E3 2018: Hands-on and interview – Strange Brigade

Welcome, hearty adventurer. When I first heard of Strange Brigade over a year ago, my immediate thought on the elevator pitch was lukewarm. Another multiplayer game about killing zombies and the undead with other people. Again. But Strange Brigade‘s setting and humour, once you get your hands on it, is instantly charming. Set in the 1930s, Strange Brigade is a tongue in cheek safari for treasure and riches. A much less serious Indiana Jones, which you keep being reminded of by an expertly written and voiced narrator.

Strange Brigade is a 4-player co-op game that pits you against zombies, mummies and all manners of traps in the most colourful almost whimsical zombie shooter you have ever played. In our game, the four of us picked an adventurer, primary and secondary weapon and throwable. Each hero has a passive ability and an amulet that gives them a special ability in the field, once you have collected enough souls.

The map starts with activating a large crystal that fires a beam of energy across the map. This unlocks the next room and wakes up a whole bunch of zombies, all waiting to have their heads popped off. Killing zombies gets you coins and makes them drop souls. You can suck souls into your amulet to power up your special ability. My character had an area of effect attack as she pummeled the ground, setting fire to all enemies around her. Anyone can suck up the souls of defeated enemies, but once your amulet is full you can’t absorb more, meaning you won’t have a hog in your team wasting souls. The money you earn can be used to open certain chests in the world that will have a powerful but limited weapon inside. Picking one up gives you a third weapon slot and once you use up all your ammo, the weapon disappears. I liked this because it meant I could buy a powerful weapon when things were quiet in the level and make use of the weapon when things got tough.

To help you beat the hordes there are traps all over the ruins. Spinning blade traps, suspended boulders and swinging log traps all light up red when your weapon sights hover over them, showing you there is a tasty trap waiting to be activated with a shot. The spinning blades reset and can be shot again after a while, making certain traps useful multiple times. Be careful though because traps hurt whoever is in their range, meaning that while your friend can’t put a bullet in the back of your head, he might just drop a boulder on you. Then you are stuck in a sarcophagus for a while, until someone comes to help you out. Like I mentioned, the humour of this game is rather oddball. The narrator, voiced by Glen McCready, becomes a commentator during levels, pointing out your amazing rolling abilities, your crack shots and pillaging of ancient tombs and enemies approaching. It reminds you the whole time that things aren’t completely serious and that while there is mystery, mayhem and lots of killing, things are, in the words of Monty Python, rather silly. There are four characters to pick from Archimedes de Quincey, Nalangu Rushida, Gracie Braithwaite and Frank Fairburne and in the demo, we could have doubles of a character. The level we were playing was a section of the campaign level Hidden Valley.

Fantastical weapons shooting lightning, magical powers, soul-sucking adventurers and teleporting mummies make for a really fun mix of gameplay which surprised me. If there was a gem that I was happy to see at E3 this year, it was Strange Brigade.

Strange Brigade is out on August 28 for PS4, Xbox One and PC.

Interview with Ben Fisher, Studio Design Lead at Rebellion.

What was the decision to change up so many game mechanics since you showed the game last year?

We discovered at last year’s E3 that more people were excited about Strange Brigade than we expected and we found the parts that they found most exciting and leaned into that. Last year was an enclosed fight, which is one of the rhythms of the game but there is also exploration and puzzles and other secondary systems involved as well.

The store, is that in-game currency?

There is a DLC coming that has weapons and characters, but there are no microtransactions, but the currency you use in the store is the gold you earn when playing the campaign. You can use that currency in the adventure or save it up for buying

We saw a few enemy types, how many enemies will there be?

I don’t have an exact number but there will be a wide variety. When you have a huge group of enemies attacking you need a range to make things interesting.

How big is Strange Brigade?

There is a full-size campaign. If you look at something like Sniper Elite, that is a good idea of the scale of game that Rebellion produces.

You can pick duplicates of a class in your game?

We are still playing with that aspect. It is fun to let players pick the same character repeatedly, but you get a broader experience when using a variety of characters. So far because the game is quite arcadey we have decided to just let players pick whatever they want to use.

How hard is it finding that balance in the humour?

That takes a lot of work, It is a very fine balance. You want the game to be light-hearted and the gameplay to be energetic and explosive. When you have enemies catching on fire and being launched across the level, it supports the tone we are striving for. We found that introducing the 1930’s style and narrator really helped bring the tone of the game. It helps reinforce that it is light-hearted and tongue-in-cheek. It takes iteration and refinement to get it to work. What we found is that when the commentator comments on how the players are playing, that seems to work really well.

Will basic enemies get tougher as time passes or will the variant enemies make the game challenging?

There are basic mummies that come at you in great big hordes and we have armoured versions of those and what we tend to do is have a gentle ramp across the course of the game. What we will do is change the enemies from level to level to change the play experience.

What happens when someone disconnects?

That is not a problem at all. The game has drop-in, drop-out co-op and the number of enemies that spawn changes based on the number of players. Some of the puzzles also change slightly based on the number of players. We designed the game so that disconnects are not a problem.

Can you play this game on your own?

You can play this solo. You can play it offline. The number of bad guys is tuned so that it is a fun experience. What we usually see is that when players are alone they tend to play it like an adventure game, exploring fully and finding all the secrets and the more players you get the more it turns into an arcade shooter with setting things on fire and figuring out combos while shooting enemies.

I see there is no friendly fire but you can kill each other with traps.

We wanted to have a bit of co-operative competitive play. Because the game is light-hearted we wanted friendly fire to be a factor if you want it to be. If you trigger a trap and friend is nearby you have normally done that on purpose. At the start of the level, for example, there is a puzzle where you can control a laser beam and you can use that laser to damage enemies or other players, so if you want to go out of your way to troll people, you can.

Is there anything you are excited about that we haven’t seen yet?

So I am working with the team making the DLC content. So we have an additional chapter for the Strange Brigade coming after launch and while making the game we have found the rhythms that really worked well and we are refining the game as we work on it.

So there are going to be new levels and new characters?

New levels, characters and weapons. There are also a few other things we didn’t show today. There are additional amulets for each character, meaning you can pick the super ability that you prefer to refine your playstyle. There are also two game modes that we haven’t announced yet.

If it has the letters RPG in it, I am there. Still battling with balancing trying to play every single game that grabs my interest, getting 100% in a JRPG, and devoting time to my second home in Azeroth.

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