Wot I Think: Brigador

Ice-cool cyberpunk, mass destruction, Syndicate-esque pro-tyranny tone, vast cityscapes, fluid action. Consequence-free chaos in the city of tomorrow. With customisable mechs. And hover-tanks. And Killdozers. And a neo-80s soundtrack. You’re gonna love Brigador [official site] – unless you’re looking for a mech strategy game.

Sure, you can choose your mech loadout and have to manage the old walker chestnut of legs/torso pointing in opposing directions, but this is closer to a twin-stick shooter than anything else. Albeit one with solid mouse and keyboard controls and the extra complication of movement switching between rotating and strafing depending on whether you’re piloting a mech or a tank. There is a strong need for tactics, particularly in terms of ammo and health management, weapon physics, crowd control and particularly targeting specific enemies before they sound the alarm, but where it most deviates from anything bullethellish is that your manavoureability is starkly limited by the tonnes-heavy deathmachine you’re controlling.

There are smaller, faster, more fragile mechs and tanks available, but even then shields and counter-measures mean it’s never the frantic dance of a Robotron. Save for the fact that the screen is a near-unending hive of bullets, lasers and explosions. If anything, it looks and feels like I remember Syndicate feeling, but of course it’s far more detailed and far more adrenal than that now slow and stark game ever really was.

Brigador is glorious to behold – sweeping, detailed cityscapes clad in neon-flecked night, ordered and peaceful when a level begins, shattered and smoking by the time it ends. On the one hand it looks lo-fi, but on other the tide of destruction and intricate units make me feel as though I’m playing a tabletop game come to explosive, carefully-lit life.

A carefully-deployed explosive can create a chain reaction of tumbling buildings, and, of course a well-timed stomp can dispatch a horde of enemies simultaneously. It’s a very specific power fantasy, recreated with clear love, prizing scale and effect well above anything like simulation. Not what the die-hard Mechwarrior fan craves, no, but the broader category of mech-lovers will be in hog heaven.

I love everything Brigador does, and yet I don’t quite love it, because despite its wonderful robo-toys, industrial-scale carnage and impeccable aesthetics it can be a frustrating old dear to play. It’s not that it’s hard as such, but the interface presentation makes life harder than it needs to be- and death more frequent than it’s probably supposed to be.

Perhaps this is a consequence of playing on a 1440p monitor (oh woe is me, etc), but the abiding darkness, tininess of all the units and lack of a zoom means I have to squint to work out which way my mech’s legs or tanks’ fronts are facing, which wouldn’t be such a problem if only the time taken to perform said squint and then correct direction to suit is often all that’s required to end up dead – as it charging headfirst into rather than away from a powerful enemy cos I didn’t realise my mecha-crotch was pointed in that direction.

It perhaps further reduces the simulation side of things, but I do strongly recommend turning on the directional indicator arrow in settings – although even then it’s tiny and easily-obscured. The night’n’neon aesthetic is cool as heck, but I think perhaps it’s a little too dark for its own good.

I had a similar problem with how far away the health/shields/ammo meters, positioned at top-left, are from the action, which broadly rages in the central area of the screen. Again, the time taken to pan my eyes from what I’m shooting to what condition my poor mech is in is often enough to be lethal, so I don’t do it anything like as much as I should. Most of the time, I don’t quite realise I’m in trouble until I’m suddenly dead.

It’d spoil the minimalism I know, but health and ammo bars hovering over the mech itself would solve this problem entirely. Hell, simply more warning signs such as klaxons and smoke would help. It only takes a heartbeat to glance up and left, yes, but in the midst of Brigador’s delightfully heated battles, a heartbeat can be all it takes.

My major frustration with Brigador is that death seems so sudden – this being a game where death costs all progress in what are usually large and challenging maps. I don’t dispute that it’s always ultimately my fault for being too reckless or under-utilising evasion tricks such as smoke grenades and temporary invisibility, but not being able to constantly be peripherally aware of key information I need only compounds my clumsiness. Some of the campaign levels are unashamedly brutal too – granting hugely overpowered units such as tower-block sized mobile fortress with one hand, then piling a relentless tidal wave of fast-moving units it struggles to track with the other.

