Rebellion announced their co-op shooter Strange Brigade earlier this month, taking players to the British Colonies in the 1930s so they can shoot mythical creatures. More recently, at E3, we got the chance to play the game for ourselves to see if we could not only survive, but get the treasures that awaited us.
Before we set off on our adventure we had to choose between one of four adventurers, and one of us chose Professor Archimedes de Quincy, and another chose Frank Fairburne. The former was a relatively balanced character, alternating between a semi-automatic pistol and a submachine gun, whereas Fairburne was more of a marksman (must be that he's related to Karl from the Sniper Elite series). Each of these characters not only has their unique way of playing but also their own visual style as well, so we appreciated this individuality.
We then headed off into our adventure, the demo of which took place entirely in a jungle of the Colonies, reminiscent of Mayan or Aztec regions. As you kill smaller enemies like zombies you gradually advance to face tougher enemies like mummies who can raise allies from the ground, as well as bigger boss-type enemies like a giant with a bull's head. Once these are all dispatched, paths that were previously blocked open up for you to explore, opening new arenas in which you fight more bad guys.
These arenas allow interesting options for gameplay, as well as certain risks, especially considering the traps. Throughout each of them are glowing orbs which you can shoot to activate environmental hazards, such as spinning blades and spikes that come out of the ground, but there are risks associated with this too, as these won't only affect you but also teammates. There was one incident, for example, where one of our team was casually minding their own business, when suddenly spikes came up from the ground to kill us and everything around us. When we looked over at our teammate's screen, we could see that they had been the cause of the commotion (and they had killed themselves as well). Care should be taken when operating these traps, then, for this very reason, but if they're used effectively they can definitely help you with your monster-slaying.
Another aspect of the game that caught our interest were the powers that each character possessed. As we killed more and more enemies and hit them with our weapons, a bar at the bottom of the screen built up before we were allowed to use it by pressing A (using an Xbox One controller on PC). For Archimedes de Quincy this was a fireball attack that split into little fireballs that homed in on enemies, with Fairburne instead having a dash ability to knock enemies away. We weren't expecting the supernatural theme of the game to extend to the playable characters as well, so this was a surprise, albeit a pleasant one, as these abilities provided some added firepower in tricky situations.
To keep things fresh and interesting, Rebellion has placed weapon boxes around the map at regular intervals, allowing players to invest in different weapons should they so choose. One of our highlights from the E3 demo was a shotgun by the name of Krakatoa, which did a good job of sending enemies to their death, and it's worth noting that this was a special weapon too, so had a separate slot to the main weapon and pistol, but although this provided a lot of bullets, we still had to be careful about running out of ammo, something that happened a few times. Luckily there are ammo bags scattered around as well, but the point still stands that care needs to be taken to make every shot count.
Arguably the standout aspect of the game, however, is its style, as it parodies Imperial attitudes to the colonies as well as 1930s film tropes, producing this over-the-top product with a frightfully British narrator that details events as they happen. All of this is very well orchestrated and produces a lot of laughs, but we'd like to see the protagonists themselves get more involved with this too, as they were silent in the demo we played, being no more than a vehicle for the player to control.
The visuals play into this as well, as the opening and the cutscenes run like an old film in black and white and with cheesy titles. The levels themselves, however, show a certain level of polish and are clearly influenced by old tales of adventures in these far-off places, as well as modern adventures like Indiana Jones. The jungles are lush, the caves are filled with spooky monsters, and there are gold artefacts laying around everywhere, and while these attitudes to non-European countries were incredibly problematic when they were portrayed by artists 100 years ago, this game pulls it off with such obvious exaggeration and sarcasm that it never borders on offensive. What we will say, though, is that a bit more variety would be appreciated; all we saw was jungle-based settings, and some new colours and environments would be cool.
One criticism we would mention of Strange Brigade, much like with Sniper Elite (a game that the former very much reminds us of in terms of third-person action and visual style), is that shooting is great and satisfying at mid- to long-range, but when enemies got in your face, as they so often did, it became increasingly difficult to hit them, something that poses more of a problem here with the hordes of enemies rather than in Sniper Elite. This fiddly aiming meant running away was preferable compared to tackling enemies up close and personal, but we would have liked some better close range combat for those sticky situations when you might be backed into a corner or something.
The greatest testament to Strange Brigade's quality, though, is that when the demo came to an end we were hungry for more, to see where this new and dangerous land would lead and what treasure awaited us. The co-op nature of the experience makes what's already a fun and light-hearted yarn into a really gripping adventure, one that is bolstered by a number of abilities, weapons, and settings. We hope to see more of this from the game as it progresses, with perhaps a bit more variety sprinkled in to make it even better.