I wasn’t sure what to expect with Rebellion’s Strange Brigade. The game’s reveal trailer certainly had a unique angle, as we rarely seem to have games set in the early 1900s narrated in the kind of hammy style associated with early Hollywood. Part of this may be because I’m part Egyptian myself and know that the whole “mummy” monster thing is purely a western creation. I don’t mean to say it’s offensive, but it’s like someone telling you a ghost story about the spirit of a statue getting revenge on a small child that kicked it. It’s kind of freaky, but you probably won’t consider vengeful statues as a monster trope to rely on. As the western mummy mythos has always seemed less developed than, say, the zombie apocalypse, I wondered how much content the game could muster.
The above trailer really serves to highlight most of what I saw. While the queen herself didn’t show up, I did see a good amount of similar traps and puzzles. What the trailer doesn’t show is that gameplay often feels like moving from one wave-mode defense point to another. While that may sound boring to some players, from a design point, Rebellion actually sets it up pretty well.
At least for our demo, the basic set up was that we’d come to a new thing, have the hammy Hollywood narrator hint at what to do (say, aim magnified light at a target, Indian Jones style), watch what happens, and then find the same set piece in the next area but figure out how to correctly solve the mirror in a new context. It’s very Nintendo-esque and helped ensure that we were learning the game. As you’d expect, after being shown a few things, like how to bring down dangling objects to hit switches or activating spinning blades of death to help cut through waves of mummies, the game would give us several pieces together, culminating in our final battle, which, like many cinematic demos, ended right when the fight would have begun.
I should point out that the narrator does fit into the game’s style quite well. Everything we did felt episodic. We didn’t just have the narrator acting as hint guide, but setting the scene that we were old-timey, turn of the twentieth century cultural imperialists largely fighting foreigners, as foreigners, in another foreigner’s land. Again, my background makes it hard to ignore this, but at the same time, that’s exactly how the game makes everything feel exotic. Everyone except for the mummies seem out of place, but potentially in a good way. If you have British explorers in Egypt with what I think is a Nubian Warrior, why not toss in a samurai or Cherokee warrior? A lot of fun can be had if you embrace the kitsch.
Combat wise, the gun play is much less Nintendo than the design. Guns have recoil, so you can’t easily line up headshots and wait for mummies to turn into a death factory. Unless you’ve activated traps in front of them, in which case, you’re safe. You can hurt yourself on traps and explosives, but that’s the limitation of friendly fire. Sorry, no headshotting your fellow players!
As you might expect, the undead on their own don’t pose much of a threat. They’re very much the shambling zombies you’d see in standard zombie movies or in the Lon Chaney Jr Mummy movies. However, as you progress, the mummy waves become denser and denser. By the end, it did kind of feel like a zombie movie, in that there was a sea of them, but as the “actors,” we had just enough breathing room to take one out before having to deal with a threat right behind us. The risk of being overwhelmed is very real, so ensuring that you time your use of traps correctly is important. You have room to be creative, but things like setting off a trap before its able to hit anything clearly will put you at a disadvantage, especially if its something like an exploding barrel. Certain traps like the electrical magic fields can be reset, but explosive pottery stays blown up.
I wasn’t able to see every character’s ultimate ability, but the Nubian warrior woman’s was a nice AoE fireblast attack. Unlike in most games, the ulitmate isn’t just something you get from fighting, or even from standing around. You can actively choose to charge it, but doing so prevents you from using your weapon or kicks, including the head-smashing finisher you can execute on undead that fall to the ground but aren’t exactly… perma-dead. While charging, you can only run around and hope your tactic proves useful, as you can’t defend yourself or your allies.
The whole time you’re fighting, you’re also trying to pillage treasure. The game may be co-op, but getting gold only counts for your character and helps you unlock gear between matches. The end of the round screen ranks you by performance and shows who got how much gold, adding just a little competition in ways other co-op games like Monster Hunter World does.
Sadly, Rebellion had no one on hand for me to ask questions to about the potential for new characters, other levels, DLC, or what all persists on your character between rounds. The game’s not an MMO, but it may act as a unique, co-op lobby game that some readers may enjoy.