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Nelson Schneider's Video Game Reviews (379)

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Strange Brigade 4/5
Metro Exodus 3.5/5
Evoland Legendary Editi... 4.5/5
Evoland 2 4.5/5
Burokku Girls 2/5
Finding Paradise 4.5/5
To the Moon 4/5
Marvel: Ultimate Allian... 2.5/5
Valley 4/5
Satellite Reign 3/5
The Fall of Gods 3.5/5
Even the Ocean 3.5/5
Asterix & Obelix XXL 2:... 3/5
Valkyria Chronicles 4 5/5
Ninja Gaiden ( Shadow W... 1/5
Super Mario Land 2.5/5
The Messenger 3.5/5
Super Mario Land 2: 6 G... 2/5
Super Mario Maker 2 3/5
Pillars of Eternity II:... 4/5
Sundered 3/5
Iconoclasts 3/5
Divinity: Original Sin 2 4.5/5
Heroes of the Monkey Ta... 4/5
Lands of Lore III 2.5/5

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Strange Brigade   PC (Steam) 

Mummy Always Said I Was Strange    4/5 stars

“Strange Brigade” was released in 2018 by Rebellion Developments, a British developer that started in the early ‘90s and spent most of its formative decade creating licensed swill for Atari and Nintendo handhelds. As a developer, Rebellion has been in the Shooter business since its inceptions, frequently doing grunt-work for publishing overlords the likes of Atari, Activision, and Sega. All the while, this ostensible ‘videogame development company’ was also purchasing struggling comic, book, and tabletop game publishers, as well as a handful of videogame IP rights. Indeed, this ‘single-A’, or perhaps ‘B’-tier development outfit you likely never heard of has accumulated a veritable empire of publishing side-businesses and subsidiaries the likes of which would make any of the Big Three (EA, Ubisoft, Activision) feel a twinge of envy.

However, Rebellion didn’t really become ‘known’ to gamers at large until around 2005/2006 when it finally started doing its own thing with the release of “Sniper Elite.” While the studio continued to produce and peddle licensed garbage based on everything from ‘Star Wars’ to ‘The Simpsons’ to ‘Harry Potter’ in the subsequent decade, since the beginning of the 8th Generation around 2012, they’ve completely switched gears and are now developing and publishing their own, original IPs exclusively, including the previously-mentioned ‘Sniper Elite’ series as well as the ‘Evil Genius’ series and the ‘Zombie Army’ series. Among these franchised IPs are a few stand-alone titles such as “Battlezone” and the topic of this review.

Presentation
“Strange Brigade” is fairly typical for a modern game. It’s built in the Unreal Engine and, according to the credit roll, much of the art assets were outsourced to China and India. Regardless of whether they were made by cheap outsourced labor or not, the game’s art assets look quite good and have something of a unique aesthetic about them. Environments, in particular, look phenomenally detailed, while the playable characters look every-so-slightly off, dwelling in the upper reaches of the Uncanny Valley. Of course the game’s enemies are far less noticeably peculiar as they are universally mummies, skeletons, and giant scorpions that could have been purchased at any asset store (or recycled from Rebellion’s other undead-focused IPs). The meaty cutscenes that liberally pepper the game were, however, motion-captured in the U.K., and feature a black-and-white film aesthetic that perfectly matches the game’s setting and themes.

Audio-wise, “Strange Brigade” is solid as well. Voice acting is well done and budget conscious, enemies make a telltale noise that I can only describe as, “What I feel like after eating way too much garlic,” and the soundtrack is pleasant and thematically consistent, if not particularly memorable.

Technically, “Strange Brigade” is quite solid for a modern, Western, budget-grade PC game. It doesn’t crash or glitch-out, the load times are brisk, the netcode is solid for online coop, it supports Xinput out of the box, and generally feels like it manages to hit the bar of basic competence far more easily than many Blockbuster “AAA” titles produced by the likes of Ubisoft and Bethesda.

Story
“Strange Brigade” is a pop-archaeology/paranormal phenomena-focused Team-Based Third-Person Shooter set in the 1930s. Our titular heroes are a group of British secret service agents from a variety of diverse backgrounds who quietly keep the Empire safe from supernatural threats, both domestically and abroad.

The story begins with the Brigade being dispatched, via dirigible, to a location in Saharan Africa where an archaeological expeditions has suddenly lost communication with the outside world whilst researching the newly-discovered tomb of an ancient Egyptian queen. It turns out that this queen, Seteki, was quite the skilled necromancer and not only persisted in spirit form within her tomb for thousands of years, but, upon being released, set about her same old tricks of killing everyone, binding their souls to magical artifacts called spirit forges, and using said bound souls to raise an army of undead mummies and skeletons.

The Strange Brigade must track down the sources of Seteki’s power, eliminate them, and, eventually, put a stop to the Ghoul Queen herself, all while contending with the first waves of the undead army’s assault.

