Brigador is a game that is deceptively simple to explain in its ambitions, and yet does almost everything right. As an isometric, pixel dense, action-focused mech battler in a rough futuristic setting, it has loads of charm and the mechanical finesse to back it up.
I’ll admit, having grown up with the Commodore Amiga as my introduction to gaming, Brigador’s audiovisual style grabbed me right from the start and didn’t let go for the whole length of the game’s campaign. Its isometric perspective, densely detailed — and gorgeous — fine pixel art and electronica-inspired-with-industrial-tones soundtrack made me feel as if I had stumbled into a time capsule holding a game for the Amiga, one that had been made back in the 90s, but could have never run on the computers of the time.
The game has the feel of those old classics. Old school gamers will have flashes of Syndicate, Cannon Fodder, and even the much more obscure Walker as they trudge through the levels, firing rockets that shatter the scenery as satisfyingly as the machine gun makes the small little soldier enemies melt into small puddles of blood.
The controls are awkward in all the right ways too, awkwardness derived not from bad implementation (the mouse + keyboard setup is as intuitive and thoughtful as possible, while the gamepad alternative felt a bit clunky to me, but I didn’t have nearly as much practice with it) but due to the simple reality of controlling a vehicle where the aiming of guns is independent from the direction of movement, across an obstacle-ridden isometric perspective. The controls will take a bit of getting used to, then, but they feel good — and the game offers ample opportunity to try them out, as the first handful of missions in the campaign are little more than obstacle courses that introduce you to the main types of vehicles, their weapons and their abilities.
From the weight of the bipedal mechs’ steps to the inertia of the floating assault hovercrafts, all of the vehicles at your disposal, of which there is an healthy selection from the get-go and an immense rooster of variants to unlock, feel meaty and rough, keeping perfectly with the “dirty futuristic” look of the universe — think Alien or (classic) Syndicate. The weapons are similarly punchy; the game gets lasers and plasma as right as it gets bullets and mortar.
If anything, this is one of the game’s few weak points; these missions are unexciting and slow. It quickly does an 180, though, because as soon as you hit the “real” missions, all bets are off and enemies will start making a beeline for you as soon as you hit line of sight — and they will pack a punch, quickly depleting your shields and going on to damage your hull. And line of sight is a thing – you can buy precious seconds by out-maneuvering an enemy and re-positioning behind a treeline or a set of buildings. While this is not a stealth game, many vehicles come with some form of evasive ability, from smokescreen to optical camo, allowing you to sneak by to find better attack angles — an absolute requirement in the later missions.
Of course, you could always stomp your way to the objective, if you’re feeling brave. All of the scenery is destructible, and most vehicles have little trouble destroying it. You can literally cut a swath of destruction through the map, though such an unsubtle approach will soon sound the alarms, making enemies more alert and erecting security walls that take longer to blast through. But, crucially, all of these security measures can be rolled back or disabled by destroying the right structures.
Another aspect where this game feels like a classic from a bygone age is in the minimalist story delivery. In this age of lengthy cut scenes and talking heads, it feels oddly refreshing to have your perception of the world and the events happening in it be almost exclusively delivered via the minimal information on the written mission briefings.
In a deft-touch that places you even more in tune with the ruthless, corporativist nature of the world, you can go into the game shop and use your hard-earned cash to buy lore packs, just in case you want to know more about the factions you are blowing up and the political realities of the planet you’re doing your mercenary work in.
Apart from the campaign mode — which at 21 missions is meaty enough on its own, especially if you take the challenge of finishing every mission with each of the four proposed vehicles — there’s then a Freeplay mode, one where you can run through almost as many maps with randomized objectives and enemy placement, while fully customizing your vehicles via pilots and loadouts you buy in the in-game shop.
Brigador is a triumph, a call back to the past with the mechanical sensibility of modern game and UI design. People that want a deep and satisfying storyline to go with their games might feel disappointed. Anyone else may jump in and have fun stomping little silly humans into puddles of gore.
Brigador was reviewed on PC with a copy provided by the publisher.
Developer: Stellar Jockeys | Publisher: Stellar Jockeys | Genre: Action, Isometric | Platform: PC | Release Date: June 2nd, 2016