Cooperative shooter games are typically intense and difficult, requiring everyone to work together effectively to succeed. What makes Strange Brigade unique is the fact that it emphasizes a casual, laid-back experience that everyone can enjoy regardless of skill level. Unfortunately, while it executes on the gameplay mechanics perfectly, the game is held back by mediocre visuals, poor level design and the lack of a good soundtrack.
In Strange Brigade, you and up to three friends can each play as one of four characters: a scholarly wizard, a retired soldier, an African woman covered head-to-toe in war paint, and a girl who looks like she was ripped straight out of a war-time propaganda flyer. Together, they are the appropriately-named Strange Brigade, and their mission is to stand as a line of defense against mummies, zombie scorpions, and other Egyptian-themed undead foes.
Each character brings their own weapons, abilities, and personalities to the table, which makes Strange Brigade feel reminiscent of a game like Overwatch in terms of mechanics and atmosphere. Players can upgrade and modify their tools of destruction by collecting money found in-game and then purchasing unlocks between levels, which allows them to specialize their equipment in order to suit their play style.
The enemies are interesting and creative. The developers took various monsters found throughout Egyptian mythology and converted them into video game foes. As you progress through Strange Brigade, new enemy types are slowly unveiled to you and you get a chance to observe how they operate before facing them. The Sinister Stinger, for example, is armored, fast, and deadly, but its weakness is that it's a huge target.
Some of these baddies can pose a threat if you don't pay attention, but generally, they are simple to take down, especially if you have a full group of friends with you. Since Strange Brigade aims to be an accessible and casual experience, I don't consider this a bad thing.
Good puzzles, poor levels
In addition to the combat, Strange Brigade's levels are littered with fun puzzles that help keep the experience from feeling repetitive. These range from locked doors that require finding an alternate path to shooting symbols on a wall in a specific order. Completing them rewards the player with weapons, money, and upgrades.
When it comes to level design, Strange Brigade nosedives in quality. While the play space is filled with cool traps that you can utilize to crowd control and kill enemies, the levels are way too long and there are several areas where you're not doing anything. This issue makes the game feel much less fluid.
Presentation fails to impress
Strange Brigade on the Xbox One looks good in some places and poor in others. It's ridiculous how frequently the visual quality fluctuates, especially in terms of anti-aliasing. Having textures rapidly shift from sharp to blurry is very annoying on my eyes, and I imagine it will be for everyone else's, too.
Colorwise, the game is bright and vibrant, but these qualities don't get a true chance to shine because of how mediocre the lighting engine is. The lighting is acceptable, but it's far from praise-worthy. It doesn't help that the game is plagued with shadow pop-in issues, which break the immersion severely.
Rounding out Strange Brigade's presentation issues is the soundtrack, or rather, the lack thereof. Aside from a couple of ambient tracks, the game is devoid of any music during combat or exploration that would set a tone and help players feel more engaged with the experience. At least the title runs fine with no performance problems.
Should you buy Strange Brigade?
If you're looking for something easy and simple to pick up and play with your friends, Strange Brigade is definitely worth considering. Despite the variety of issues I have with the experience, my friend and I enjoyed our time with it and will likely play it again. However, if you're interested in something more challenging and intense, or simply want something with better presentation, Strange Brigade isn't the title for you. Instead, I would recommend checking out the Left 4 Dead-inspired Earthfall.
- Creative design.
- Solid gameplay mechanics.
- Strong balance between combat and puzzles.
- Poor level design.
- Mediocre presentation.
Strange Brigade is available now on Xbox One for $49.99.
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