The good news is that getting stuck or disheartened in the campaign is not a roadblock. You can jump instead to Freelance missions, which feature less fixed maps, new challenges and, importantly, the option to configure and buy mechs, pilots, weapons and abilities, rather than be saddled with the pre-fab options offered in the campaign. In-game cash earned in either campaign mode or freelance can be spent on these upgrades and unlocks, which include new maps too. So if you’re butting heads against a particular mission, just buy a new one.

The downside of this is that the entirety of Brigador risks becoming something of a crash grind, in pursuit of the bigger, weirder, more devastating mech’n’gun options. It doesn’t help that the storytelling in the campaign is so deliberately cold and even obtuse that, while its fealty to sinister future corp-speak is impressive, there can be no emotional investment in it. This means it doesn’t feel appreciably different from Freelance missions, other than it can be ever so slightly more setpiece-y and it randomly rolls out wonderful toys from further down the tech tree long before you’d be able to afford them. (Not that this will save you from a spanking, mind).

C’mon though, this isn’t a game you’re playing for the story, but one you’re playing to trash cities and squish soldiers. It’s just good to have options, different places to go and try out, rather than become stuck in a funnel. The impressive variety of vehicles is a joy too: if big’n’stompy isn’t cracking a particular nut, how a fast hovertank that can turn invisible, or a giant bulldozer than lobs EMPs? Or a tiny, almost man-size walker which, though fragile, is damned tricky for the bigger beasts to get a lock onto?

The weapon choice is sprawling too, from simple machine guns to slow-reloading railguns to daisycutter bombs to a sort of Superman heatray and a ton of cannons and rockets in between. If anything, there are too many weapons with too similar names, and figuring out, let alone remembering, exactly what does what isn’t straightforward, but half of the fun of Brigador is only discovering what your new investment is actually capable of once you take it out into the field. Or rather, the industrial zone which will very shortly become a field. A flaming, smoking, rubble-strewn field.

Make no mistake, Brigador is a toybox first and foremost – assemble your dream mech or deathtank, take it out for a spin in Bladerunnerville, trash everything, have a bloody great fight. A few UI frustrations can’t take away the innate pleasure of that, especially when it looks so delightfully, tangibly model-like too. It’s not Mechwarrior, no, but it scratches pretty much every other mech itch going, and with style.

Brigador has left early access and has a full release as of today for Windows, Mac and Linux.

From this site

49 Comments

  1. Premium User Badge

    gritz says:

    Going to play this just to find out what a “Carlos cannon” could possibly be.

  2. Bernardo says:

    My biggest problem with the UI is that I can’t always see where my guns point at, because the targeting system combines a horizontal and not easily discernible vertical vector, so that you have to target further away in order to shoot at flying enemies. That continues to confuse me.

    Also, I have this since Early Access and it feels like the game got darker since then. Don’t appreciate it either, I like to play on my 14″ Laptop and that doesn’t work well with this game.

    What’s the directional indicator? I can’t find it in the settings, i go by the front lights of the mech.

    Also, I feel the music warrants more emphasis. It’s by Makeup and Vanity Set, and it’s fantastic:
    link to makeupandvanityset.bandcamp.com

    First time I seriously consider buying the LP of a game soundtrack.

    • Premium User Badge

      Nauallis says:

      Have you tried using a bias light? I realize you’re playing on a laptop, so the benefits might not exist at all, but I’ve noticed that it’s way easier to see the depth of black in games and movies with a bias light attached to my computer monitor and also to my TV. In the latter cases I bought USB-powered LED strip and plugged it into ports on each display. When the monitor or TV are on, the LEDs are on. Very simple.

      Here’s what bias lighting is, if you don’t know: link to lifehacker.com

      • Bernardo says:

        Interesting concept, I didn’t know this. Thanks for the tip, this is certainly useful beyond just one game. Will try that.

    • DailyFrankPeter says:

      Have you tried ‘Risk of Rain’ OST? Not saying Brigador’s is bad but upon a few listens it feels like it would be best enjoyed with the game action itself. Risk of Rain’s is IMHO better for standalone listening (it actually possibly outgrows how it’s presented in the game).

  3. Ansob says:

    It’s under Settings > General > Show Player Orientation: link to i.imgur.com

    The vertical part of aiming is less obtuse than it initially seems. In short, your mouse cursor is always at the level of your vehicle’s gun.

