or combination of characters in a group. It hits the sweet spot between forcing each player to pull their weight and not being so hard as to be a slog. On easier difficulties, the game oscillates between pathetically easy and annoyingly hard.

    The game’s “puzzles” aren’t exactly stumpers. They always boil down to “see Thing A, shoot Thing B.” They felt more like arbitrary roadblocks than true challenges and were often the most frustrating part of the game, especially once the game throws time-based puzzles into the mix.

    Players should know exactly what they’re signing up for in Strange Brigade. The game is like Rebellion’s earlier series Sniper Elite and Nazi Zombie Army almost to a fault. After seven games using the same basic formula, one hopes Rebellion could have added more to make Strange Brigade stand out from the rest of their products.

    Strange Brigade stays close to Rebellion’s third-person formula but doesn’t add enough to it to be a truly great game. The pulpy, humor delivered with a wink and nudge saves the game from being a slog.. Rebellion Developments. . Strange Brigade. 6.5

    A copy of this game was provided to App Trigger for the purpose of this review. All scores are ranked out of 10, with .5 increments. Click here to learn more about our Review Policy.