The vast, rich history of Ancient Egypt is ripe for the video game industry to dip its toes into, with titles like Assassin’s Creed: Origins a suitable homage to this particular era. Few have managed to capture Egypt’s magic when it comes to multiplayer games, however, and as more and more gamers choose to play with their friends, a far greater emphasis has been placed on studios and publishers to accommodate co-operative and multiplayer modes in their titles.
UK-based game dev Rebellion is no different when it comes to this shift in gaming with Strange Brigade, which champions co-op play as a core staple of their third-person steampunk shooter. “We’ve done a few co-op games now, we’re pretty good at it and we really enjoy making and playing them,” Rebellion’s lead designer Steve Bristow told us. “One of the great pleasures of being an independent developer is that, within reasonable limits, we pretty much get to make stuff that we think is fun and we’ve had substantial success because there are lots of people who agree with us.”
Strange Brigade doesn’t just limit itself to acting in a multiplayer capacity, and does boast the option to play alone as well. Bristow hopes, however, that the disorderly and frantic gameplay of having four friends take on a multitude of enemies—whilst attempting not to kill each other via friendly fire—makes for a more compelling experience. “The two play forms aren’t really all that separate in practice. It’s the same game in both cases but, obviously, it feels different. The humor and general chaos tends to play well with a team, but it gets a little spookier and more threatening when you’re playing solo,” he commented.
Set in the 1930s, Strange Brigade sees a four-strong group of British secret service agents dropped into the heart of Egypt to try to eliminate witch queen Seteki, who has been accidentally woken from her 4,000 year-long imprisonment by archaeologist Edgar Harbin. Given the setting, art style and slew of Ancient Egyptian history, there are plenty of influences for Rebellion to draw upon for inspiration for Strange Brigade, but Bristow was keen to point out that movies and comic books played a significant role in shaping how the game would look and feel too.
“We’ve had and continue to have close links with the film industry and film is always a touchstone in our creative process,” he insisted. “But the early inspirations for Strange Brigade were early 20th century adventure stories like those in the Boy’s Own comics and books, the pulpy hero explorer romps that can seem pretty naïve by today’s standards but were outrageously thrilling in their day.”
And what of the impact of other video games on Strange Brigade? Bristow stressed that the team elected to try and make their game stand on its own two feet. He explained, “We’re trying to make something unique and with its own flavor so we really let the game guide us rather than drawing on influences from other games.” Allowing for four players to game together at any one time, Rebellion had to be smart about the designs of their protagonists and ensure that there was enough diversity among them to ensure that no gamer felt left out. This is a point forced home by the inclusion of Nalangu Rashida, a female Massai warrior who joins Strange Brigade’s British trio to protect her people from Seteki’s wrath.
In an era where inclusivity is a major talking point in the video game industry, and with the 1930s setting likely lending itself more to your atypical white British male hero, was it always part of Rebellion’s plan to safeguard against any potential backlash? “We want everyone to find something they connect to in our games, of course, but the first imperative was to pick a group of characters that we were excited and intrigued by,” Bristow said. “We drew up dozens of concepts and our starting four are the ones that stuck because we immediately fell in love with them. It was an instinct rather than a calculation; they just seemed to propose stories and charm and felt different and uncommon.”
Embrace the Fantastical
A significant portion of Strange Brigade’s appeal appears to be its fantasy and mythological elements. From mummies to minotaurs, and ancient treasures and relics to collect, Rebellion conducted plenty of research into what elements of their game they wanted to explore. That academic knowledge didn’t impact on the team’s creativity though, and Bristow revealed that the plan was to always “make a kind of Hollywood fantasy rather than something historically accurate,” right down to the weaponry that the heroic quartet possesses. He said, “The Strange Brigade’s attire and weaponry are the products of their accumulated experiences in the spooky recesses of every corner of the world so there are lots of influences detectable in the small detail of their appearance. The guns are, again, a kind of fantasy of the late Victorian craftsman and reference the elaborately decorated prestige weapons that you can find examples of in, say, the Royal Armories.”
In an effort to ensure that there is a replayability factor, the team constructed numerous routes in each level. Complete with secrets and treasures to collect, Bristow revealed that gamers would need to check every nook and cranny to find relics, which imbue each player’s amulet—a bracelet-type weapon that, once fully charged, can unleash a devastating attack on enemies—with new powers. Bristow explained, “When you’ve completed a set, you’ll be awarded a point with which to unlock a new Amulet power. To get all the amulets, you have to find all the relics. There are a number of collectibles that will reward the curious and determined player. Getting all the collectibles for all the levels is quite a challenge.”
Strange Brigade will finally see the light of day when it’s released on August 28 but, so keen and excited are Rebellion to see gamers get their hands on the title, the announcement of DLC content ahead of its release date shouldn’t come as a surprise. Bristow divulged that it was always the plan to tell their fans that support for the game would continue well after its launch and he remains confident that Strange Brigade’s loyal following will be keen to see where the title heads after its main campaign has drawn to a close. “We just wanted to make sure players knew that we’d be supporting the game after it was out, both with free and paid content,” he said. “It’s something we have done with all our recent games, and we want players to know there’ll be new content to keep them coming back to the game months after it’s been out.”
Despite the confirmation that there would be a fee to pay for some content, Bristow underlined how imperative it was that Rebellion wanted to provide free extras to make sure that everyone playing would get some enjoyment down the road. “Finding the line between running a business and just wanting to make cool stuff for people is never easy but we’ve developed a great reputation for adding serious value with our extended game content and Strange Brigade will carry on in that vein. Ultimately, it’s in both our business and our personal interest to make our players happy,” he added.
The arrival of Strange Brigade heralds the beginning of yet another swathe of video game releases as autumn draws near. It seems a strange time for Rebellion to launch their new IP when juggernauts such as Call of Duty and FIFA, as well as other keenly anticipated titles such as Insomniac Games’ Spider-Man and Crystal Dynamics’ Shadow of the Tomb Raider, could take precedence over it. Rebellion supporters are primed to dive into Strange Brigade regardless, and Bristow admitted that it had been “overwhelming” to see the reaction to the game as they prepare to release their first of two 2018 games. He stated, “When we’re pushing hard in the last couple of months, tuning and polishing every last thing we can, knowing that there are people out that excited for what we’re making is the best possible motivation. I can’t wait to get it out there now so we can get on with making the Strange Brigade’s next adventure.”
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