Back in the days of the PlayStation 2 it used to be the case that most shooters followed a very simple structure, passing through set levels to shoot the bad guys and kill the bosses. This is something that progressed a little bit into the following era with the likes of Uncharted and Gears of War, and now Strange Brigade is looking to bring us back to that straightforward level-based style of shooter, and what's more is that three buddies can come along for the ride.
It's true that Strange Brigade feels like a game that could've been on the PS2, much like Rebellion's other recent title Rogue Trooper Redux, but this is most certainly a PS4 game, as you can tell by the visuals. The game follows a group of four adventurers who are looking to take down an ancient evil in Egypt, and the environments we get to explore are nothing short of lush, be they the crumbling ruins and jungles above or the gaping caverns below.
Strange Brigade is set in the 1930s and follows these four characters who have all been assembled to combat the ancient powers of Seteki the Witch Queen, and as such the whole thing is framed like an old grainy film charting our foray into the lands of mystery. Black and white cutscenes preface all of the levels, and the best part about this whole experience is that we have a frightfully British narrator giving us all the details as we go. It's always hard to get games to be genuinely funny, but Rebellion has made this narrator eccentric without being annoying, and his quips actually take the entertainment to the next level.
Each level is a contained chapter in your epic journey, and as such has its own stats and collectibles so you can cry at how much you missed at the end of it. These include six blue cat statues, which you need to shoot to open a door to treasure at the end of the level, as well as relics and other bits of loot for the completionists out there. Like arcade-style games such as Devil May Cry you also get a better score depending on how well you dispatch the monsters that come your way, so the replayability aspect is certainly there.
Speaking of monsters, you also get increasingly difficult opposition as your adventure progresses, so while you start off with undead falling meekly under your bullets, soon there are giant scorpions, minotaurs, spear-throwers, and teleporting ruffians to bother you. That's without mentioning the bosses that Seteki keeps summoning to cause a fuss, and the various points where you have to fend off hordes of bad guys before you can progress.
Don't worry though, because there are plenty of ways to get these miscreants out of your hair. Of course, there's a smorgasbord of automatic weapons, including long-range rifles, and shotguns, and you can unlock more as you get precious gold, all the way up to the Audley Burst Rifle, the most expensive weapon in the campaign. You also have a trusty pistol by your side, a grenade of your choosing, and an ability in your supernatural amulet, which lets you unleash powers like making enemies explode once you gather enough energy from enemies.
As if all that firepower wasn't enough, there are even special weapons to get out of chests in the levels, including explosive crossbows and super-powered rifles, which pack a meaner punch than your usual gear. Gems can be acquired in the levels too, giving advantages to your main weapons like extra damage for headshots and sending enemies bursting into flames.
Using the weapons at your disposal is a lot of fun, as the shooting feels weighty and responsive, especially when you hear the crunch as a headshot is delivered. In fact, the tiny details in Strange Brigade really heighten the action, like the hands at the edge of the screen indicating enemies are nearby and the little meows to alert you when blue cat collectibles are in the vicinity.
Perhaps the most satisfying thing to do though is to activate traps, as blades can swing around to slice 'n' dice the undead, barrels can explode, and swinging axes can carve folks apart. These all help with your points too, and that moment you get nine undead killed with a single trap is really gratifying, especially since the tougher adversaries require you to pump a lot of lead into them before they go down.
It's not all about bullets and death in the Strange Brigade world though, as there are plenty of puzzles to leave you scratching your head as well. Most of these revolve around looking at the symbols on the door and searching for a sequence to activate them in the nearby area, but there are also Bioshock-esque pipe challenges too. They're not too difficult, but they add to this whole aesthetic of an early-twentieth-century yarn and help give a bit more for the completionists.
Perhaps the most important thing about Strange Brigade, however, is that all of the above can be enjoyed with four players, which works twofold. It's all about the keyword of 'coopetition', and on the one hand this means that you and your three friends can use jolly cooperation to dismantle all of the assaults that Seteki throws at you, but on the other hand you're all thinking about how many points and how much gold you can collect at any one time. Might you leave the pack to look for loot as your friends defend themselves? We'll leave that up to you. Perhaps a trap might fall onto your own teammates? Who knows.
As such we were reminded of the great co-operative fun we've had in iconic games like Left 4 Dead, and with any game of this ilk, you'll need a colourful cast. It's a good thing that we've got a diverse lineup here then, as all four have drastically different personalities, backstories, accents, and abilities, so there's something for everyone as you get your friends together in Egypt.
You don't just have to take down Seteki in the campaign though, as there are two other modes to keep you on your adventurous toes, one of which is a horde mode that sees you defend yourself against waves of monsters while simultaneously using your gold to get bigger and better weapons. Then there's score attack, which sees you work to get the highest score in the time given, using traps and trickery to do so.
While all of this provided a jolly good laugh, it wasn't totally without fault, as we noticed at times the movement left us vulnerable, be it getting caught on small objects in the environment or the inexplicable little pause our character did after exiting a dodge. It's worth noting too that it's a roll of the dice where your throwable item will land if you're not holding the throw button to manually aim, as it could land where you aim it or get thrown miles further.
Don't take this as a sign that there was a lot to be down on with Strange Brigade though, because our minor gripes didn't stop us having a hoot and a half with Rebellion's fine shooter. It's simple in essence, and that's the beauty of it because you and your friends can focus on the shooting and the looting, which is all that really matters. We didn't have time to miss the bells and whistles that other modern games come with, because we were knee-deep in undead monsters, and we'd recommend everyone and their dog pay a visit to Egypt and see for yourself what we mean.