Review: Brigador

Pros: mech game for mech enthusiasts, lovingly crafted game engine, great replay value
Cons: horrible control design, story told through expository passages, lack of character interaction

I have spent a long time deciding how to approach this review. As a huge fan of the MechCommander series, and isometric games in general, there is a lot to love about this game: intricate pixel art, newly built mech engine, deep storyline, great soundtrack, lots of replay value, approachable despite its depth. But for all its triumphs, there are some notable setbacks.

I can only imagine the courage it takes for a newly formed indie developer to create a new game engine from the ground up. A five year endeavor by Stellar Jockeys, Brigador has been a long time in the works and that work shows. I can’t recall the number of times I stopped to appreciate the level of detail. From mission structure to game mechanics to the surprisingly great AUDIO BOOK?! (more on this later), so much thought went into this game.

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It’s like playing in a fully destructible model set

At its core, Brigador is a mission-based, real time, tactical mech game split into two game modes, Campaign and Freelance. In campaign mode, you begin as a soldier piloting a mech at the exact moment that the “great leader” of a planet wide totalitarian dictatorship has perished (not so subtly based on North Korea). The story then plays out in a string of missions depicting your desertion from the regime as you fight your way to becoming a brigador, a mech-piloting mercenary.

In reality, the campaign exists to get you acquainted with the game world. It’s where you discover whether your preference is sneaking your way through missions as you strike targets with surgical precision, or stomping across the battlefield, dismantling all that would oppose you.

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Where was I going again? Third house on the left?

And Brigador gives you that freedom. Impressively, the game engine is built as a mech sandbox: enemies perform patrols and exhibit behavioral patterns, mech and weapon choice affect how detectable you are by the enemy, and environments are fully destructible allowing you to forge your own path towards objectives. Once you are comfortable with the game’s foundation, your career continues as a mech-for-hire in freelance mode, arguably the heart of Brigador.

Surprisingly, the campaign acts as a prologue to Freelance mode. Freelance mode is all about the minutiae of mech-piloting. No longer restricted to the predefined load-outs offered during the campaign, the player is free to customize every facet of their mech: pilots based on skill, mech bodies of varying strengths and weaknesses, bi-pedal motion or hovering, weapons based on ammo efficiency and damage type. In short, parting out your ideal mech is where you’ll spend the majority of your time.

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Destructible environments sometimes play an integral part in a mission

As much as there is to say about the game, even more can be said about its atmosphere. The entire game plays out at nighttime, with lighting effects to match: enemy spotlights cause debris to cast shadows, industrial locations are bathed in an orange glow. Sound wise, hauntingly synthesized electronica elevates Brigador’s entire soundscape. Seriously, the soundtrack by Makeup and Vanity Set stupidly good.

What’s more, an audio book can be purchased alongside the game, allowing you to delve deeper into the game world’s origins. In a way, Brigador follows a three act structure, with the audio book serving as Act 1, the campaign as Act 2, and freelance mode as Act 3. It’s all kind of meta in a way.

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There is a nice diversity to the level designs, though always dark

But the game’s atmosphere doesn’t remain unbroken. It’s clear that certain sacrifices had to be made, limiting Brigador’s engine. For instance, every level is a completely flat surface suspended in a black void. The game (sans audiobook) is almost entirely devoid of personality. There’s a complete lack of character interaction and the only story to speak of is a page of text that immediately precedes each level. But most egregious are the controls; they’re tank controls.

I get the rationale; it’s a make a mech game with a control scheme to match. But tank controls died for a reason and should stay dead. Simply put, they’re fucking horrible. Movement in relation to the character, not the camera, was a necessity at the time, but a mistake today. To make matters worse, it doesn’t have just one set of tank controls, but two. Depending on the type of mech you’re using, you either turn left/right or strafe left/right. Even after playing through the entire campaign, I still felt like I had no control over my mech.

Despite all it has going for it, Brigador ultimately feels like a game out of time. What would’ve been a great game ten years ago, feels like a good game today. Oddly enough, while the controls stop me from playing the game, they don’t stop me from enjoying the soundtrack and audio book. It’s strange to say, but I think they both turned out better than the game.

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2 thoughts on “Review: Brigador

  1. Hey man.

    I’ve been playing and loving this game.

    You know if you just hold ‘E’ your mech/tank will auto-correct its movement towards where you’re aiming?

    Also I think the engine doesn’t limit the game at all. Sure the presentation could use a little help (first campaign “mission” especially with the cringy “voice acting” for the handful of lines), but having fully destructible environments is a very small price to pay for not having ‘height’ / depth (what did you want, the C&C Tiberian Sun engine?)

    I don’t wanna say that the game wasn’t made for you, but instead of thinking how the controls seem antiquated, perhaps you just need to GIT GUD with them? I understand that takes time and effort and as an ‘indie reviewer’ you’re not obligated to dump 15-20 hours into a game you can beat in 2, but it’s much more rewarding when do feel that control.

    Also I find it interesting you don’t mention anything tactical, or use of smoke/emp/invisibility/etc, when I think that really sets the game apart from ‘your average twinstick shooter’.

    Would you really think the would be better with a twinstick control layout? It doesn’t work because of the firing arcs (which I think add to the game) and the subtle differences of height and profile of the units aren’t immediately obvious, because the game doesn’t point it out to you, but you can really see the difference, especially with mortars and howitzers and the like.

    How would you improve the controls? Honest question.

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    1. I would’ve preferred if pressing left made your mech walk left on the screen, i.e. not used tank controls. Currently, movement is in relation to the mech and disconnected from what you see, which is the fundamental issue with tank controls. Not using tank controls would’ve been to my “fix”.

      Two hours may not be enough to “git gud” in a flight simulator, but it should it be enough for an action mech game. After eight hours (and a steam controller, xbox controller, and kbm later), all this game did was reaffirm that tank controls are the worst controls ever. “Twin stick” is precisely what this game should’ve been.

      The fact that you referenced “C & C” was one of the points I was trying to make. I wasn’t expecting “C & C Tiberian Sun”, a game released in 1999. I was expecting a mech game in 2016. One that didn’t make 20 year old mistakes.

      You are right that I could’ve spent more time discussing the tactical elements of the game in detail, but the game left me with bigger impressions. Incidentally, if I were to suggest a game that had emp, smoke grenades, mechs, twinstick controls, and was a lot of fun to boot, I’d just tell you to play Helldivers.

      Even with all that said, the game is still worth a look providing you love mechs and don’t hate tank controls.

      Like

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