    This means that to aim at an anti-grav, you need to aim behind them (so that the shot is higher up when its trajectory meets them), and to aim at the ground, you need to aim in front of the spot you’re targeting. The exact distance varies with the height of your gun mounts, but in practice any difference is fairly small.

    • Bernardo says:

      Thanks. I was too stupid to scroll down. Ouch. Anyways, I get that I need to aim behind/in front, but in the heat of the battle it’s often difficult for me to estimate the exact distance. There’s also some (deliberate, and understandable, given that it’s a mech) lag in some mechs between me moving the mouse and the guns swinging after it.

      Don’t get me wrong, I love the game, but the thing is, I’m kinda used to fast bullet hell stuff like Nuclear Throne, and it always takes some time for me to get used to the slower, but no less bullet hell-y gameplay of Brigador. Getting swarmed usually means death in this game.

      • wake says:

        You’ll be right at home with vehicles like the Arlo, Rope Kid, and the Pompadour then– those are the closest we get to bullet hell style movement

        • Bernardo says:

          Ok, I see that I’ll need to get deeper into the game. I mostly played around with the Touro a lot in Early Access, then didn’t get back to it for a while and am now just in the fifth mission or so. Thanks!

  4. Gordon Shock says:

    What’s manavoureability ?

    • Geebs says:

      Alec is suggesting it’s difficult for a guy to strongly assert or swear to something through several tonnes of metal plate.

  5. Kefren says:

    “charging headfirst into rather than away from a powerful enemy cos I didn’t realise my mecha-crotch was pointed in that direction”

    Sounds like a normal night out in Manchester.

    • Jakkar says:

      You get icecream for this comment. From someone in Swansea, the city whose nights out have infamously included two cage-fighter drag queens beating a man senseless in a viral video because he was beating up Spiderman.

    • Otterley says:

      Where all crotches say: “This side toward enemy”.

  6. Jakkar says:

    Damn it, I can’t afford this, Alec. Why do you tempt me? If we ever meet, and this was rubbish, I will stealthily pour biscuit crumbs down your collar. Mark my words.

    • Jakkar says:

      Sudden urge to lock 5 Lives (makes of Satellite Reign) in a room with these people…

      • GWOP says:

        I like how you think…

      • subedii says:

        Speaking of: Satellite Reign just got a beta update enabling co-op play.

        You can opt-in the usual way (Rt Click > Properties > Betas)

    • Premium User Badge

      DelrueOfDetroit says:

      You shouldn’t have splurged on that Nickelback poster.

  7. mashkeyboardgetusername says:

    A cyberpunk update to Future Cop LAPD? Yes please!

    (Yeah, I talked about a non-PC game. I’ll go hide now.)

    • Jakkar says:

      I’m pretty sure FC: LAPD was on the PC, too =)

      I played it on the Playstation, of course, where I think it surpasses even Syndicate Wars, Silent Hill or Resident Evil to be my favourite. The multiplayer remains one of the most fun 1v1s ever designed, predating MOBAs by many years while using similar systems, but with much better fluid action gameplay and creative freedom.

      I would *love* to play it again ;-;

      • Kaeoschassis says:

        It certainly was on PC, and was damned good fun, although given its age I did not have a gamepad, and co-op play with two people on one keyboard was kind of a nightmare given its many buttons. My brother and I played it anyway. It was that good.

        Precinct Assault mode was also, yes, lots of fun.

        Been waiting a long time for someone like GOG to bring that one back. Will definitely be trying Brigador in the meantime.

    • hurrakan says:

      Ahhh thank you! I’ve been trying to remember the name of that game for ages!

      Seems to be abandonware now: link to myabandonware.com

  8. Premium User Badge

    Elusiv3Pastry says:

    I’m quite enjoying this as well; extremely well made and great production values for a small indie game on sale for a mere $10!

    A couple notes on Alec’s review:

    “…tininess of all the units and lack of a zoom means I have to squint to work out which way my mech’s legs or tanks’ fronts are facing…”

    The front of your mech has one or more headlights to show you what direction you’re facing. It might get lost in close explosions or when you’re behind buildings, sure, but I stopped trying to look for the direction of the feet and just look which way the headlight was shining.

    “Most of the time, I don’t quite realise I’m in trouble until I’m suddenly dead.”

