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Posted June 22, 2017 by Daniel Kizana in Feature
 
 

E3 2017: Strange Brigade Hands-On Preview


One could argue that, in recent years, our industry has followed Hollywood into a rut of annual sequels, reboots, remasters and re-releases. I’m not here to complain about that today, but the context of that issue makes it particularly exciting to come across a promising new IP, like Strange Brigade. Announced just days before E3, Rebellion’s supernatural, co-op shooter had already begun generating significant buzz by the show’s opening, and I eagerly awaited my opportunity for a hands-on preview.

SB¬†immediately draws you into its bizarre universe with some of the slickest design and presentation in recent memory. A 1930’s, Trans-Atlantic voice over promises a ‘rip-roaring safari into danger’, accompanied by sepia footage of ancient ruins and mythical beasts. Think Indiana Jones with Mummies and Minotaur. There’s even a Zeppelin. Cutting edge visual technology and high quality art direction have SB looking and sounding brilliant, and it really is a testament to Rebellion’s ability to design a world, and their Asura engine’s ability to render it.

I don’t mean to slag off the gaming industry again and again, but I can’t tell you how refreshing it is that this game doesn’t take place in the near future, in space, in combat suits with jet packs, fighting some freedom-suppressing coalition of Nazis/corporations/misogynists. Someone actually sat down and wrote something fresh, and accepted the risk in doing so. That takes enormous guts. The game could end up sucking and I’d still want it to sell ok, because this behaviour needs to be encouraged. It doesn’t suck though, so let’s get back to gameplay.

There are, so far, four playable classes in SB; The¬†Maasai Warrior, The Engineer, The Soldier and The Scholar. Each comes with a different starting weapon and has access to varied skills and ultimate abilities. Overall, design of these characters is fantastic and reveals the potential for a degree of personality, and hopefully back-story, in the four heroes. I didn’t notice any dialogue or interaction yet, but it would fit so naturally into SB‘s pace and co-op style, and I’d like to see it added before release. We learned from Overwatch that even the slightest narrative context for your combat will increase the drama tenfold.

Not much has been revealed about SB‘s structure and how the game will play out, but it’s looking like they’ll be linear, repeatable missions with a goal of collecting some treasure or defeating an enemy. The preview mission dropped me, almost immediately, into a horde of slow-moving but persistent Mummies, who will surround and overwhelm your character if you don’t manage your positioning properly. Faster and more powerful enemies showed up from time to time, and did a good job of disrupting my strategy and forcing a retreat, or at least some adrenaline-fuelled adaptation.

The Minotaur from the trailer was actually a mini-boss, capable of one-hitting you with several of his attacks. Needless to say, he took several attempts to kill, and it was only when I discovered SB‘s environmental set-pieces and traps that I was able to overcome him. Giant, spinning blades that activate when you shoot their switch, classic spike traps, flame grates than set a group of enemies alight; all these things and more can be used to your great advantage, or great disadvantage, and I expect to see some incredible lure/trigger displays in co-op once the game is out.

Gunplay is tight and enjoyable, but intentionally made to feel a little underpowered, so that you’re never too comfortable relying on your combat abilities to get you out of a situation. This breeds a greater reliance on strategy, positioning and team-work; all great things in a title built for co-op.

Combat in the game revolves around chaining up combos to build your ultimate meter, allowing you to unleash serious damage on the enemy. The combo meter drains over time though, meaning that if you’re not dealing enough damage, or if you’re fighting too sporadically, the meter will never charge.

However, if you can bottleneck your opponents and force large numbers into a confined space, the game becomes a spray-fest, in which your ultimate ability is recharged every 5-10 seconds and you’re just mowing through waves of Mummies as they come. It was a thrilling discovery, and I can imagine a well coordinated team rounding up a horde of enemies for a four-way ulti-fest.

I had an enormous amount of fun playing Strange Brigade, and I’m so pleased to see developers innovating and taking risks as Rebellion have done here. I highly recommend that you give the game a proper look on release; I certainly will be.


Daniel Kizana

 


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