Brigador – Review
The closest that I have ever dipped my toes into the deep waters of BattleTech-inspired dystopian isometric shooters would be Starcraft, and I know for a fact that Blizzard’s RTS is as far away a comparison as apples and potatoes. I thought that my experience with building barracks and training troops and making medivacs would prepare me for a game where I would be just looking after one unit – building up its weapons and structure to my own design.
I was prepared for Desert Strike. I was not prepared for Brigador.
But what an amazing discovery it has been.
For one, I can’t begin to describe the uniqueness of the controls. The mouse cursor and buttons are utilised to aim and use your weapons, while you move the mech using WASD controls – W/S moving your mech forward and back, and A/D strafing left and right. It feels unusual in an isometric view and it takes time to get used to coordinating your mouse and your keyboard to contribute to two different movement functions. What I enjoy is that it has dared to be unique, in an industry where the desire for mental gymnastics is reserved for literal puzzles or obscure narratives. For once I not only enjoyed the challenge of navigation but the strange sensation to have such responsive, precise controls in a pixelated environment.
This is where Space Jockeys really shine, bringing Solo Nobre to life using vibrant neons dotted with intricate details. The stockiness of concrete slabs crumble into tiny flecks under your mech’s foot, and the dotted pattern of streetlights bring solid lines of structure as people arc their flashlights in the streets with a smoothness that feels almost ethereal. It would be too easy to ‘disguise’ smooth gameplay with a retro palette – Brigador strikes the balance of aesthetic homage and modern flair without going too far into a nostalgic port. This is further enhanced with sound choices that evoke 16-bit effects and synth-heavy ambience, with enough complexity in its soundtrack to remind the player that it is 2016. Your mech moves around with weight accompanied by pounding footsteps and old machinery creaks. Every flair has purpose.
In actuality, you need very little reason to blow up an entire city except to appreciate the attention to detail. This may be unsettling to those looking for a narrative and a purpose beyond “shoot important things and make money”, and the totalitarian feel to the menu screens certainly doesn’t ease the conscience. The campaign does attempt to provide some context, but it is paper-thin and endeavours to avoid emotional investment in order to highlight the financial returns of your actions. Seeing the campaign as a training ground seems the best way to approach it, with guidance that is not only provided at opportune moments but also reiterated if you return to the area where the helpful text was provided. There is a difficulty slider to the campaign for those who feel a need to prove themselves (ranging from literal tanks to figurative slingshot fairies), but it hardly seems worth it when your virtual money piles up and the freelance mode beckons.
Brigador is about discovery – using your hard-earned dollars to create a mech that reflects your play style. There are numerous builds to choose from, with faint outlines that provide little information about a mech’s actual design until you commit your funds. With obscure names such as “Broodmare” or “Fatshoe”, more often than not I tried out a vehicle just because it sounded absolutely ridiculous. Every amusing decision can be complimented with new primary and secondary weapons and new pilots and abilities, depending on how much coin you have from your campaign missions. Trying to figure out a strategy can be just as much fun as just trying everything and giggling with the glee of your destructive tendencies. More interesting is that you have to use your virtual income to pay for missions. With missions generated at random, a successful outcome is met with the risk of trying further missions to earn more funds or lose it all in a fiery death at the hands of the occupiers of Solo Nobre. Less ambitious players can “cash out” and upgrade their vehicles before encountering further conflict.
But I am mindful that Brigador wants you to take the risk, despite its high difficulty when the screen was overrun with crossfire and explosions from everything that wanted to destroy my vehicle into tiny pixel flecks. In those moments the brain often goes on vacation and the millisecond that you forget the unusual controls can be the moment of truth for you and your accrued finances. There are probably some tactics for those patient enough to explore them, with the rewards worth the time investment to play with more of the toys on offer.
Brigador doesn’t attempt to justify itself – it just beckons to those with a curious mind and a desire for a bit of a fight, using vehicles and weapons that could be as wacky as their names suggest.