    When you get close to death your screen starts to go dim. Of course, if you’re lower on health but not low enough to trigger the dim warning, and then you take an artillery shell to the face, you’re just dead instantly. I think some smoke/fire/sparks would be a better indicator as well though.

    • Hobbes says:

      You say $10, where? I’ve been looking about and the best I can get is double that. I’ve been considering Brigador but the entry fee keeps me from going for it.

      • Premium User Badge

        Elusiv3Pastry says:

        Oof, nevermind. Their itch.io page briefly advertised a 50% off sale yesterday which is when I grabbed it. That was apparently a glitch that has since been fixed, according to one of the devs; see yesterday’s article comments: link to rockpapershotgun.com

      • Hobbes says:

        :( Ah well. I’ll wait. As I said, the entry fee is a bit high for me right now. Not -much-, I might be able to make it more my thing with humble’s discounts (as a monthly subscriber I get the 10% off, etc).

  9. Spuzzell says:

    I was looking for a mech strategy game :-(

    I just want to play Front Mission for the first time again.

    • Kaeoschassis says:

      Well, we’ll have Battletech to look forward to down the line, at least? Not quite Front Mission’s style, but I expect great, great things.

    • ChairmanYang says:

      You can emulate Front Mission 5 (with the English translation patch). It’s apparently amazing and the best in the series, by far.

    • dorobo says:

      try hawken :P there is some strategy in there

  10. gsvelto says:

    Wot, no mention of Walker as an inspiration?

    • Spacewalk says:

      Or Bedlam which I was dead-set on thinking this was going to be a revival of.

    • hamilcarp says:

      Just because both games have walkers? Brigador is more like Desert Strike

      • wake says:

        We’ve since become familiar with both Walker and Bedlam, but hadn’t heard of either prior to starting work on the game.

        • hamilcarp says:

          Oh hey, a dev! great job on the game, 12 hours in so far and really having a good time with it. Definitely worth the asking price.

        • gsvelto says:

          As others pointed out Walker is quite a different game, but Brigador reminded me of its feel and atmosphere; walking around cities wreaking havoc and gunning down scores of enemies.

  11. DailyFrankPeter says:

    Oh my goodness, this just took me back years to digging up games for my Amiga as a kid. In fact this whole thing has been a nostalgia trip – Syndicate and someone mentioned Desert Strike in an interview with Brigador makers. All these are games I played the heck of out in my childhood.

    • hurrakan says:

      I recently played some Desert Strike on my PC using an emulator – still awesome.

  12. Premium User Badge

    DelrueOfDetroit says:

    I think I have made myself clear that I pretty much adore this game.

    My water cooler description: Imagine an alternate universe where Westwood and Maxis got together to make an RTS/city building hybrid. Now remember back in the day when you played RTS games and always thought how cool it would be to jump into one of the units and blast away at the enemy army? This is basically a “mod” of that imaginary Westwood/Maxis game that lets you do just that.

    Also, David Cronenberg is there.

    • Premium User Badge

      DelrueOfDetroit says:

      One thing Alec didn’t mention as well is that the various load outs are essentially how the game offers different difficulty settings for each level. You have 4 options which correspond to easy, normal, and hard. Generally the “easy” option will be a big ass mech with all the best toys and the “hard” will be a low armour option requiring you to know the level. The 4th is, as described by the dev, the “fuck you” option.

      • Phasma Felis says:

        Huh. So you don’t actually get to customize your loadout, just pick from 4 options where one of the is strictly superior? That’s annoying.

        • Gilly says:

          You get preset loadout options for the story missions, but the freelance choose-your-own-mapset campaigns allow any combination of pilot, vehicle and equipment.

        • wake says:

          We give preset loadouts for the story mode so that we can provide more tailored experiences and challenges for the player. Also because we need to be able to ensure players have access to at least one optimal build for every level. Without that new players could end up struggling away at a level not realizing the build they’ve got is making it far harder than it needs to be, and the game is already fairly challenging to begin with.

  13. grobstein says:

    This game is not only mechanically brilliant but rich in detail at every level. The maps are gorgeous, the hardware choices are almost overwhelming, and the writing comes in maybe one notch to the gonzo side of ‘chillingly believable.’

    I’m really glad you guys decided to cover it, cuz I wouldn’t have seen it otherwise.