Strange Brigade Review

By Mark Delaney, 4 months ago
While some games aim to challenge what you thought you knew about dramatic storytelling or innovative gameplay, plenty of others exist just for simple, no-frills fun. Strange Brigade is one such game. While it has problems that keep it from being great, the simple formula is an appealing one, usually made better with co-op, and it never tries to be anything more than a mindless good time, which it does quite well.

28/08/2018 - Carousel

Strange Brigade gets its name from the troop of tomb raiding adventurers from which you and up to three co-op partners choose characters in this third-person shooter from the creators of the Sniper Elite and Zombie Army series. Those who have played those games will find a lot of shared DNA in Strange Brigade, but the differences are numerous enough that this latest effort stands pretty well on its own. Across nine different campaign levels, plus additional Horde and Score Attack modes, players are tasked with scrambling around lush ruins filled with treasure, treachery, and teamwork, all narrated by a humorous host more alliterative than this sentence.

Each of the four starter characters (plus one paid character currently free at launch) plays differently, but these differences are very slight. One character runs a bit faster, another has a bit more health. Overall, what you're choosing when you pick a character is your preferred voicework and palette swap. Any of the game's weapons can be used by any of the characters. The most important way these characters differ is in which relic powers they each have available. These are powers you build up with kills during a level and unleash at times of your choosing when charged. Each character has one unlocked to start and you can collect exclusive new powers for each character as you explore the full gamut of levels.

Whichever game mode you're playing, the gameplay loop doesn't change all that much. Campaign mode has you moving through levels just as Score Attack does, with the only difference being in Score Attack, every player is given a score for their performance so the cooperative gameplay turns more competitive. Horde mode is also the now standard fare of surviving wave after wave for as long as you can. A "round" is considered 15 survived waves and they get very difficult as you go. Playing it with fewer than three players will be an enormous challenge. It's a rewarding feeling when you do succeed for that reason.

Screens

Even in the campaign levels, you'll occasionally run into horde-like sections, and along with the one-note aesthetic of (albeit gorgeous) tan ruins shrouded in vines seen in every level, it can all feel a bit too samey at times. Boss battles and simple yet enjoyable puzzle rooms offer welcome changes of pace, although it rarely falls shy of fun even with so much of it being unremarkable. The biggest problem with the game is one that could be patched, but for now it's quite annoying.

Collecting gold and different relics is a big part of the experience, but this loot is not shared and it makes the teamwork feel competitive more often than it should, which is any time you're not in Score Attack. There can be a sense, in some lobbies, of people working together only to meet their own goals, like one player busy with enemies is good for the supposed partner who is off solving puzzles and gathering all the gold. At the best times, it's a game that reminds you how co-op basically makes everything better, but it does have some moments where it manages to make it less enjoyable to share the adventure.

This may all sound quite damning of Strange Brigade, but it remains fun despite these problems. It's the type of game that never takes itself seriously and demands you do the same. The story is campy and at times even a bit clever, if a bit dad joke adjacent. The shooting is fun and the wide range of enemy types is extremely strong. The game mixes them in quite well, with large herds of enemies often representing upwards of five or more different kinds of enemies that must be crowd-controlled with agility and precision. Played with a reasonable crew willing to communicate and split the loot, it's a blast, an arcade-like experience that lets you drop in and have fun no matter the level or mode that's being played.

Announcement Screens 10

The achievement list requires you do a bit of everything, including gather all collectibles, survive a round of Horde mode, play with every character, and achieve various milestones like types of kills and number of enemies killed. Like a lot else with the game, the list is a whole bunch of stuff you've seen before and that's okay. It won't take very long to complete so long as you can find the collectibles and a few people have already done so.

Check out our Best Xbox Third Person Shooters Available in 2018 article for a compilation of other great games in this genre.

Summary

Strange Brigade is proud to be simple and it works. In its simplicity and familiarity comes a lot of fun to be had. Co-op makes most things better, and that's usually true here as well, aside from an issue where loot isn't shared and can turn allies into competitors. Puzzles seem designed to slow you but never halt you and thus they aren't that interesting. The same can be said for repetitive objectives and visuals. It reads like a laundry list of problems, and yet it remains a lot of fun anyway thanks to strong enemy variety and a frantic pace to the action. If you're looking for a co-op shooter that doesn't demand a lot of you other than good aim and a few good friends, Strange Brigade is a smart choice.
3.5 / 5
Strange Brigade
Positives
  • Great enemy variety
  • Simple, frantic fun and usually much better in co-op
  • Horde mode is a great and well-balanced challenge
Negatives
  • Poor level, puzzle, and objective variety
  • Loot isn't shared, which lets some teammates get greedy
Ethics Statement
The reviewer spent 10 hours as a member of the Strange Brigade, punching mummies, shooting zombies, and collecting 21 of 41 achievements for 345 gamerscore. An Xbox One review code was provided by the publisher.
Please read our Review and Ethics Statement for more information.
Mark Delaney
Written by Mark Delaney
Mark is a Boston native now living in Portland, Oregon. He's the Editorial Manager on TA, loves story-first games, and is the host of the community game club TA Playlist. Outside of games he likes biking, sci-fi, the NFL, and spending time with his family. He almost never writes in the third person.