Strange Brigade feels like a throwback to a simpler time, when gun-toting heroes chugged crimson-colored health potions, collected fat stacks of shiny gold coins, and exploded red barrels real good. This isn't a knock against the third-person co-op shooter, but rather high praise for its unapologetic focus on old-school, trigger-pulling fun.
It doesn't hurt that developer Rebellion has presented the arcade-y familiarity in a fresh way. Inspired by the same sort of swashbuckling serials that influenced the Indiana Jones films, the game finds a quartet of 1930's fortune hunters attempting to thwart an ancient curse. When not filling ghouls, mummies, and sword-wielding skeletons full of buckshot, players are tasked with plundering lush environments for relics and gold.
It's a blast unleashing the game's various guns and gadgets.
While the story and setting make for a rip-roaring adventure, though, it’s Strange Brigade's narrator that truly steals the show. A charming Brit who comments on the adventurers’ acts of derring do with a brilliant mix of self-aware humor, sarcasm, puns, and alliteration, his cheeky insights are a hilarious highlight. Stand idle too long, and he might hit you with a, “Taking a break? There is a pause button you know?”, while drinking one of those aforementioned health elixirs could prompt him to compare the beverage, unfavorably, to a ‘Stiff Earl Grey’.
Slaughtering swarms of ugly undead – while being cheered on with an enthusiastic “Jolly good!” – is made all the better behind the game's upgradeable arsenal. Standard death-dealers, such as pistols, shotguns, and rifles, can be pimped with perk-bringing gems, while powerful amulets can be charged to unleash even more devastating attacks. Weapons can also trigger traps of the bladed, spiked, and fiery variety, ensuring plenty of creative kills.
While it's a blast unleashing the game's various guns and gadgets, obtaining these goodies can be a chore. Rather than doling out the best weapons based on progression, Strange Brigade forces you to find upgrade items and solve puzzles – a welcome element, but without a mini-map or objective icons the levels' branching paths can be confusing to navigate. Add to that the fact you're often traversing aesthetically similar areas, and it's not unusual to reach a level's conclusion without the best loot in hand.
Still, in an era when every shooter seems to be chasing the latest trend, Strange Brigade earns big points for taking risks with established formulas. We're betting it's the only game you'll play this year that that rewards your sharpshooting skills with a rousing, “Good show, chap!”