Whenever a horde mode shooter is released its inevitable that it will be compared with Valve’s Left 4 Dead (2008) series. Many have tried to live up to that name and have failed in their attempts, but with its Indiana Jones/Tomb Raideresque setting Strange Brigade just might be onto something.
Strange Brigade is a third-person horde mode shooter game from the makers of the Sniper Elite (2005) series, Rebellion. Playing as one of four characters, you and the rest of the Strange Brigade travel to Egypt in an attempt to discover secrets of and eliminate the recently arisen ancient evil queen, Seteki. Along the way there’s plenty puzzles to be solved and loot to be found, and of course hordes of zombies, mummies, skeletons, and many other creatures from the depths of the ancient world to take out.
The Strange Brigade is a band of adventurers working for the Department of Antiquities. The group makes an unlikely team with Professor Archimedes De Quincy, an archaeologist and scholar; Gracie Braithwaite a tough Northern factory worker; Nalangu Rushida, an African Tribeswoman; and Frank Fairburne, a renowned sharpshooter (and reference to Karl Fairburne from Sniper Elite) making up the treasure hunting-zombie killing team known as the Strange Brigade. Before you start a mission, you choose which character you play as but it doesn’t really matter too much who you choose as they all play more or less the same. You can choose which weapons and equipment you want so you can mix and match your favourite gun to your favourite character. The only real difference between characters is their special power, which are all similar anyways, and the entertaining comments that they make during missions. Character choice matters even less during multiplayer as you can choose any character regardless if someone else has already chosen them.
In terms of story Strange Brigade doesn’t really have much going on. There’s the basic plot of taking down Queen Seteki and her undead armies but other than a few pre-missions cut scenes there is no huge emphasis on this story, but given the genre of the game, a narrative driven experience isn’t something you’d expect. Since the game is set in the 1930s, the cut scenes match this and are in the form of a film you might see on an old pathescope projector and are voiced by a delightfully over the top narrator who also humorously narrates your progress through the game and gives you helpful tips on each level.
Across all eight levels there are various puzzles scattered around. Most of these are optional rewarding you with gold and collectables but every now and again you will come across an obstacle blocking your progress. Most mandatory puzzles require you to shoot a sequence of targets, sometimes within a time limit, to open a door or disable a trap. To collect relics, you will need to open a door by entering the correct combination, and you only get three attempts to do it. This isn’t a guessing game though as the combination for the door will be written somewhere on a nearby wall.
You will find collectables such as relics and gems locked away behind puzzle doors, but hidden around levels various documents, canopic jars, and cat idols can be found and collected. Documents contain letters and books that provide story details and character biographies. Finding canopic jars and relics will give you skills points that you can use to buy new amulets, gems can be used to upgrade your weapons, and collecting all six cat idols gives you access to a cat shrine that contains a lot s of gold as well as a golden cat statue. These cats can be difficult to find but if you listen closely you’ll hear a ‘meow’ when one is nearby. Less valuable collectables like documents can also be found in chests, but be careful as not every chest has a reward, instead some will treat you to a jump scare. At some point during the level you will come across a chest that requires gold to open. These chests contain special guns that are significantly more powerful. You will be given a set amount of ammo with these weapons and once it’s gone you will drop the weapon. While saving your gold to purchase a new weapon can be tempting, but it’s worth your while spending it to open these chests especially when you’re about to face a horde on undead.
What really sets characters apart from each other is their unique amulets, which is what allows them to use their special powers. Some amulets are more useful that others, many can be used to clear hordes of enemies, while others turn them into chickens. To use a special power, you must first charge your amulet which is done by absorbing the souls of dead enemies. Generally, this system works very well but when dealing with hundreds of enemies all at once you don’t always have the time to stop attacking to collect souls. Another issue with this system is that when playing multiplayer souls are not shared among the team, instead anyone can absorb the souls regardless of who killed the enemy. If you know your special powers and your levels well, and are playing with a good team you can think strategically about this and let the person whose special power is best suited to the level charge their amulet, however this system seems unlikely.
The inventory system in Strange Brigade is very simple and straight forward. When you begin a level you carry three weapons, a rifle, pistol, and an explosive projectile. Each character has their own signature weapons but these can be assigned to whichever character you like. The additional weapon that you can obtain during the level is added to your inventory but will be removed once all ammo has been used. Your secondary weapon, which is the pistol has unlimited ammo as does the explosives. However, similar to your character’s amulet, they need time to recharge and will become available again after around 20 seconds.
Strange Brigade is very much designed to be multiplayer. You can play through the whole campaign solo but you really will be alone as no AI teammates will join you. With all emphasis being on combat rather than the plot, the game suffers as a single player game. Shooting through hordes after hordes of enemies as a single character, with no NPC’s to help becomes very repetitive and on high difficulties, frustrating. When you go online the whole game experience changes. Playing with other people adds even more chaos to the already chaotic game. More enemies will come out to play and depending on how many players are in your party, twists get added to the puzzles so all players are involved.
While there is nothing particularly special that sets Strange Brigade apart from other horde mode shooters, the charm of its 1930s setting, creativity, and level design make it a very fun and strong multiplayer shooter.