I’ve always felt a bit of a gap in the market that was left when Left 4 Dead wasn’t ported over to the current generation of consoles. Games where you can play solo or with friends, across some story scenarios, against relentless hordes of enemies. Strange Brigade is a game that evokes that same kind of feeling that Left 4 Dead was but mixes it with a rather appealing pastiche of the best bits of the Uncharted games and Indiana Jones films. The result is a game that’s better than it has any right to be but also slightly derivative.
Strange Brigade does have a story but it’s not the strongest aspect of the game. Around 4000 years ago, Africa was ruled by a barbaric queen known only as Seteki. Eventually, with the way she was running things, Seteki’s people overthrew her and sealed her in a tomb. Fast forward to 1930 and an archaeologist unwittingly unleashes her vengeful spirit. With no other options, the British government sends in The Strange Brigade to investigate and hopefully defeat Seteki.Yeah, it’s not the most groundbreaking story, but it’s surprisingly self-aware of how goofy the whole thing is. For the most part, Strange Brigade is presented like a cheesy adventure film from the 50s, complete with black and white, grainy looking cutscenes and a so-bad-its-good dry and sarcastic narrator.
The most important thing to highlight about Strange Brigade from the get-go is that it can be a pretty enjoyable experience when playing solo, for sure, but shines the most when playing with friends. Structured almost like an Uncharted game, but minus the massive spectacle, the game has you exploring exotic ruins and similarly ancient locales while you take on hordes of the undead. It’s a simple concept, but if I had to make a shallow comparison, it’s Indiana Jones meets Left 4 Dead. And that’s pretty great.Despite this, there were times where the game felt a little bit monotonous and I’d have to take a break after finishing a level. The pacing isn’t even that bad – the game is constantly throwing new enemies at you, forcing you to change up your approach in some of the most intense of firefights. There’re even some cool boss encounters too. But overall the general flow of the game, even when playing with a friend, can be a bit grating.
There’s about ten or so levels to get through, with each taking about an hour to an hour and a half to complete. Most levels require the player to simply clear a few waves of enemies before moving on to the next area, but it’s all the extra distractions that makes Strange Brigade a little bit more unique. Every level is designed to be open and encourages exploration, which means you can easily spend more than an hour in each level tracking down collectibles, and they’re usually hidden behind some satisfying riddles to solve too.That’s not to say that Strange Brigade is an open world game – it isn’t. Rather it’s a game where you’re bound to run through a level and not see everything that level has to offer unless you’re heavily exploring every nook and cranny. Some of the extra collectibles are hidden behind some pretty ingenious riddles and some are brain numbingly easy too, but you’ll want to keep an eye out to gather as many collectibles as you can.
Collectibles are important because they’re directly linked to your skill points – completing a set of relics from one level will grant you a skill point to unlock a new amulet ability for your characters. These abilities might be a powerful shockwave attack to relieve pressure during more intense fights, or simply launches an attack that homes in and targets five or more enemies. Due to how powerful they are, you’ll only be able to use them after killing a certain amount of enemies and absorbing their soul to fill your amulet.Before you choose each level you’ll also choose which member of the Strange Brigade you’ll be playing as. Each of them have specific “strengths” which differentiates them from one another. These are minor perks but picking the one that better fits with your playstyle is probably a good idea – some have reduced cooldown on explosives, others naturally move faster, while some hit harder when pulling off headshots or with their melee attack. Your equipment carries across all characters and can be customised or swapped out before beginning a level or at certain points during a level too.
Perhaps the most surprising thing about Strange Brigade is just how good it looks. From the moment I was thrown into the first level I was taken aback at how dense and rich the plant life looked, and how much detail was packed into the ruins, temples and caves that you explore.It’s not quite as detailed as a game like Uncharted was but given how hectic it can get during some of the more intense battles with minimal slowdown, Strange Brigade is a looker. The art direction helps here too, which does err on the side of generic but is still strong and consistent throughout.
THE XBOX ONE VERSION OF THIS GAME WAS PLAYED ON AN XBOX ONE X FOR THE PURPOSE OF THIS REVIEW. DIGITAL REVIEW CODE WAS PROVIDED BY THE PUBLISHER.
Mixing the best parts of Left 4 Dead and adventure epics like Indiana Jones and Uncharted, Strange Brigade is better than it has any right to be. Enjoyable solo or with mates, the puzzles and the open level design gives the game replayability, but the pacing and the derivative art direction stop it from being immensely compelling.