A grimey, lo-fi text-to-speech program coughs out a made-up word: "Brig-a-dor." From here on, I know what I'm in for. Brigador isn't like today's games. From the moment you start playing you'll wrestle with befuddling menus and a nonsensical plot. But that's okay; menus don't hinder much in this case, and the plot is no more important here than it was in the original Doom. What matters in this game is satisfying action in a destructible playground with badass mechs. And there, Brigador delivers.
The eponymous brigador are a series of mechs that range from nimble hovercraft to hulking tanks on legs, and each has a shield and a basic array of attacks. Bigger brigs can stomp the ground and fire colossal mortars, while nimble craft rely on light ordnance like machine guns. After running through a couple of tutorials that introduce you to the basic controls and abilities of each mech, you're dropped into your first mission--and it is a maelstrom.
In seconds, you're swarmed by all manner of enemies ranging from unarmored men with guns all the way up to other brigs. The rush is overwhelming and forces you to think tactically. You may be outnumbered and outgunned, but if you can outthink your digital foes, you'll be fine. In this effort, terrain and movement are your biggest allies.
During my first big firefight I found myself surrounded, but there was a shipping depot not too far away. I used my temporary cloak to dash through their ranks and break for cover behind shipping containers. I managed to funnel my attackers into one of two chokepoints, so I could focus my fire. Because these mechs are loosely based on real-world tanks, though, their armor is thickest in the front and weak on the sides and back. My tactic, while helpful, wasn't necessarily the best or only way to approach the scenario.
Your enemies employ spotters, alarms, and plenty of automated defense systems that can hamper or even halt your progress towards a mission objective. If you carelessly run and gun, and don't have a monstrous, overpowered mech to match, you'll be crushed. The action is fast-paced, but you can't afford to be reckless.
Brigador works in these little oscillations. It will present you with a chaotic, borderline unmanageable situation and then force you to figure out a plan. It can feel overwhelming at times, especially after the comparatively restrained tutorial areas, but you shouldn't have too hard a time as long as you play mindfully.
To that end, Brigador gives you a lot of tools to help you control encounters. For example, every mech has a few weapons slots and a defensive technique. When you set out for a mission you can choose your loadout, including which chassis and armament you think will serve you best. Smoke grenades, cloaking and EMP grenades can disable or avoid enemies altogether. When combined with some terrain knowledge, you can use your machine to tear through a wall and attack a vital target before anyone sees you. Or you can set-up an ambush, tricking heavier tanks into revealing their rear for a swift and deadly assault.
While it looks like a twin-stick shooter, Brigador is a lot more precise and demanding. You control the direction you're facing, where you're moving, and the firing arc of your weapons independent of one another. And Brigador keeps that flexibility throughout. While progression in terms of unlocking new parts or chassis is linear, the campaign and the flow of individual missions is left open. If one level is frustrating, you're free to skip it altogether.
It all serves a weird power fantasy that runs throughout. Brigador wants to drop you into a quagmire and force you to adapt. Enemies will swarm and flank, and unless you've been particularly stealthy, you'll often have to deal with attacks from all sides. You need to manage all of this on top of every movement of your mech, trying not to expose its weakpoints while focusing on the most dangerous targets. It's a lot to process and manage, but when it all comes together, succeeding in the face of such complexity and chaos is very satisfying.
In many ways, Brigador is the modern, indie progeny of classic mecha games like Armored Core. It's rough around the edges, and doesn't do much with its story or its tutorials, but distills the gluttony of the 90s action genre into an impassioned, indulgent package.