If you ever have seen a serialized drama from the 20th century, more specifically ones set between the 30’s and 50’s, or even better, just watch Reefer Madness, then you’re familiar with their overly dramatic presentation, which usually comes from the narrator hyping the current episode, or teasing the next. That look and feel is how Rebellion is handling its new third person action shooter Strange Brigade, which puts up to four unique characters on a team to take on the game’s campaign mode.
I went hands-on with the game’s second campaign level while at E3 and had the help of the game’s Lead Designer Steve Bristow as he showed me what the gameplay is all about. Before we started the mission we had to choose a character, but for me there was only one choice, and that was Nalangu Rushida, who not only has an awesome name, but she could be one of the most unique looking video game characters I’ve ever seen. She looked like a Zulu warrior, complete with body scars to mark her accomplishments and African tribal garb. She just felt fresh in terms of her appearance, so I couldn’t help but choose her for the demo.
Like I mentioned earlier, the demo took place during the campaign’s second level. There were only two of us playing, so the enemy AI was scaled for our party-size, but if other players joined using the drop-in/drop-out feature, the enemies would have scaled back up. The level looked like a run down city from an ancient civilization, but we didn’t really have any objectives outside of blasting the hordes of enemies that crossed our path, or blocked it.
I appreciated the focus on just the gunplay and teamwork aspect of Strange Brigade, but there are some light puzzles to work through as well, so the gameplay isn’t just one shoot out after the other. For example, to open closed paths one of us would have to guide a laser onto an orb to create a chain of light that would open the door or whatever item was blocking our way forward. At all times though you’re being attacked by seemingly never ending waves of enemies, so the whole teamwork aspect of his game is critical because while someone is working on a puzzle, the other party members need to watch their back, or risk losing a party member to the hordes of pissed off bad guys looking to ruin the day.
I found the gunplay to be very tight feeling and responsive, plus you have plenty of different types of weapons to choose from throughout each mission. These can be found at supply drops, and can be upgraded at similar stations scattered throughout the campaign. You also have a special ability, which you can fire off after a meter gets filled by blowing away enemies. This is a core gameplay mechanic, because you have to absorb the souls of the dead to fill this meter, so you’re constantly switching your button inputs between shooting enemies and absorbing their souls, which makes the experience that much more frenetic. My character’s special attack involved her leaping in the air and dropping a super punch, which in turn would insta-kill anything in her radius. These moves can definitely save the day if you become overwhelmed by the copious amounts of enemies on screen at anyone time, so you must always make sure to be recharging them.
Blasting enemies with guns and your character’s power move aren’t the only way to kill them though, because Strange Brigade puts a heavy focus on using the environment to do your dirty work for you. For example, there are plenty of exploding barrels to shoot, or you could blast spinning blade traps on the ground to cut enemies down to size, or even shoot at swinging tree traps and other debris that can be dropped on their unsuspecting heads. I really appreciated the focus put on using the environment to your advantage, because it kept each and every firefight feeling dynamic, and not just another boring shooting gallery that games of this genre can start to feel like.
In addition to the gunplay and puzzles, Strange Brigade also features items to find throughout the level. In the demo I played we had to find crystal cats and shoot them in order to fully unlock the prize that awaits those willing to scour the environment for these shrines. We didn’t find all six of the cats, but Steve mentioned that they hid them very efficiently to promote replayability, so he expects most gamers will at first just consume the campaign gameplay, and then on subsequent runs they’ll branch out and do more exploring. I found this assessment to be true, because we were able to complete the level in about 25-30 minutes, so going back and trying it again to find more secrets wouldn’t be that much to ask of a gamer’s time.
While Strange Brigade isn’t doing anything wildly new with the third person shooter genre, its focus on co-op play and teamwork, as well as its setting definitely made an impression on me. The character of Nalangu Rushida has already become one of my favorite video game characters of all-time thanks to her radical appearance, so I’m eager to play the full game when it ships this August for PC, PS4, and Xbox One. Also, the way the story is told using elements from 30’s and 40’s TV serials does make the presentation interesting, so I’d like to see where the narrative goes.
You can get a visual idea on what I played at E3 by checking out the gameplay video below.
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