Rebellion is not a game developer known for playing it safe. In its last game, Sniper Elite 4, players were encouraged to gratuitously shoot Nazis in the head. The better they were at the task, the more often they were rewarded with a cutscene tracing the path of the round in slow motion. It was an interesting effect, but also one that put them front and center in a hastily produced White House video highlighting violent video games.
The developer’s latest effort, a cooperative third-person shooter called Strange Brigade, feels like a departure. But, in motion, it’s a game that takes just as many creative risks as Sniper Elite 4.
Allow me to introduce you to the game’s narrator.
This nameless character is more than just voiceover for the game’s trailers and cutscenes. He’s your constant companion as you storm through mobs of the undead, period weapons blazing. He’s the driving force in the game’s narrative, and actually provides pithy commentary on your actions as you play. He even appears aware of the fact that he’s trapped in a video game. For instance, if you hit the pause button he’ll sound surprised for a moment. Then he’ll ask you to bring him a cup of tea while you’re up.
I initially found this narrator character to be obnoxious. But, eventually, he kind of grew on me. I find that he provides the same kind of comic relief as Lord Shaxx in Destiny 2. I’ve only had the chance to play through the game’s first level, but I’m already looking forward to his next over-the-top outburst.
Even more risky than the narrator, however, is Rebellion’s choice of characters. This is the first video game that I’ve ever played that has a black African woman as the default selection for player one. Named Nalangu Rushida, her backstory is that she’s been “raised from birth to protect her people from supernatural threats.” Now she’s in the service of the leader of the Strange Brigade, a mysterious woman named Lady Imelda Webster.
There’s another woman on the team, a Rosie The Riveter stand-in named Gracie Braithwaite, as well as two fairly archetypal white men. While those three are wearing period typical English clothes, Nalangu stands out because of her choice of African dress and face paint. It’s the kind of character design situation could quickly devolve into awkward themes of colonialism if Rebellion isn’t careful. But, in the small amount of narrative that I’ve experienced so far, Nalangu holds her own.
I’m looking forward to seeing how the game’s narrative unfolds. Rebellion has clearly put a lot of thought into these characters, going so far as to commission a series of short stories for publication. Writers include Cassandra Khaw, Gaie Sebold, Tauriq Moosa (who has previously contributed stories to Polygon), Guy Adams and Jonathan L. Howard. With names like that showing up to toy with a goofy, 1930s-era serial I’m more than a little curious to see what they’ve produced. Titled The True History of the Strange Brigade, there’s an excerpt online. The entire book is available now on Amazon.
Strange Brigade comes out on Aug. 28 for PlayStation 4, Windows PC and Xbox One. We’ll have more on its narrative campaign soon.