With plenty of screenshots and gameplay footage looking very reminiscent of the beloved Quake, along with some gloriously cliche mock commercials and FMV sequences, STRAFE has caught the attention of many gamers. A clever ad campaign has set the game in days gone past and advertises itself thus –
“STRAFE® is the fastest, bloodiest, deadliest, most adjective-abusing, action-packed first-person shooter of 1996. Featuring breathtaking photorealistic graphics and persistent gore that allows you to paint levels red with the excessive entrails of your enemies.”
First thing is absolutely first though – STRAFE is not Quake. Nor is it Doom. Nor is it anything like those first person shooters you remember so fondly from the nineties. While presented in the first-person view and certainly including shooting elements, STRAFE is predominately a Rogue-Like game.
And that in itself is my biggest beef with the game. Take a good look at the Steam Page and you’ll see lots of videos, screenshots and sales pitches that will lead you to believe this is an action packed first person shooter. Even its Tags and Categories make no hint of the game’s true nature. You’ll be moving slowly, collecting every bit of scrap you can, upgrading your weapon and doing everything possible to avoid being damaged.
In order to be a more traditional shooter of 1996, the game needs a lot more health, ammo and armour drops. With very limited supplies you’ll quickly die if you play this in a traditional manner.
Moving quickly, jumping, spraying fire and killing enemies is perfectly fine when you have fixed levels and fixed monster spawns and/or a generous sprinkle of medkits and armour upgrades. STRAFE is extremely restrained in dishing out any form of healing, combined with randomly generated maps and monster spawns, playing the game like Quake will quickly leave the laymen dead. Which wouldn’t be a huge problem if you respawned or even restarted your current level but you do neither. Of note there is no difficulty selection either.
Playing this game like an ‘action-packed first-person shooter from 1996’ will see you die, quickly and repeatedly and you’ll be lucky to make it off the first level.
Initially I began playing the game much like I would Quake and I was met with nothing but frustration. Enemies quickly chewed through my shields and then my health; with no restorative pickups in sight it was a very quick GG (QQ). I was about to sum up my review then and there until I made one change in the game options which radically improved my performance. That change? I turned the music off.
It’s not that the music is bad, not at all, but it creates a sense of pace, urgency, momentum. Once I turned the music off I began playing the game much more akin to a Rogue-Like than an FPS. Switching from the Shotgun to the Railgun I edged into rooms cautiously, picking off targets at a long range, constantly checking my six for enemies sneaking up on me.
If you’ve played titles like Ziggurat (another FPS Rogue-Like on Steam, but with a fantasy element) you might be thinking ‘Hey no big problem, each run of the gauntlet will likely unlock some gear, a weapon or some form of XP / Currency to make the next run easier’. Nope.
With my 6 hours spent on the game so far I’ve yet to see any form of unlock, checkpoint or progression. Having said that I haven’t been able to complete the first few levels; it’s quite possible that checkpoints might be reached at a later point.
Despite not playing quite like the original Quake it certainly looks like Quake-Clones from the late nineties, Chasm: The Rift in particular. Why this particular aesthetic choice? You’d have to ask Pixel Titans (the developer). For one thing it certainly makes developing a game a lot less time consuming, especially for a smaller team, and for another it allows you to keep permanent corpses and gibs without dropping frames. There is even an option to reduce the on-screen resolution down to something akin to 320 x 240. I certainly felt a sense of nostalgia playing STRAFE and if that was the goal of Pixel Titans then they certainly succeeded on this point.
Audio is a bit of a mixed bag. While the music is energetic and suitable for a hectic FPS title the sound effects are extremely simple, even compared to similar games from 1996. Mobs make little to no noise at all, no grunts, no footsteps and often no attack noises, resulting in a flashing red screen and a loss of life often being the first indication that a mob is in the area at all. Considering the difficulty of this Rogue-Like title I’d have appreciated some more warning.
It wouldn’t be fair for me to talk too much about level layout, simply because I really struggled to get beyond the first few levels, all of which were a fairly cramped (suitably so) space ship. Looking at some of the gameplay footage on the Steam page though I can see there is a broader variety of levels available IF you can get to them. Although by having randomly generated levels using pre-made rooms clipped together you lose the ability to have truly interesting maps and any ‘wow’ moments. Again though, it’s likely a heck of a lot easier for a smaller team rather than hand crafting dozens of levels.
The game is single player only, with no plans for multi-player or mod support in the future. There are alternate game modes included, such as a wave survival style of play and more modes coming such as daily challenges. Virtual Reality is also planned and I’ll be keen to check out this game on my HTC Vive when it becomes available.
I’m not a huge fan of Rogue-Like games, so STRAFE certainly isn’t designed for a gamer like me. For those who enjoy the challenge of hardcore Rogue-Like games this could prove to be a real treat. If on the other hand you’re looking for some classic 1996 Quake action this isn’t the game for you, not even a little bit.
The game comes with a $19.96 USD price tag (Hehe) which, depending on what you are looking for in the game, may or may not be a little too pricey.
In summary STRAFE isn’t what I expected at all. I think if they had gone with hand-crafted levels and added more conventional weapons, ammo and health drops it would have been a hit. As it stands I think there might be quite a few confused and disappointed gamers. The game seems conflicted on what sort of experience it’s trying to offer gamers and ultimately to me it feels like it falls short as an action-packed FPS and/or a cautious Rogue-Like title.
SCORE (If you are looking for a Quake Clone) – 40%
SCORE (If you are looking for a merciless first-person rogue-like) – 60%
STRAFE is available now on PC. Head over to the Steam Page for more information – http://store.steampowered.com/app/442780/STRAFE/
REVIEW MACHINE – Intel Core i7 6700k, 32GB DDR4, Nvidia 1070GTX
UPDATE 24/05/2017 – Since my initial review the developers have implemented a number of patches, many of which address the problems I outlined in my review. The difficulty has been lowered, and while still a welcome challenge, it is no longer in the realms of frustration. Monsters now have sounds as they move about and attack now, making surprise attacks much less of an issue. While I still wouldn’t recommend this game to someone looking for a Quake clone I am going to revise my rogue-like score to 70%. Well done to the team for taking on board constructive criticism and feedback.
Oh! And there is a way to unlock teleporters that allow you to skip early levels on repeat plays. I’m just not good enough to have done this yet.