Strafe Review – Welcome to Die.
Developer: Pixel Titans
Publisher: Devolver Digital
Platform: PlayStation 4, PC*
ESRB Rating: M
Release Date: May 9th 2017
*The PC Version was used to review this game
A retail copy was purchased by the reviewer for this review.
“Strafe” is what some would call an ode to the FPS games of the early to late 90s. It tries to create a procedurally generated roguelike game with the gunplay of such games as “Wolfenstein” or “Quake.” After being kickstarted years ago and being delayed earlier this year we finally have our hands on this unique game. Does it manage to deliver a polished experience to the fans of old school FPS? Let’s dive in and find out.
Like many other games of the era it’s trying to emulate, Strafe’s story is neither largely implemented nor important, but the humor is frequent, dark, and written quite amusingly into the little story the game has. The only thing the the tutorial levels really explain are that you are a scrapper for the Icarus corporation, and your job is to scout the outer rim of the galaxy looking for metal/scrap. You land aboard the Icarus main ship to find your coworkers dead and are left to find out what killed them. Thats it, thats all you need to know.
From an aesthetic standpoint, this game hits all the nails on the head. From the tutorial level being a cheesy 90s era employee training video to the eerie abandoned corridors of the Icarus, you’ll be immersed in a “Doom“-esque visual experience. The unique gore system Pixel Titans have created has you quite literally painting the walls and floors with blood after every encounter. The level design is constantly varied due to the game being procedurally generated, so you’ll never get worn out from seeing the same layout in the opening levels again and again.
The developers had a very specific idea for sound design when they began development on Strafe, and that was to invoke a sense of nostalgia on people who enjoyed the glory days of shooters in the 90s. Did they succeed? Not really. Most of the weapon and enemy sounds are rather generic. Not having any standout impactful noises from weapons as well as enemies reusing the same 2-3 noises every time you see them. The soundtrack is slightly better, being very synthwave oriented akin to the “Blood Dragon” DLC for “Far Cry 3“. There are a few good tracks that get your blood pumping and provide a decent sense of atmosphere, while others feel like generic synthwave songs off of a Youtube Mix playlist. Overall, a few good songs with the majority of the OST being painfully okay.
Spoilers: You’ll be Strafing a lot. The gunplay in Strafe is exactly what it set out to be. A (near) perfect reinvention of the classic 90s shooter. Running, jumping, and rail-gunning your way through hallways and rooms full of enemies trying to kill you by whatever means necessary. The AI is pretty basic and moronic, being drawn to you in a straight path with no variation whatsoever. It essentially promotes campy behavior and takes away from the entire purpose of the run and gun gameplay it strives to achieve. You can collect scrap from the enemies you kill to buy armor and ammo for your weapons, even though the scrap machines are extremely rare to come across. The weapons all feel good to use while some are obviously more powered than others. There are various weapon upgrades and purchasable items throughout the entirety of the main mode in the game, but take way too long to come across. The spikes in difficulty can be extremely unruly and almost random. The fact that there’s no permanent upgrades or progression like in “Rogue Legacy” can make it extremely hard to find a good foothold in the early levels of the game. The only exception to this is the teleporter system that allows you to skip a level if you buy all the teleporter parts and assemble them at the start of the next zone. There are also stats which can be upgraded via enemy loot drops, but there is no indication of what stat is what in the game, which leads to confusion. There are fanmade guides that explain each stat in depth but the fact that they aren’t even referenced once in the game is inexcusable.
Seeing as how this is a roguelike, content is of no issue depending on who you are. The game features 2 modes, the main game which can take a few hours depending on how fast you are, and the “Murderzone” game mode which functions as a horde mode where you gather up blood to unlock upgrades for your next Murderzone playthrough. I actually found myself enjoying this mode more than the main game. The procedural generation of the main story provides almost infinite replayability if you’re up for repetition.
Strafe is a love letter to 90s FPS games with a lot of potential that falls to the wayside due to a lack of polish as well as a slew of generic and boring design choices. There is fun to be had in killing hundreds of enemy minions, but it grows very tiresome with slow progression, wonky AI behavior and a mostly mediocre soundtrack. Most of the issues are small and patchable but at this point it isn’t worth your money. If you absolutely love the genre there might be something for you here, but if you aren’t 100% sure of what you’re getting into it would probably be better to stay away.