STRAFE – Review

Wolfenstein 3D, Doom, Duke Nukem 3D, Quake, Half-Life, Unreal Tournament. These are the most popular shooters of the 90s. They were pretty simple by today’s standards—pick a gun and turn any lifeform in the vicinity into mush. I mean, yes, we can get technical about it, like adaptive level layout, contextual use of proper arsenals, or even the highly competitive multiplayer scene that spawned from some of these titles. But in its essence, a shooter is a shooter. Pull the trigger with a faster accuracy than the opposition, get a kill.

Platform Reviewed: PC
Platform Available: Mac, PC, PS4
Developer: Pixel Titans
Publisher: Devolver Digital
Release Date: May 9, 2017
Price: $19.96, Php 499.95 (Steam)
This review is based on a review copy provided by the developers/publisher.

PC specifications used on playing the game:
Intel i7-4790k
Nvidia GTX 1080 Founders Edition
Game Display Settings configured to: Max
Resolution: 2560x1080

Now you may be wondering why I am talking about the said things above. Well, STRAFE is a direct homage to those games. From its low-polygon graphics, the maze-like corridor level design, violent gibing, and even the grunting sound from hopping around (Hrraugh!). Pixel Titans really liked those games, and they want you to know it—especially Quake. Why Quake? First off, the game’s description on Steam says “…action-packed first-person shooter of 1996.” Next, the game’s USD price is 19.96. So, what’s up with 1996? That’s the release date of Quake.

With that out of the way, welcome aboard the ICARUS (which is the first zone of the game) where everything has gone to hell. People turned into zombies, vents on the walls have strange organisms in them that hurl out acid, and even the machines decided that they want to kill YOU, the “Scrapper”. Just like most classic shooters: in STRAFE, you get your guns and you run around blasting anything that moves to bits while painting the walls red (literally). Whether you fancy machineguns with grenade launchers, shotguns with shrapnel alternate fire, or even a heavy-duty railgun, STRAFE has them all! And by all, I mean those are pretty much the only weapon choices you have in the game.

Everything else, is a randomly generated pickup. In fact, the levels are randomly generated as well. There are some landmarks that guide you on which stage/zone you are in, but the arrangement of everything else in the world is never the same. Nevertheless, is this something that enriches the game? In my opinion, no. There are many fundamental aspects that are actually quite questionable for a game that tries to be like its 90s counterparts. To me, having randomly generated areas will always feel soulless.

A map in a game is supposed to tell a subtle visual story using the environment no matter what kind of game it is. The whole “never play any level the same way” elevator pitch just doesn’t work for me. If the environmental assets look the same, then I don’t care if these stairs were on the left side of the room, or if there were 4 windows as oppose to 8 previously. Having it created at random diminishes its purpose.

Another uncertainty that I encountered in the game’s design was the mandatory rogue-like elements that can’t be toggled on or off, which means that if you die in any level, even if you got far and crossed zones, you start from the very beginning of the game. No checkpoints, no saves, and your random weapon upgrades do not carry over, not to mention the scarcity of health packs and scrap-to-armor converters. This was obviously a conscious decision as the game marketed itself for being extremely difficult and unforgiving, but I just see it as alienating any potential newcomers to the genre.

I tried. I tried really hard but the game continues to kick me hard in the shin even after tuning the insane default aiming sensitivity. And for a game called STRAFE, you do more hopping than strafing to stay alive. When I result to spamming actions in order to stay alive, it makes the game feel cheap and exploitative. It’s really too bad, because for the most part the movement is fluid with the weapons ripping and tearing, the art style seems suitable enough for what they were going for, and the music—although a bit misplaced for the era, is truly head bop worthy.

That screenshot is not badly cropped, that’s the game’s 21:9 support for Patch #2 and Patch #3. If you are going to play it, make sure to stick to 4:3 or 16:9 aspect ratios for a proper experience as of now. I’ve had other technical issues as well such as micro stuttering when the level loads in and out. Noticeable frame drops even if the graphics card’s utilization was below 30%. Loading into a map once that did not have any way of progressing—I assume the random nature of the levels bugged out.

And lastly, and I’ve noticed that playing the game too fast and speed running can make the game’s movement controls just give up and the inputs come in a delayed queue, meaning: I’m still going forward even when I moved to the left or right, and moments later the input catches up moving you to directions you previously wanted, but not the one you needed now. Restarting the game helps, but if this bug happens to you, mid-run, well then you can kiss that run goodbye. Your mileage may vary.

On the release date of STRAFE, an “Official Movie Trailer” was release alongside that really hyped it up for many people. It was hammy, ridiculous and bloody just like a B-movie from the 80s/90s, and I loved it. A love I can’t unfortunately share with the game. The issues are enough to distract me from the overall experience, and I really don’t see myself playing it in the future unless a patch adds an option to change the perma-death, and fix the bugs that plague my runs.

STRAFE as of now feel unfinished, and is too reliant on its successful marketing campaign. If you are an absolute diehard for these type of games, I implore you to look up Brutal Doom instead. It is a free mod that gives the original Doom a bit more oomph and visceral feedback, while changing some of the controls to feel both familiar and fresh.


It’s Okay?

A game where you had fun but in the end, you still had a comment of “meh”.
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