Strange Brigade: A Co-op Shooter Homage to 1930s Adventure Serials

Strange Brigade brings 1930s adventure serials to four-player cooperative multiplayer. We've played the game and this is what we thought...

A band of armed adventurers scours lush jungles, haunted caves, and Egyptian ruins in Rebellion’s co-op shooter Strange Brigade, which launches for PS4, Xbox One, and PC on Aug. 28. Set in the 1930s and heavily inspired by the action-adventure serials of the time (complete with a narrator employing a cheeky British accent), the game sees you and up to three friends search for treasure, solve puzzles, and survive by the skin of your teeth as hordes of monsters and undead threaten to make your exotic, picturesque surroundings your final resting place.

I had the opportunity to take an early, extended look at the game with Rebellion’s head of creative, Tim Jones, and another member of the media. The session wasn’t the full four-player experience, but I came away knowing one thing for certain: When it was time for the demo to stop, I was ready for more monster-mowing.

There are four characters to choose from: Gracie Braithwaite, Nalangu Rushida, Frank Fairburne, and Archimedes de Quincey, each of whom brings a unique skill set into battle. You assemble a loadout of a big gun, sidearm, grenades, and a supernatural amulet that grants the player a powerful, flashy-looking attack that takes time to recharge. There are cutscenes that dovetail into each stage that see the team briefed for their impending mission, and while the story seems slight from what I saw, the game’s wit and charm really shine through in these little vignettes.

Before properly tackling the game with my trusty teammates, I was thrust into a single-player campaign mission called “Harbin’s Dig Site” to get a feel for the controls and fall into the flow of gameplay. The game is quite pretty, with a stylized cartoon aesthetic that isn’t at all kiddish but still communicates that the game doesn’t take itself so seriously. The stage’s ancient ruins and dig site scaffolding are detailed and varied, and the game’s lighting effects make the sunbaked world’s nooks and crannies pop. The fantastical ‘30s milieu is reinforced constantly by the narrator (Glen McCready), whose flowery commentary echoes the bold British charm of old serials like The Lost Horizon and The Lost City.

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Combat and movement are smooth and will feel natural to those familiar with third-person shooters, and the variety of tasks you’re presented with are pretty simple. Shoot baddies, solve puzzles (some optional), scoop up treasure, repeat. But what’s unique about the combat is the way the environment can play into your strategy. There are deadly traps strewn across most areas (spinning blades, swinging blades, exploding barrels, and the oh-so-classic ground spikes), which when activated at the right moment can cause a brutal chain reaction that obliterates several foes at once. You need to watch your step as well, and luckily Rebellion has outfitted players with a roll button, which got me out of many a sticky situation.

After my solo outing, I joined up with my two fellow brigadiers to play a level from later in the game in co-op, “Cut-Throat Caverns,” which saw us fend off skeletal pirates in a much darker, more atmospheric setting. This level ramps up the enemy count tremendously, and despite having three times the firepower on my side this go-around, the claustrophobia of being outnumbered was even more palpable. As a team, we weren’t quite clicking like the Golden State Warriors, but it was clear to see that with practice a group of friends could wreck shop by coordinating battlefield movements, herding enemies like cattle, and capitalizing on the deathly opportunities the trap-laden levels afford.

Speaking of traps, Jones then launched us into Score Attack mode, which plops you into an arena even more dense with death toys than the campaign stages and sends swarms of enemies at you and your crew. We never quite hit our stride here (there was an uncomfortable stretch of time when there were no enemies in sight and me and my fellow journalist felt a bit clueless as to what to do next), but that very well may be chocked up to our lack of experience with the game.

The final mode shown was Horde Mode, which is just what you’d expect from a game of Strange Brigade’s ilk. A flood of mummies and monsters descends on you and your teammates, and if you can survive the attack, you’re afforded a break to purchase weapons and upgrades with gold you’ve collected from your fallen foes, and then the levee breaks again. This mode was great fun, and like I said, when the demo came to an end, my trigger finger was still mighty itchy.

Strange Brigade is a promising late-summer pastime for gamers with an appetite for destruction and three like-minded comrades. After the game’s launch, Rebellion will be offering a season pass that includes monthly content, a three-part campaign, and new heroes and weapons to choose from. Stay tuned to Den of Geek for our full review.

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