Iron Brigade review

Double Fine's mech shooter and tower defence hybrid finally arrives
Photo of Iron Brigade
£10.28

You might have heard of Trenched – although you won’t hear of it any more. Trenched was released over in the US in the summer, and was supposed to follow swiftly in Europe. However, due to an EU copyright problem with the name – it clashed with a Portuguese board game, of all things – developer Double Fine was blocked from releasing the game this side of the Atlantic. So, Trenched was renamed Iron Brigade, and then got stuck in the red tape of Microsoft’s approval process before finally being cleared for landing. Now it’s known as Iron Brigade globally, and the good news is that with its release over here, Double Fine has tacked on some extra content to reward patient European fans.

Tower defence hybrid

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves; first, back to the basics. Iron Brigade can be summarised as a third-person mech shooter crossed with tower defence. The story is as novel as the genre blending, envisaging a post-World War I society in which a plague of creatures invade the Earth. These critters, known as “tubes”, are trying to spread a broadcast of unknown origin which sent their evil genius creator insane (we’re betting the broadcast in question was a weekend marathon of Deal or No Deal repeats). You’ve got to stop the tubes (and Noel Edmonds) from ruining the world forever using a clever scientist’s invention, the advanced mech or “mobile trench”. While rather improbable, the plot is carried off with Double Fine’s usual charm and humour, featuring plenty of witty dialogue and slick presentation between the campaign’s missions. However, the real beauty of Iron Brigade is largely drawn from the depth of customisation possible with the mechs you pilot. These steam-powered clunking monsters can be outfitted with a range of guns and deployable turrets which can be purchased or collected as loot from dead enemies. Depending on your preference, you can elect to pilot a lighter framed mech which is speedier and deploys numerous defensive turrets, but doesn’t have much in the way of actual firepower on board the chassis. This allows for a more tactical tower defence based approach.

Robo-mech

Alternatively, for those who appreciate the likes of Robocop’s Enforcement Droid Series 209, you can pick the heavy mech. This can be laden so it bristles with multiple mortars and machineguns, but only has a limited capacity for deploying turrets, so the game plays more akin to a third-person shooter. Informing enemy creatures they have twenty seconds to live is entirely optional.

There’s also a third chassis, a middle ground compromise between the two, leaving the player to mix and match the appropriate chassis with different mech legs and new weaponry, bearing in mind the upcoming level. Handy hints as to what guns you’ll need, such as anti-air for flyer heavy levels, are imparted on the load-out screen, which is a useful touch. While the levels are broadly pretty similar – lots of enemies spawn from set points and make their way towards your base – there are always interesting nuances thrown in.

These can come in the form of freak weather conditions such as dangerous random lightning strikes, or the evil enemy mastermind unleashing gas smokescreens which hugely reduce visibility. You’re not always on the back foot either, as there’s a sprinkling of offensive missions, although for the most part you’re defending a key structure (or multiple structures). At times, trying to defend several fronts can be quite stressful, particularly as there’s no in-game map to allow the player to see exactly where enemies are coming from.

Spawning hostiles are briefly highlighted, but you need to remain very sharp and observant in the more frantic battles. Fortunately, the control scheme is really slick, allowing you to plop down turrets with one button press, meaning you can deploy them mid-battle with no fuss.

There are also slight breathing spaces between waves of enemies, where you get to do a little tactical thinking as to where the next gun emplacement should be built, or whether it would be better to upgrade your existing turrets. Iron Brigade is a heady mix of quick thinking and quick blasting.

Cooperative multiplayer

Throw in a few large-scale boss battles, some challenging later scenarios and a load of loot to collect, unlock and experiment with, and you’ve got a very compelling game. Iron Brigade is made even steelier with a co-op multiplayer option which cranks up the number of enemies and adds a whole new tactical slant to the game.

This makes for some superb online blasting. On top of this, Double Fine has seen fit to tack on extras for the European release of the game. There’s an additional helping of loot, but the main attraction is a new endless survival mode where the player is tasked with defending a hospital.

Not from rampant NHS budget cuts, but increasingly difficult waves of beasts, a scenario which will definitely test your mettle. There’s a leaderboard for the survival mode, too. When you consider that this game’s asking price is just a tenner, the survival mode reinforces an already sizeable dollop of tube blasting content. Iron Brigade might have taken its time arriving, but it was worth the wait.

Company: Microsoft

Website: http://www.ironbrigadegame.com/

Positives
  • A clever blending of two genres makes for some breathless action; great co-op multiplayer
Negative
  • Levels can feel overly similar at times

Verdict

Iron Brigade is a fast-paced mix of third-person mech shooter and tower defence. While the levels can sometimes feel quite similar, there are enough nuances along with variety in the enemies to keep things fresh. The thrill of earning new loot and trying out customisation options on your mech keeps you coming back, and the co-op and new survival mode ensure impressive longevity for the ten pound price tag.