Deaf Game Review – Strange Brigade

Strange Brigade Deaf Accessibility
4.1 / 6 Reviewer
Pros
All dialogue is subtitled, Subtitle text has a slider to adjust size and a slider to adjust background transparency, Some visual cues are well done
Cons
No speaker tags, No captioning for important sounds, Playable character call-outs (e.g. "Stopping to reload!") are not subtitled
While there have been improvements made in this game's accessibility since its launch in August, those improvements only addressed the subtitles, leaving other areas deaf players may struggle still needlessly difficult. The subtitles are great but the game really needs to provide visual cues to coincide with its audio cues to really be accessible for deaf and hoh players.
Visual Representation of Dialogue
Visual Representation of Sound
Visual Cues
Controller Vibration

We hadn’t heard anything about Strange Brigade (from Rebellion) until last week when browsing the Playstation store and saw it available for pre-order. Both of us being big fans of Sniper Elite, we got the game, excited about the prospect of a lighter/humorous story in the shooter genre. Unfortunately Strange Brigade is one of the few that, when letting us down, really let us down.

Let’s start with the subtitles: You can turn them on and off. That’s the only customization you’re allowed. No text scaling, no border or background options. On and off. So how do they fare?

Black and white scene of Strange Brigade crew. Illegible subtitles shown at bottom.
Black and white scene of blimp flying. Illegible subtitles shown at bottom.
Player character standing near a cliff surveying mission area.

Exceptionally bad. The text is far too small, there is no indication of who is speaking during cinematic scenes, and in a few instances during cinematic scenes, you’re trying to read a whole paragraph of tiny text within the time it takes the narrator to speak it. By the time you’ve gone across the room to your TV to read the text, it’s off the screen. And let’s not overlook how illegible the white text on light scenes setup is.

Player character exploring a cave

The next major failure is in the visual indicators for the sound played when enemies spawn. There is an unmistakable sound. The visual indicator is not so unmistakable. Try to find the small shadowy hand in the image above. Now imagine you’ve got enemies coming at you from every which way. Are you going to notice that tiny hand off to the side when you’re shooting enemies coming at you from another direction? Probably not.

Player character exploring ancient ruins. Blue cat figurine shown on far right.

Next we have the complete lack of captions for sounds indicating there’s a collectible nearby. Like the cat in the image above. When you come across a collectible cat, there’s a meowing sound you hear. There’s no visual indication paired with it, so it’s very easy to miss out on a lot of collectibles.

What does the game do well? Some of the visual cues, like the “Open Me!” in the image above, and the floating bullets indicating ammo and the glowing puzzle glyphs below.

Player character standing near ammo box
Player character standing near sealed tomb.

The real shame here is that so much of the charm (of which there is a lot) of the game comes from the narrator. He notes your actions and comments on them, from good shots landed on enemies, to you standing for too long doing nothing or pausing the game. The narrator talks to you about your individual gameplay, and deaf/hoh players will miss out on all of that.

Player character standing on a path. Image illustrates lack of narrator subtitles.

The tutorials are well done in that they explain things you might not quite understand without them. The problem with them is, again, the size of the text and the illegible font choice.

For both of us, the gameplay also leaves a lot to be desired, but that’s just personal taste. For me, having had a stroke and therefore having slow reflexes, I need aiming assistance (although I preferred aiming assistance even before I had a stroke). There is aiming assistance you can toggle on in the options menu but it doesn’t actually assist with anything (or if it does, playing without it must be damn near impossible). Courtney generally is terrible at shooters (yes, even more so than me) so she relies on fluid combat and gun handling. Strange Brigade has neither. On several occasions when trying to melee kick some enemies that were too near to allow the time it takes to shoot them (shooting is not speedy in this game) and in pressing the melee button, instead of kicking the enemy coming at her, she finished off one she’d already taken down that wasn’t a threat at that time, which left her losing a lot of health (and low on potions because you can only carry one) because she basically ran into the enemy defenseless.

Unfortunately what could have been a fun new take on a shooter (who doesn’t love old timey guns?) is absolutely ruined by the terrible, terrible accessibility. Deaf and hoh players will miss out completely on the personality of the charming narrator and will have a much harder time surviving (even on easy) than hearing players due to lackluster visual cues. Save your money on this one, or wait until they (hopefully) patch all of these issues.

UPDATE!

We fired up the game again this morning for the first time in months and were thrilled to see some updates to the accessibility settings. Previously, you only had the option to toggle screenshots on or off. Now there are added options including a slider for subtitle text size and a slider to adjust the opacity of the text background. Compare the before and after:

Black and white scene of Strange Brigade crew
Black and white scene of Strange Brigade crew. Easily legible subtitles shown at bottom.

While there are still no speaker labels, the narrator is now indicated by beige text while characters are in white.

Unfortunately other problems remain. The sounds to indicate enemies spawning still have no visual indication paired with the sound if you’re not within sight of them and the collectible cats that appear in hidden and obscure places, which players are alerted to by the sound of a cat meowing still have no visual cue to match the audio cue.

So, while the legibility of the subtitles has greatly improved and deaf players can now actually enjoy the story, there are still some barriers in place that keep us from having an equal play experience to that of hearing players.