Strange Brigade is a bizarrely appropriate name for this game. Set in the 1930s, you and up to three of your compatriots from old Blighty travel to Egypt to take part in a third-person shooter that pits you against hordes of ghastly ghouls, magical mummies, shambling skeletons and, of course, your standard run-of-the-mill zombies.
If you found that last sentence exhausting, you’re in for a whale of a time. Rebellion Developments’s creation certainly is a strange one. The best way to frame it would be like Left 4 Dead, but with worse shooting, a weird magic power mechanic and the worst British accents you have ever heard. Given that Rebellion is based here in the UK, this is particularly egregious.
Before we examine whether the game is any good, lets focus on the story and narration. The story is, to all intents and purposes, non-existent. In a nutshell, you are one of four ‘unique’ characters, playing either solo or online as a group. Of these four characters, only one sounds British, and amusingly enough, she’s basically just Rosie the Riveter — the US World War 2 poster — but with a thick northern accent. Sadly, there is no point playing as her because the only character who is even remotely useful is the professor who can see the collectables the other characters can’t, due to his innate magical powers. The other characters have their pros and cons, but they’re so bland you could be forgiven for thinking it’s just a skin change.
As you and the Strange Brigade traipse through a variety of tombs and temples, your narrator will remind you constantly that you are a member of the Strange Brigade, and that nothing is too difficult for the Strange Brigade because of how plucky you all are. When he’s not doing that, he’s cracking wise about the virtues of colonialism and how it lines his pockets, or otherwise trying (and failing) to be funny.
The problem is that he simply doesn’t shut up — every time you pause the game, he’s there telling you that he’ll wait while you answer the door, or he’s asking if you’re putting if you’re putting the kettle on. Tally back old chap — you’re getting in the way of the game. Annoyingly, he also talks over the audio exposition from the characters you want to listen to. Case in point: you’ve just got through a skirmish and your radio crackles into life. Your boss is telling you that the witch queen has been resurrected and is going to take over the world. You uncork a bottle of health potion because you’re on low life, and as an adult you have mastered the art of listening to people and drinking at the same time. Suddenly, the booming voice of the narrator starts talking about how much he likes Earl Grey. But wait, there’s more! Your character then gets in on the caricaturing and says something pithy over the top of the one person who can provide any exposition here. You have three characters talking at once, and no clue what on Earth is going on.
“Ah-ha!”, I hear you cry in terrible old-timey British accents! “You can just follow the subtitles, old chap!” Alas, I retort — they’re at such a small font that you can’t read them from way back on the sofa. They aren’t drop-shadowed, so you can’t read them against the dusty soil. Even the diaries and such you pick up has such small text on them, you’re never going to bother reading them — I didn’t have patience for this playing single-player, so good luck to anyone who’s trying to pick the game apart with three impatient people online pushing you into the next checkpoint! This is important because once you checkpoint certain areas, you’re locked out of exploring the bits you’ve just walked through. What makes exploration more exciting? Certainly not having the option to explore taken away from you.
The delivery of exposition is my biggest criticism of the game — somehow worse than the narrator himself. Walking through a zombie filled tomb, breaking through magical puzzle walls that a 6-year-old could figure out, you push the lid off a dusty wooden box with an ancient stone scarab embedded in the side, only to find a sheet of A4 telling your backstory. Well, there goes the poorly crafted immersion that the game has put virtually no effort into building — back to shooting all the things, I guess.
So if we strip out the story, is it worth playing as a simple Left 4 Dead-like? Sadly, no — although it is a very pretty game, and the scenery looks amazing, the Strange Brigade is pretty boring. You are effectively on infinite ammo at all times, which removes the difficulty; the narrator ruins any semblance of tension; and the aforementioned puzzles are extremely simplistic — the same plumber/pipe puzzles we’ve seen for the last 20 years, joined by shooting things in the correct (and often very obvious) order. You just keep pressing forward, shooting things and hoping for silence.
Melee combat is awful — your characters can’t aim, and will often miss the barrel you’re trying to smash right in front of their face, and the game’s economy is just bizarre. You can shoot things to get gold (even pigeons drop 50 gold), which you use to buy guns. At certain locations you can get a random special weapon for 500 gold, though it’s important to note that you can only carry one at a time. Buying a second one replaces the first — though frustratingly, there’s no warning of this. If you get through a level with surplus gold, you can use it to buy new weapons for your character’s initial loadouts. These weapons are shared between the four characters, so don’t worry about levelling up one more than the other — the skins really are the biggest difference if you’re not the professor.
There is loads more I could complain about — the run animations are bad, the trophy names are so long they don’t fit on the screen and the humour is so try hard that it just falls flat. I cannot, in good faith, recommend this game to anyone. Save yourself the best part of £30 and just go play one of the Left 4 Dead games instead.
*Code kindly provided by the publisher for review*
- It’s pretty to look at
- You will never forget the name of the game, because you’re reminded once every five minutes
- Pretty much everything, but first and foremost,
- The narrator ruins the game
- The shooting side of combat is dull and the melee side is just awful
- The characters are bland and the background story is going to be read/heard by almost no one
- I have never wanted a cup of tea less in my life