Why Strange Brigade is Xbox One's best upcoming indie shooter

Rebellion's upcoming cooperative third-person shooter, Strange Brigade is built on familiar foundations but still finds its own ground in the space. After most recently topping its established portfolio with series like Sniper Elite, the studio has brought forward its learnings for a more action-driven adventure.

Strange Brigade promises to take players on adventures across northern Africa, embarking on fantasy-filled journeys to uncover the forgotten past. Channeling your inner Indiana Jones, you'll control one of four explorers, fighting through the undead in search of lost artifacts. Puzzles, traps, and other thrilling secrets will prove a challenge, but keen-eyed adventurers should overcome these trials.

After a brief hands-on ahead of launch, the game is shaping up as one of Xbox One's best indies, and an ideal shooter to spice up the summer.

Despite the relatively small team behind the project, it's a great looking game.

Many adventure games have taken a darker tone in recent years, with series like Tomb Raider and Uncharted exploring the challenges to overcome as an explorer. Strange Brigade firmly distances itself with a light fantasy premise, injected with upper-class tones of 20th-century British voiceovers and humor.

A quartet of diverse archaeologists (with more to come in DLC) head Strange Brigade expeditions in search of treasure and relics from long-gone civilizations. Its African setting packs ancient Egyptian ruins, with undead mummies, sprawling tombs, and otherworldly gods. Despite the relatively small team behind the project, it's a great looking game too featuring vibrant jungles and undergrounds caves among highlights. Furthermore, this is paired with a boost to 1800p on Xbox One X and 1440p on PlayStation 4 Pro.

Digging (and fighting) through the past

Strange Brigade's main story mode takes players on a series of quests, facing waves of enemies with larger boss battles spaced throughout. Combat is centralized around controlling hordes, depleting enemy health bars, and using the available tools to do so more efficiently. Encounter difficulty also scales alongside player count, with some cooperative sessions packing hundreds of enemies into a single location.

Players will choose one of four characters, tied to unique class abilities, weapon loadouts, and upgrade paths. Each of these character's abilities promotes different playstyles, which meld together well in a cooperative setting. Gold earned throughout missions can be spent on new gear, while separate currency obtained through optional puzzles grant ability upgrades. It's a familiar progression system but should retain players in the long term while keeping gameplay fresh throughout.

It's shaping up as a strong contender among this year's shooter lineup.

Consideration of environmental design is one of Strange Brigade's main differentiators, with depth to its scenes building beyond its shooter gameplay. Mandatory puzzles establish roadblocks for level progression, briefly taking you out of the action and survey surroundings. Similarly, a variety of optional puzzles are also present, hiding bonuses for those with a keen eye. We've only seen a small slice of the puzzles but keeping them varied and challenging is a must for strong missions.

Dotted across the map are various traps activated by shooting their respective triggers, which kill enemies venturing within their reach. Players may also be entrapped with enemies for brief periods too, leading to an essence of resource management.

Outside of the main adventure, Rebellion has also two newly-unveiled modes that build on the existing foundation. The first of these is a tense new Score Attack mode, where players kill enemies as fast as possible, building a combo meter, and earning points. Fighting against the clock to kill enemies within the par time, this drastically scales up the pace of its gameplay while still feeling true to the game's legacy.

We also tried a new horde mode set for launch, taking slices of existing maps and unleashing waves of enemies upon players. Starting with pistols and earning upgrades over time, it's another take on a well-trodden formula. Several years have passed since the horde-mode craze dictated by Gears of War and Call of Duty, and there's still fun to be had with this high-stakes variant.

Your adventure awaits

Strange Brigade features some familiar concepts at heart, yet its unique setting and tone still uniquely position this cooperative shooter. It focuses on the basics, working toward pure cooperative gameplay without today's worst industry trends. Although the small studio isn't expected to rival major publishers, it's still shaping up as a strong contender among this year's shooter lineup.

Strange Brigade is now available for preorder, slated for an August 28 release for Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and Windows PCs. The game is currently priced at $49.99, while its Collector's Edition climbs to $79.99. Let us know your thoughts on the game so far in the comments section.

Matt Brown

Matt Brown was formerly a Windows Central's Senior Editor, Xbox & PC, at Future. Following over seven years of professional consumer technology and gaming coverage, he’s focused on the world of Microsoft's gaming efforts. You can follow him on Twitter @mattjbrown.