Developer Rebellion Developments has put itself on the map with the always-solid Sniper Elite series, churning out World War II-era third-person sniper shooters with the satisfying X-ray bullet animations and clever stealth and tactical mechanics. How surprising and oddly satisfying, then, that they'd re-purpose those mechanics and smart level design for Strange Brigade, a new co-op title that layers League of Extraordinary Gentlemen-esque fiction over run-of-the-mill shooting, light puzzles and co-op action set in the 1930s.
You are the aforementioned Strange Brigade, a British-run cadre of rogue-ish types, from the fallen university professor and brutish soldier to the Rosie the Riveter-like badass woman and lifelong demon hunter. Together, you're sent into Egypt to investigate a missing archaeologist and teammate, whereupon you are swept up into supernatural terror, hordes of zombified mummies, pirates and skeletons and mystery. Pretty cool, right?
And so it is, from the differing play styles and abilities of each character to the myriad secrets and hidden doors, pathways and collectibles scattered throughout each level.
Cooperative play does exist, though to Rebellion's credit, Strange Brigade is fun and completely playable solo. As always, more enjoyment can be found in jumping in with buddies, especially in the form of ramped-up difficulty and each character's passive perks that allow for opening hidden doors or other fun secrets that help in grabbing as many hard-to-find items as possible.
Elsewhere, a deceptively simple arsenal is at your disposal, and every gun and grenade has its own ups and downs. The Molotov grenade, for example, has a wide area of effect that is suited well to slowing down large groups of baddies, whereas the dynamite may have a longer charge time between uses but dispatches enemies with ease. It really just depends on what kind of player you are; whether you prefer automatic weapons, powerful shotguns, sniper rifles or one-shot rifles that dole out massive damage. Pistols vary as well, though for the majority of our play-through they remained firmly in the last-ditch category.
You'll also have access to mystical amulets with silly powers, like a storm of scarabs that take out nearby hordes or a particularly enjoyable skill that transforms enemies into easily-killable chickens. Oh sure, Ratchet and Clank went the transformation route years ago, but it's always fun to get weird.
The high point of the game, however, lies in the almost-too-British narrator. With sincerely funny chatter throughout each level, said narrator ups the enjoyment factor with in-jokes about gaming, riffs on player actions in real time and participates in all-around silliness. He'll even provide hints now and then for secrets and collectibles, of which there are so many that it's actually helpful. Think Bastion, only funny (especially one line that is delivered when the player finds and shoots cat idols to unlock riches, to which the narrator announces, "It was him or you, Strange Brigade!")
It's enough to forgive the mostly repetitive gameplay, moments of wonky glitches and sometimes cheap enemy hordes. At the heart of Strange Brigade lies a firm foundation of humor made even more fun when tackled with friends but still worth a gander for solo players. Its release alone was a bit of a surprise, and an interesting departure for Rebellion. Granted, in the sea of third-person shooters, Strange Brigade remains a stripped-down and not overly polished example, but for fans of things like Indiana Jones, League of Extraordinary Gentleman and their ilk, this one really hits the spot.
+Funny and silly fun in co-op or solo
-Wonky and definitely not a AAA title
Rated T (Oh, there's violence—it's just cartoonish)
Developed by Rebellion Developments
Published by Rebellion Developments
Xbox One, PS4 (we played the Xbox version)