Stellar Jockeys' tactical isometric machine mayhem simulator is out; a heavy metal twin-stick shooter of sorts that pushes all sorts of personal aesthetic predilections. In true internet spirit, I've shucked sprawling length in favour of five main reasons why Brigador matters.
You can throw a lot of clever tags around Brigador. 'As if the Nineties never ended', 'a mash-up of A and B' and heck, the smug offering of yours truly involving a compound forced mating of 'mech' and 'isometric' I dare not repeat.
But beyond the PR preening, Brigador is gritty and crunchy and detailed and gorgeous. There's seemingly little love for kit-bashing elsewhere in the medium, but Jack Monahan's masterful tithe to Kow Yokoyama has more than been paid. Industrial brutes and ramshackle machines ply the crowded, crumble-prone Solo Nobre streets. The Touro, Brigador's answer to the Timberwolf, is a confident showcase of the artistry. This is not some sleek, polished motorpool of ceramics and Lycra. Brigador's aesthetic is diesel, cordite and argon.
When it kicks off, it kicks off. The withering fizz of an Otomo laser disintegrating dismounts and melting exos, the sucker punch impact of heavy shells loosed among a pack of enemy crawlers. The level of ordnance exchanged can very much confuse a player's heading in the nocturne, and it's rarely an easily-parsed series of gunfights on higher difficulties. Brigador could be a little better in that regard, a little more zoomed, a little less long-range and a touch less confusing. However, if a visual frisson of machinery and pyrotechnics is your bag, then I doubt anything else will come close in 2016.
The Catharsis of Carnage
Brigador maintains clean and clear objectives. Get in, destroy, get out. In an age of alarming tedium, Brigador keeps it simple, but not simplistic. As the clock continues to strike into the darkened AM, I'm there, grinding my way against a mechanical onslaught. I die and I die. I might die again, and probably will, but there's just enough pliable give in Brigador's toothy maw to make every single death an incremental learning experience. That gas station I inadvertently scraped? Caught me this time, but I'll use it catch and thin the metal herd upon restart. That battlesuit bum-rush? I'll learn to pop smoke and manoeuvre more deftly. That glass cannon hover-tank? I'll wrangle you yet, you slippery bastard.
If pressed for succinct pith on why the gameplay loop works so well, I'd have to call it my mechanised Spelunky. The call of The Run. A mission, be it campaign or freelancer sorties. Just let me chew on an arena, claw the eyes out of the enemy and see how far I can get. Each of Brigador's vehicles operates uniquely, each weapon a new experience, every run variably inflected. From tarmac-cracking heavy tanks to flighty walkers, anti-gravity greyhounds to gun-jalopies; the run combinations are fascinating. Making do with weapons systems that might not be perfect for the enemy at hand. Long-toms wielded against fast-movers. Active camouflage when you really need smoke launchers. Grenades when you need lasers. Making big old buckets of bolt-ridden lemonade, or die trying.
Collectibles, tchotchkes, trinkets; call it what you will, the realm of deluxe pack-ins in the digital age runs from mildly insulting to delightful. Brigador's soundtrack is probably the year's best, arranged by synthwave maestro Makeup And Vanity Set. It's a moody selection of looming washes and pulsing beats, coalescing with the pulp VHS milieu Stellar Jockeys have carved out. But the big surprise came in the form of Brad Buckmaster's Brigador novel and subsequent audiobook, narrated wonderfully by Ryan Cooper. I consume my non-gaming media at a leisurely pace, but this was wilfully force-fed. Buckmaster's tale fleshes out the fall of Solo Nobre, capturing the kinetic churn of the game without feeling hokey or ebbing on fan fiction. It feels like William C. Dietz sat down with Ralph Peters to nut out a Forever War AAR. It's good. It's surprisingly, thankfully, wonderfully good.
Retro Fare for the 90s PC Gen
I'm not above having my nostalgia capitalised on, particularly when it's done so meticulously. If the console crowd can have their sentimentality gland milked red-raw, we beige boxers can too. Brigador might feel like a technical take on EA's Strike series, but its DNA feels unmistakably PC.
It's the anachronistic MechAssault expansion to MechCommander Gold. It's Syndicate Wars. It's Mirage Technology's Bedlam and Origin's Crusader. Brigador feels exactly like the collective memory of that era; how you remember games playing on your Windows 95 machine. An odd clunkiness, player-willingness to straddle the systems, no corners beveled. For every pixel platformer delighting NES veterans in the modern age, Brigador captures a similar satisfaction, as if you were still popping the ball from your Hewlett-Packard mouse and scraping gunk from the rollers.
Because I want more Brigador
Because, yes, I do want more Brigador. I want more Brigador in any shape I can get it. I want that tactical WEGO Brigador, parcelled as a junked-out Front Mission or Cyberstorm. I want another run on Solo Nobre. Tell me more about Great Leader and the rest of the galaxy. More dark synth atop the snarling rapport of a vulcan chewing concrete and steel. More crunchy vehicles, more offworld designs. Let those orbital lasers fire. Let me leash a few friendlies for a fireteam sector incursion. Let me keep stomping.
Brigador isn't perfect. But Brigador as a kit-bashed fever dream of machines and ordnance is pretty special. A ruthless, relentless 20mm brawler. Solo Nobre must fall, and you really should do your part.
Find your exit.