frontman12's Strange Brigade (PlayStation 4) review

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A Hammy Game That Makes You Pay Attention

It's just amazing to reflect on. Rebellion - the same Rebellion that developed Rogue Warrior, with its 29 Metascore - developed this gem. Strange Brigade might best be described as a co-op third-person action/puzzle game. You (and up to three friends) pick a character and attempt to stop the threat presented by the ancient evil queen Seteki.

Most of the game consists of players alternating between horde-like encounters and puzzle encounters, typically with a boss fight thrown in during each of the game's nine levels. Although a few of the horde-like encounters ran a bit too long, the game's pacing is extremely well done. As the game alternates between high-octane, tense encounters, and more calming and cerebral moments, it's easy to sit down and play the game contentedly for long stretches of time without feeling any fatigue with the proceedings.

I had a great time with the game's combat. I used Gracie, who specialized in shotguns, and it was easy to get into a rhythm while taking down various mummies and zombies. The highest tier shotgun shoots relatively quickly, but still must be pumped between rounds. Therefore, it's best to make each shot count. Strange Brigade forces players to be entirely present, paying close attention to the environment. Each arena is littered with traps that must be shot to be activated, and use of these traps is necessary to obtain success. Players are forced into a violent ballet, enticing enemy groups this way and that to maximize the damage of each trap activation. In addition, some traps can only be activated a few times and may have a delay between uses, so you'll need to pay close attention to usage. However, I still had a few irritations. One particular mini-boss enemy charges at the players, and it sometimes seems to be able to maintain charging momentum while changing directions, and will charge around obstacles such as pillars, even if it initially appears to be heading straight for them. The rules for this enemy could appear to be a little inconsistent. Another irritation was the existence of the dynamite-throwing enemies on raised ledges. It could be difficult to deal with these enemies as Gracie (wielding a short range shotgun), and they were incredibly deadly (at least on the hard difficulty). Sometimes they would make an appearance during a boss fight, and this was especially brutal. The game does often spawn explosive barrels beside these enemies for easy elimination, but certain fights will actually contain multiple waves of them.

I also enjoyed the game's puzzles, for the most part. They were not so easy as to be completely trivial, and not so difficult as to break my momentum in moving through the game. Often, puzzle solutions required players to be especially attentive to the environment, finding solutions through windows in the environment, etc. If there is one thing that can be said of the development team's abilities, it is that they can carefully construct an environment and motivate players to notice it. I especially loved the Pipe Dream-esque puzzles, in which players created a route through straight and curved pipes from one node to another. The worst puzzle type that I found were the 9x9 grids that asked players to have all pieces flipped in the correct direction. Shooting different squares in the grid would flip different combinations of pieces. We did not have the patience to figure out which squares were flipped as we changed where we shot, and actually solved none of the puzzles in the game with this design.

Although the puzzles were generally easy, I still did not appreciate the design decision to tie amulet power unlocks to relic location. Outside of your weapon and your grenades, you will also have an amulet ability. Each player seems to have access to different abilities. I started with one that was useful, but perhaps a bit limited. However, my co-op partner did not like his beginning ability (he played as Frank). Unfortunately, to unlock additional amulet abilities, players must acquire "sets" of relics. Therefore, my co-op partner was stuck with his underwhelming ability until we were able to complete a set of relics, which took us a few levels. As you kill enemies, you can collect their souls to charge your amulet, and this is an interesting aspect of the combat. However, if your amulet power is unexciting and/or ineffective, this element is absent. I would prefer that players buy amulet powers, much like upgraded weapons are purchased.

As well as having intuitive puzzles and very engaging combat, the game features a charming, comic book aesthetic and an amusing narrator with an English accent. The narrator hams it up admirably, devising silly alliterative exclamations to couple with enemy entrances. In addition, I like the character designs and environments. You'll find yourself traversing near a pirate ship, a pyramid, through various ruins, and even in the afterlife realm.

As soon as we finished the game, I looked up the DLC content and I believe we're planning to check it out. I also couldn't wait to play the game through again as a different character, and I feel that this is about the highest praise to offer this sort of title. I can't vouch for the single-player experience, but I can recommend playing this game through in co-op without hesitation. Eradicate those spine-chilling spooks!

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