Imbuing a video game with lasting charm is no easy feat. But when that elusive substance is in evidence, it’s hard to miss.
And the third-person shooter Strange Brigade is just such a charm-laced game¬—awash in black-and-white movie-reel panache, alluring alliteration, and just the right dash of tea and crumpets.
But does all that make it a good game?
Right out of the gate, Strange Brigade feels for all the world like a swashbuckling adventure film from the 1930s. Or perhaps a modern adaptation of a pulpy Argosy yarn from that era is closer to the mark. The game focuses on its titular heroes, who traverse the globe in a proper dirigible. (The only way to fly!)
That group is made up of the former British soldier and seasoned sharpshooter Captain Fairburne; the African huntress Nalangu Rushida; a cockney-voiced boxer and factory worker named Gracie; and Professor Archimedes DeQuincy, a mild-mannered sort who’s quite comfortable around future-focused gadgets.
This brigade is regularly dispatched on world-saving missions by Lady Webster, a woman whom we never see, but who has her finger on the pulse of bad stuff happening anywhere in the world and her radio transmitter ever close at hand.
Oh, and there’s also a narrator.
Every good newsreel needs a dulcet-toned narrator. And this story’s well-spoken gent helps set the stage for the game’s action with many mentions of the “murderous mysteries,” “confounded conundrums” and “cavalcades of cadaverous cads” that our brigade of exotic heroes must regularly face.
The overall adventure sends the heroes off to lost cities, musty tombs and labyrinthine crypts on a quest to stop the world-dominating dreams of an Egyptian goddess. The resurrected Seteki, an evil witch queen who’s been raised from the dead by an overzealous explorer, is trying to summon enough power to either take over the human world or rule the realm of the dead.
So, once you look past all that old-movie allure, what are you actually doing here? Well, the majority of gameplay simply involves a lot of running around and shooting things. You can choose one of the four adventurers for a solo campaign—each with his or her own special shooting or melee skills—or play a co-op adventure as the whole team with several gaming pals.
The weaponry here ranges from regular pistols and rudimentary rifles to more powerful shotguns, sniper rifles and automatic weapons. But the ammo for some of the more powerful guns can be scarce. Each adventurer also carries a magical amulet that helps with puzzle-solving and adds a boost of melee zap.
Speaking of puzzles, you’ll encounter lots of Tomb Raider-ish environmental challenges. And you’ll spend some time looking for treasure keys in tombs and crypts. But frankly, even those tasks focus on figuring out what you need to shoot. As you progress through the levels, you face wave after wave of evermore powerful foes. Zombies, giant scorpions, skeleton pirates, armored cadavers, charging Minotaurs, gigantic animated Egyptian statues, scarab swarms, fire-blasting traps, whirling blades, acid-bile eruptions—the game’s dangers and threats continue to grow and grow.
It’s therein that Strange Brigade’s charms begin to wane and its more negative content starts to chaff a bit. Language-wise, the game includes some light crudities, such as an occasional use of “d–n” or “bloody h—,” or someone might state that the crew must keep “buggering on.”
But then there’s that ancient spirituality, which includes voodoo priests, the witchy villain and, well, just about every desiccated corpse and critter attacking you that you could imagine—all raised from the dead, of course. It’s not frightening, really, but it is dark.
Strange Brigade isn’t a particularly gory shooter. Its T-rating keeps the blood spray and green goopy gushing to a minimum. But without a doubt, it’s a grinding shooter, requiring hour after tedious hour of trigger-pulling, blasting gazillions of beasties and undead horrors.
Yes, charm can sometimes make a good game better. But it can’t fix everything.
After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.