Very few co-op centric titles that focus on fun, where experimentation is encouraged, present themselves in an overly serious fashion. Of course, this could simply be because presentation that is more inviting and colourful sets the scene for just that – having fun while messing about with whatever mechanics are available. Strange Brigade from developer Rebellion, the studio behind the Sniper Elite series, presents a bright, camp, and vivid swashbuckling Indiana Jones-inspired world come to life. In a third-person shooter where teaming up with friends to take on hordes of supernatural creatures encourages experimentation. Oh, and it’s a lot of fun too.
With the title referring to its colourful cast of playable characters, that are all surprisingly fleshed out in terms of personality and look - the Strange Brigade are a heroic or rag-tag group of adventurers that have a long-standing history of working against the clock to stop some sort of supernatural threat. From a presentation standpoint, Strange Brigade is light and breezy, drawing inspiration from the same serials and comics that the likes of Steven Spielberg and George Lucas used to bring the worlds of Indiana Jones and Star Wars to life. The actual story it tells, over the course of its nine distinct levels, may not be all that memorable – but a lot of the set pieces are.
Excitement drawn from regular action-packed battles against overwhelming odds and the large-scale arena fights set against the backdrop of Egyptian ruins or underground caverns – happening at regular intervals. Even if, over time, the encounters begin to feel the same. A statement that adversely affects the replayability of Strange Brigade, and the need or want to tackle missions on a higher or more challenging difficulty.
With a cast of likable character to choose from and weapons to unlock in the form of rifles, shotguns, and automatic firearms born from treasure and gold earned after each mission there’s an initial feeling that there might be more to Strange Brigade than the competent and well-executed surface level combat might hint at. There is, and there isn’t. With traps and explosives readily strewn throughout each level, ranging from fire pits to spinning blades, incorporating them into combat adds immeasurably to the fun that comes with taking on a horde of the mummified undead. Also, the improved weapons ranging from powerful shotguns and rifles with added augmentation in the form of gems that can freeze or set enemies on fire in addition to other bonuses, are both well executed and thought out.
The only real problem is that the depth and customisation to the arsenal you can take into battle, in addition to the use of traps and the environment itself during combat, lasts about as long as a single playthrough. Additional horde and score attack modes are fun for a round or two but with Strange Brigade, once you complete all the missions, there’s no real incentive to come back. Or replay stages to find missing collectibles or take on a greater challenge. Now, this in and of itself is not a monumental failure – in fact, after completing all the stages cooperatively there can be a sense of contentment. Like after eating a decent meal at a suitably fine restaurant. An experience you do not regret in the slightest - even if some of the boss fights felt a little cheap or overly difficult due to an overly sensitive and ridiculously precise hit-box. Err, if one of the dishes was a tad too spicy.
Ahem. There’s also a sense that Strange Brigade was kind of designed to be experienced in this way. As an entertaining but finite third-person action shooter that works best when played with a small group of friends. Even when looking at the playable characters, outside of special abilities and traits that are different, they don’t drastically alter the experience enough to warrant switching up personalities up between stages. Choosing which member of the Strange Brigade to play as is for the most part a visual decision. Perhaps a deeper class-based system with character specific weapons and some progression of some-kind would have been enough to add some weight to the experience.
But even thinking that much into it takes away what Strange Brigade does well in an age full of games as services and the often-manipulative ways in which content and practices to keep your attention play out. Sometimes a fun weekend is enough. A short time spent in a faraway land taking care of business only to return home and return to your daily life. Much in the same way we suspect the Strange Brigade must feel after a long and involved mission.