Rebellion is best known for its Sniper Elite and Zombie Army series of third-person shooters, and yet, those aren’t the only shooters up the UK-based developer’s sleeve. Back in 2018, Rebellion released a sleeper hit known as Strange Brigade. This one combines the studio’s signature third-person cooperative shooting with ample amounts of 1930s adventure film-inspired derring-do and quippy humor that gives it a feel all its own. Now that Strange Brigade is finally available on Nintendo Switch, it’s time for a co-op review.
The premise of Strange Brigade involves an archaeological expedition gone wrong. In 1930, an unscrupulous archaeologist has unleashed Seteki, an ancient and evil Egyptian queen, from the tomb that had imprisoned her. Only the eponymous Strange Brigade, a team tasked with defending Britain from supernatural threats, can stop Seteki and save the world.
This adventuresome narrative comes to life via well-directed cinematics that emulate the style of black-and-white serial films of the early 20th century, the same serialized stories that inspired the Indiana Jones films decades later. Additionally, the narrator, Glen McCready, delivers rousing and humorous narration during the gameplay itself. If his quips get to be too much, their frequency can be turned down or disabled entirely.
Strange Brigade’s campaign consists of 8 campaign missions that last about an hour each, much like those of the Sniper Elite series. Before beginning, players will select their difficulty and characters. The default difficulty leans toward the tough side, so consider playing on easy if you don’t crave a challenge. As for the characters, four members of the Brigade are playable by default, with five additional heroes available as premium DLC. Each adventurer sports a unique personality, abilities, and weapon and amulet loadouts, allowing them to bring something special to the makeup of the team. My guy, Professor Archimedes, quotes Indiana Jones when he uses his amulet powers and is the only one who can open ancient alcoves for their treasure.
On the surface, Strange Brigade plays a lot like Zombie Army but with a reduced emphasis on sniping. Each character starts with a long-range weapon, pistol, grenade, and amulet. More can be bought temporarily from chests or permanently unlocked between levels with gold dropped by enemies, but you can only carry one of each weapon type at a time. Gold is sort of shared between co-op players, but each character must pick it up for themselves. Health does not automatically refill, making healing potions precious. Unlike gold, potions are not shared among the team. This often has the cumulative effect of keeping everybody at low health because there aren’t enough potions to go around.
The enemies, which consist of an impressive variety of mummies, zombies, and monsters, drop their souls when defeated. Players can collect these souls to charge up their amulets. When an amulet is full, a button prompt appears over nearby enemies. Hit the amulet ability button to unleash a powerful attack on those foes. Speaking of bad guys, later-game enemies frequently have tiny glowing weak points that shift after being hit. The weak points concept is cool but hitting them can be a pain because of stingy auto-aim. Bigger hitboxes or more generous auto-aim would make the tougher foes less annoying.
Given that it can take an hour or more to complete a campaign level, it’s no surprise that each level is quite large and built around exploration. The team isn’t just trying to reach the end of the level but to find relics that unlock additional amulet options, weapon upgrade crystals, and big piles of gold. The emphasis on treasure hunting really fits the premise like a glove. Someone’s got to finance the Brigade’s adventures, right?
Besides the emphasis on exploration and treasure hunting, Strange Brigade also features plenty of switches and puzzles. These vary in type and complexity. Sometimes, the team just needs to shoot the right switch in order to open a new path. Other times, they’ll have to locate a series of switches and shoot them all before a timer expires. Some puzzles involve locating a sequence of hieroglyphs in the environment and then inputting them on a wall; others require you to flip a bunch of panels until they create a path for energy to pass through.
One memorable puzzle simply involved standing on the correct sequence of tiles. The catch is when you’re playing with a team, it’ll require more than one person to hit the tiles in the right order. Co-op switches that can only be activated by the entire team using their amulets are common as well. Levels also feature switches that activate enemy-killing traps like fire, spinning blades, and more. One hero can operate traps solo but setting them up with a friend is even more effective.
Strange Brigade features three co-op modes: Campaign, Horde, and Score Attack. Every mode supports 4-player online co-op and, on Nintendo Switch, 4-player wireless LAN play. Online games are currently easy to find on Nintendo’s console – always a plus. Once inside a lobby, players can even communicate via text chat. In all modes, downed players appear within a sarcophagus somewhere in the environment. Teammates have to locate the sarcophagus and then hold the revive button for a while to let their friends out – a clever spin on the standard revival mechanic.
Horde mode is where the meat of the non-campaign co-op resides. Teams must fight to survive increasingly deadly waves of enemies in cool Egyptian environments. Weapon availability is an issue in Horde mode, oddly enough. Players start with only a pistol; real guns must be purchased from chests using money earned from killing enemies. Even then, ammo is scarce. Comparatively, Zombie Army keeps players much better armed in its Horde mode. As for Score Attack, it involves clearing waves of enemies within a set time while chasing high scores.
Even though Strange Brigade hit other platforms a few years ahead of the Switch version, it still looks like a surprisingly modern game. This title pushes large numbers of enemies on-screen at once, but the frame rate rarely misses a beat thanks to dynamic resolution scaling. In docked mode, the game runs at up to 1080p resolution, whereas handheld mode hovers at up to 720p. I was pleasantly surprised by the smoothness of the handheld experience. Overall, the game looks and runs like an Xbox One or PlayStation 4 title rather than a dumbed-down Switch port.
Hopefully, the Switch version of Strange Brigade will introduce Rebellion’s Egyptian adventure to a whole new audience. The setting, storytelling, and level design really make this game feel like its own thing rather than just a reskinned Zombie Army. Working with a team of dashing adventurers to save the world from mummies and minotaurs is a rollicking good time, one worth undertaking on Switch, Xbox, PlayStation, PC, or Stadia. The strange thing about Strange Brigade is that it hasn’t gotten a sequel yet; it indubitably deserves one.
A Nintendo Switch download code was provided by the publisher for review.
The Co-Op Experience: Hunt the foul Seteki through a rip-roaring campaign filled with dangerous dig sites, prodigious pyramids and crumbling caves packed with bountiful foes to send back to the afterlife. Explore alone or team up in 2-4 player online co-op
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