Brigador is an isometric 2D mech-combat action game, and the debut game from indie studio Stellar Jockeys. In Brigador, you stomp, bulldoze, and/or hover your way through a variety of different futuristic cities while battling enemy mechs and causing mass destruction. I snagged a key from the developers and beat the campaign, so I'm ready to present my Brigador review!
Although Brigador might draw comparisons to DOS classic Syndicate for some, for me I'm most reminded of games in the Desert Strike series. In the Desert Strike games, you command a powerful war machine from an isometric viewpoint and are tasked with certain objectives. Most of the time, you'll be headed into enemy territory and blowing up enemy vehicles and structures, while keeping an eye on your ammo and health.
Brigador's retro styling and isometric action locks right into the Desert Strike groove I have carved into my brain. Helicopters are now hovertanks, and there's no fuel to worry about, but otherwise the basic action feels similar. Overall, the gameplay gets the action right - wielding the power of a motorized destruction dealing walking tank feels meaty, and the variety of weapons feel different while all mostly feeling powerful.
Let's Play! Come watch us play a freelance campaign in Brigador from our YouTube channel:
Combat technically takes place in a 2D plane, although the third dimension does come into play when aiming. Shots fired arc towards a point on the ground, and depending on how tall (or how high) your enemy is, you might need to aim a little closer or a little further away to hit them. Various weapons have different targeting methods, as well.
There are several ways to play Brigador. There's a 21-mission campaign, where you'll be given 4 fixed mech loadouts to choose from. Some of these loadouts are harder than others - especially the tiny, light scout mechs that barely have any armor or weapons at all. Quick reflexes and careful planning have to be used in order for you to have any hope at survival.
The campaign follows a group of mercenaries as they help to liberate a futuristic colony from the lingering influences of a recently deceased dictator. There's not a lot of story shoved in your face, as there aren't any real characters or strong narratives in the missions. You have to buy and read lore articles or listen to the audiobook included in the deluxe version if you want to get the bigger picture.
If you'd rather forge your own path, there's a "Freelance" mode where you can pick and mix your loadout and your mission however you like. Harder missions task you with clearing more and more districts before you get to punch out and collect your earnings. Those earnings can then be invested in unlocking more loadout and mission options.
You are almost always outgunned in Brigador, so exploiting your enemies' AI and the terrain is key. Enemies won't power up their shields until an alarm goes off or they've seen you, so staying out of sight and quickly destroying scouts who will raise the alarm is a good way to keep the bad guys weak. Enemies also investigate noise that you create, which can work for or against you. You can shoot buildings to draw enemies into a trap, but if you shoot at a group of enemies or cause a big explosion, you'll draw a big crowd that might be tough to handle.
Sometimes it's not clear where enemies are hiding, and there's no map or anything to help there. Thus, you might shoot at a distant enemy and unwittingly knock over a hornet's nest worth of trouble coming down on you from all sides. In the campaign, that's no big deal since restarting is cheap and easy. In longer Freelance games, though, one mistake can erase quite a bit of progress.
The terrain is fully destructible, so if a wall is in your way, it won't be for long. Walking mechs can stomp, treaded mechs can dash, and hovering mechs can slam themselves into the ground to remove obstacles from your path. Of course, you could also just roll over them. Keeping the environment intact is sometimes as key a strategy as destroying it - enemies that can't see you can't hit you very well, after all.
There's an impressive amount of mechs and gear to choose from in Brigador. There are dozens of pilots, 31 chassis, many different types of weapon slots, each with its own set of armaments, and four special weapons that recharge and can give you an edge in battle. That said, it can be tricky to figure out what the "good" stuff is without a lot of trial and error.
In fact, the loadout interface in general could use a bit more work. There's no way to save a completed mech and load it up later, you've got to remember what combination of weapons and so forth were good together on your own. In the "fixed loadout" campaign missions, it's difficult to figure out even what type of mech you'll be piloting until you get good at recognizing their shapes. Since different mech types have different control schemes, swapping back and forth can be difficult on the ol' muscle memory.
Brigador doesn't feature any achievements, which is a bit odd. Without them, playing Freelancer mode feels a bit aimless. I was able to buy a pretty good loadout with the cash I had saved from finishing the campaign. From there, it's basically just "how long do I want to play Brigador?" Luckily, it's fun, so the answer is "probably quite a bit longer."