The Light Brigade — A Higher Power

The Light Brigade by Funktronic Labs is a VR roguelike shooter that places you in the middle of a war between the templars of the Light Brigade and the evil Obsidian Forces. In these procedurally-generated battlegrounds, guns are plentiful and bullets are flying at you from every direction, but does The Light Brigade have what it takes to outshine the rest in a crowded genre or does it fade away into the darkness?

The story is simple enough to comprehend and gives you enough motivation to forge forward, mowing down whoever stands in your way. You are enlisted as a soldier in the Light Brigade and it’s your task to return light to the dark lands by eradicating red-eyed Obsidian demons that will use anything at their disposal to stop your plight. Even with guns, magic, and grenades at your disposal, you’ll still need a lot of skill and some luck to make it through intact.

One of the first things you’ll notice in The Light Brigade is the heft of the guns. Unlike most shooters that allow you to toss your firearms up in the air and juggle them around while flipping virtual ammo into them, the world war-era guns available here have a weight to them that ensures that you have to hold them with two hands to maintain control. Not only does this add some realism to how you shoot, but it encourages you to aim down the sights for a better shot.

Each of the levels that you’ll be exchanging bullets in is part of a biome that maintains the environmental assets and feel of the previous area and ends in a challenging boss fight that will really put your skills to the test. Safe places to cover from the oncoming bullets also change, as areas like dense forests with plenty of trees to hide behind are exchanged for pillars of broken castles and the tight spaces and plentiful walls of a sewer. No matter what level you find yourself in, the arrangement of platforms and the number of enemies of varying difficulty will change each time you enter. The type of loot you can find will also change, for better or worse.

The Light Brigade

Loot is also one of the biggest draws of The Light Brigade and it’s for a good reason: collecting is addictive. Gold coins allow you to purchase essential items like consumables, some upgrades for your gun like scopes and magical attachments, or keys to open locked chests. Inside the unlocked chests that are signified by a glowing aura and audible effect are some of the gun attachments, but more often contain tarot cards, and you are able to pick 1 of the 3 offered to you. Each card does something different and is ranked by the star level at the top of the card, but it might be just enough of a boost to keep you going.

Roguelikes like The Light Brigade are meant to be difficult, and there’s no exception here. You’ll constantly be dying, but there is some redemption in the upgrade system that is fueled by souls gathered in your runs. Souls are primarily gained by defeating enemies, but you can also find other players and soldiers downed in the environments and put your virtual hands together to pray to release them from this plane of existence, gaining their souls for your trouble. Prayer goes way beyond just releasing souls and is an integral part of the experience.

Easily the best use of prayer is during a lull in battle as you can pray to see the location of enemies in the level and treasure chests — noted by red and yellow dots, respectively — which can then help you figure out your strategy before jumping back into the action. You also use prayer to unlock the door to the next area, and if you die during a run, you have a chance to pray at your corpse to regain your life and the souls that you collected, or they are lost forever. It’s a simple virtual gesture, but with it woven through every aspect of the game, it feels really cool to put your hands together to pray before you’re about to kick some Obsidian ass.

Once you have a good amount of souls racked up, seeking out a stand where you can deposit them for safekeeping will keep death from its finality, but these are randomly placed and not guaranteed between levels. Souls are how you level up in The Light Brigade and each level offers you a reward of skill points. You can spend them back at base for improvements to your gun’s damage, unlock additional weapons, or perks like additional lives to further your run.

The Light Brigade

After you defeat the first boss, you unlock access to additional classes, starting with the Scout, which swaps your rifle for a submachine gun. There are six classes in total, and each one comes with a specific weapon and sub-weapon to utilize. Once you unlock the magic wand,  magic can also be adapted to fit your play style, with upgradable wands that shoot fire and offer shields to block incoming shots. Having the freedom to play and build up each class is a neat way to handle the leveling system and figuring out the best setup that works for you is part of the challenge.

One of the best features available to players of The Light Brigade is the accessibility options, which allow you to change to a sitting position, adjust your height, and move UI elements and things like your ammo belt to fit how you want to play. Teleportation is essential to gameplay, as you will need to traverse distances that can’t just be walked across normally. Overall, the ability to customize nearly everything about the way the game works in VR makes for a more pleasant experience and helps adapt to your needs and not the other way around.

The Light Brigade is difficult but fair, with stylized environments filled with bad guys waiting for you to put bullets in them and guns that make it fun to do so. Sure, it’s always frustrating when you die in the middle of a really good run, but when the gameplay is as fun as this, it makes jumping right back in almost addictive. As someone who isn’t really a fan of roguelikes in general, this is easily one of my favorite VR titles to date, as the unique gunplay and magic system combine with the unique templar-themed story and prayer-based interactions to make something that really feels good to play. Give it a shot even if you’re not a fan of these types of games, as The Light Brigade might just surprise you.

The Light Brigade was reviewed for the PSVR2. It is also available for the Meta Quest and on Steam VR.

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