While it isn’t a particularly original or interesting plot, I thoroughly enjoyed “Strange Brigade’s” pulp-adventure-novel-themed setting and the way the rather boring, unoriginal story is told. The entire game is narrated by a rather snarky British gentleman, who interrupts, talks over the action, and generally has an amusing comment or interjection to contribute in every circumstance. I personally love the pop-archaeology subgenre – as exemplified by other media such as the ‘Indiana Jones’ movies and novels – but it has increasingly fallen out of fashion these days (most likely due to the act that it isn’t accurate at all and hasn’t resembled the way to ‘do archaeology’ since… the 1930s), making “Strange Brigade” feel somewhat fresh and unique in spite of its obviously derivative plotting.

In addition to the plotting and humor, “Strange Brigade” only offers light character development and backstory, obtained by finding bits of reading material scattered through the game’s stages. While I would have preferred to see stronger character development, considering there are 8 characters (4 basic characters and 4 DLC characters) who exist almost entirely as profile blurbs with no actual development or real personality revealed in the game proper or the fairly lavish cutscenes that bookend each stage, what we got is better than nothing.

Perhaps to make-up for this lack of backstory, Rebellion leveraged its capabilities as a print media publisher to commission and produce a paperback anthology called “The True History of the Strange Brigade,” which I have yet to read, but seems promising. It does feel dangerously lazy, though, when a game’s story elements and gameplay elements are so divorced from each other that they come in completely different media.

“Strange Brigade” is not a terribly long game, clocking in at around 12 hours to romp through the story (and only about 3 hours more for the post-game DLC). Completionists (especially those who refuse to use a guide) will easily double or triple that time hunting for hidden collectables within the stages and grinding up enough gold to unlock the entire arsenal.

Gameplay
“Strange Brigade” is what is known as a “Team Shooter,” that is, it’s a Shooter that requires a team of multiple players to work in concert in order to survive. Unlike the typical FPS or TPS that just so happens to have cooperative gameplay as an option, Team Shooters typically punish players for not intermeshing like cogs in a well-oiled machine at all times – case in point, “Warhammer: End Times – Vermintide,” which I absolutely hated for this fact.

“Strange Brigade” is, on the other hand, decidedly low-key for a Team Shooter. Players can freely split up and scour each of the game’s stages without fear of being insta-ganked by a special unit appearing out of nowhere, ammunition is plentiful, and – in a shocking twist – the shooting gameplay is interspersed with honest-to-goodness PUZZLES, of the type one might expect to find in any pop-archaeology title, such as ‘Tomb Raider.’ I found the mix of combat and puzzles to be just what the doctor ordered when it comes to breathing new life into the Shooter genre.

The shooting itself is competent and basic TPS fare. Each character has two perks that make them different from their peers (the DLC characters recycle perks from the base game’s crew, but in different combinations) and is equipped with a magical amulet that allows them to perform a super ability by charging it with the souls of slain enemies. Each character also carries a grenade and a loadout of two weapons – a primary and a sidearm – which can be swapped or customized between missions. Primary weapons have varying ammo capacities, whereas sidearms provide unlimited ammo. It’s also possible to pick-up special ‘prototype’ weapons during gameplay that are only good for one magazine before being tossed. “Strange Brigade’s” Team Shooter roots primarily show themselves in the fact that the game is decidedly not a run-and-gun experience. Characters must aim down their sights before they are able to squeeze off rounds and can’t jump, though they can dodge-roll to avoid damage. Also noteworthy is the fact that the UI places a shadowy mummy-hand icon in the player's view if an enemy approaches from behind while the player is aiming (and thus has a limited field of view).

Customizing the characters’ arsenal comes down to collecting gold and gems throughout the game’s 9 missions (and 3 DLC missions). Gold can be spent to buy different grenades and guns, while gems come in a variety of flavors, each of which offers a specific perk when used to upgrade a gun. Guns have between 1 and 5 gem slots (the DLC weapons ALL have more than the base game weapons), and the player can freely overwrite existing gems later if they aren’t happen with the results. While gold is placed deliberately throughout each of the game’s stages, gems randomly appear instead of gold when a player opens a treasure chest.

Further revealing “Strange Brigade’s” rather unorthodox approach to Team Shooting, characters must compete throughout each mission for gold and gems. Only gold obtained from picking up the handful of relics and cat statues hidden throughout each stage is shared with all players, giving loot whores and chest snipers ample opportunity to piss off their team. Enemies also drop gold, but only for the player who dealt the killing blow, which can further skew the total treasure tally at the end of each mission.

But what really sets “Strange Brigade” apart from its Team Shooter ilk is the fact that it is entirely playable… ALONE! Yes, the single-player version of “Strange Brigade” doesn’t saddle the player with three AI morons, but simply reduces the number of enemies the player encounters, and is fully playable OFFLINE! This, dear readers, is the type of basic common sense more developers need to exhibit when creating games with a strong multi-player cooperative component!

Overall
“Strange Brigade” is easily the best Team Shooter I’ve ever played… but then, I’ve hated every other Team Shooter I’ve ever played, so that doesn’t really mean much. Regardless, “Strange Brigade” is, in and of itself, a fun shooter. It looks and sounds good; the story, setting, and tone are thoroughly enjoyable; and the gameplay is competent and polished.

Presentation: 4/5
Story: 4/5
Gameplay: 4/5
Overall (not an average): 4/5

 

 


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