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Brigador / 30th of June 2016

Cyberpunk, totalitarian military mech top down combat shooter; that’s not only quite a mouthful, but also the basic premise at the heart of developer, Stellar Jockeys’ Brigador . It’s really a throwback to the classic sci-fi games of old like Bullfrog’s brilliant Syndicate with its visual style, music and gameplay mechanics, but this new effort tries its best to make you feel powerful in a giant mech suit as you stomp around cities - Godzilla style - destroying anything in your path. Sounds good, right? But does it live up to the premise?

The story of Brigador seems to be a bit of a mess when it’s all just suddenly thrown at you at the start of the game, it’s like trying to explain all of the Star Wars backstory and lore within a single text scroll. All that needs to be known is that a totalitarian dictatorship controls the Earth, you, on the other hand, are a resistance group fighting against them, so go grab a mech and blow everyone up. There does not appear to be a cohesive narrative attached to the ‘Campaign’ and instead it just appears to be a string of missions with a defined objective that you must complete. There are only two game modes, with campaign being of them, the other is Skirmish which I found to be much more enjoyable. You are dropped into a big open map full of enemies, there are things that must be blown up, go do that and exit the level. Simple and no strange and incoherent narrative to get in the way of the fun.

The presentation is a hugely mixed bag. On the one hand the retro graphics look beautifully nostalgic, with blocky models and environment designs clearly made with love and care that remind me mostly of the old Rollercoaster Tycoon games funnily enough. The music too is a lovely collection of synthesised compositions that really give an old school sci-fi feel to the whole thing. Unfortunately, though, this is all for naught as the thing that caught my attention most of all is just how dark this game is. The lighting is some of the worst I have ever seen in a game, and while I can chalk that down to most of the missions taking place at night, it shouldn’t be detrimental to my own gameplay experience to set a game at a specific timeframe as it just serves to irritate me. Most of the environments also seemingly take place in some dark, endless void as huge open spaces of black surround every level which really takes you out of the belief that this is a living world and instead they just seem to be locations for you to destroy.

The gameplay follows an isometric top down view in which the player pilots several types of vehicles and destroys certain objects scattered around them, as you will have gathered by now. There are a wide range of vehicles to pilot including mechs, tanks and hover-ships and they can all have a huge amount of customisation done to them in the form of abilities and weapons, which is a more than welcome feature. Each pilot too even has unique bonuses and backstories applied to them, so kudos to Stellar Jockeys for that. Likewise, witnessing the environments getting destroyed as you walk (or hover!) around the land and blow up enemies is both entertaining, and perhaps more importantly, it does instil a sense of power, however, there are quite a few issues that hold the game back.

The first being that the controls are absolutely horrid. They are specifically designed as tank controls, which is fine for a vehicle piloting game, however the combination of an isometric viewpoint and the aforementioned terrible lighting combines to make it almost impossible to know where you are facing as the front of your vehicle follows your mouse instead. As a result of this you often find yourself completely losing control of your vehicle and being killed as you don’t know which way you will end up going, if you can see your vehicle at all with all the enemies and environment assets getting in the way! Secondly the aiming relies upon your mouse and while this would be fine if it shot in a straight line it actually requires you to click directly onto enemies which is a horrid way of doing it due to the fact that the mouse pointer in game is almost impossible to see clearly, especially during the middle of firefights. Finally, in the campaign mode at least, the difficulty is way too high as you find yourself slowly crawling forward with limited weapon capabilities trying not to aggravate a group of enemies that by all means you should feel that you can take on easily. You’re in a mech fighting game for pity’s sake! You should be gunning down everyone around you and at least be able to repair yourself properly. They have ammunition refuelling towers around the map, some of which really ought to be able to repair the vehicles as way too often I found myself running low on health and actively trying to avoid big firefights so as to not cause further damage to my vehicle.

This game then, well, it really doesn’t live up to what it wants to be. I see where they were going with it and it certainly does feel like a lovingly crafted game that aims to fill that nostalgic hole in our old sci-fi game hearts. However, with the combination of awful controls, terrible lighting and unfair difficulty I just ended up not having very much fun with it, and generally just found it to be a slog rather than something that I could actually enjoy. There are undoubtedly other games out there that do mech combat far better, however, finding one with such a unique spin on the genre will be incredibly rare and that is such a shame. In the current state of it I cannot honestly recommend Brigador, and saying those words makes me quite upset.

Jack McKay
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