“STRAFE” is a game I’ve been looking forward to for a long time. It has a great look and has enjoyed one of the best marketing campaigns I’ve seen in years.
STRAFE has a lot going for it, but does it deliver in the areas it counts the most? Read on to find out.
If you’ve watched all of the marketing for STRAFE you should know by now that it has a distinctly tongue-in-cheek personality. This is evidenced immediately by STRAFE’s retro tutorial that sees a sexy scientist-type explaining the rules of the game to you in brilliantly corny live-action cutscenes (rendered of course with the neccesary VHS degradation).
STRAFE likely won’t win any awards for its storytelling, but it doesn’t need to. It aims instead to be an endlessly replayable rougelike where you scour the randomly generated dungeons for the exit to the next, probably more difficult level.
The adverts used to sell STRAFE over the last couple of years tell a surprisingly overarching story about a sentient game that’s so hard it melts the faces of those who play it, and ends in an all out war between the survivors of the game and its polygonal abominations brought to life in the real world. Considering all the work that went into these, I was hoping to get a little more cheesy 90s lore here, but there isn’t too much between the gibs and the rivers of blood.
STRAFE immediately feels great when booting it up. It has the speed of age-old shooters that sends you flying around the maps, blasting chunky looking weapons at chunky looking enemies. I’m a sucker for these throwbacks when they’re done right, and as far as the actual feel of running and shooting goes, STRAFE nails it. It’s what it does with those fantastic foundations that is a little bit of a let down.
STRAFE often feels like a victim of its own split personality. On one hand, you have a glorious throwback to the run and gun shooters of the past – a genre I absolutely love and sorely miss -, on the other you have the modern roguelike, another fantastic genre that I’m a huge fan of. I’ve even seen these two genres play nice together, like in the brilliant Heavy Bullets (another game published by Devolver Digital). STRAFE, crushingly, is an example of how not to marry these two generes, however.
The thing is, STRAFE’s economy is all out of wack. Enemies take massive chunks of armour and health off you, punishing you for the slightest mistake (or the tightest corridor), and if you allow yourself to get surrounded it’s pretty much lights out – and right back to the very start. There’s loads of times in a STRAFE run that I got hit and felt like there was nothing I could have done to avoid that damage. In a skill based roguelike such as this one, cheap shots don’t sit well with me. Even your own mob-clearing abilities often take large chunks of your own health off thanks to a questionable friendly fire mechanic where richocheting bullets will hurt you.
Fast dwindling health wouldn’t be such an issue if STRAFE had doled out health packs or armour kits as generously as its inspiration used to, but replenishing your armour costs a ludicrous amount of in-game currency (it’ll take you a couple of levels perfect play to grab enough for even half your armour back) and the 10-health pickup pods are rare, often tucked away behind massive hordes of baddies or seemingly absent altogether.
This all amounts to your health and armour being far too precious, meaning you won’t be playing STRAFE like you did Doom or Quake back in the day, or even how STRAFE’s own marketing seemed to promise: lightning fast, guns blazing frantic action. Instead, the only way to see your way through the difficult stages is by playing overly carefully, firing pinpoint lasers from a distance and trying to tackle enemies one at a time. It’s a dull way to approach the game, especially considering how great STRAFE can be when you play the title the way you feel it should be played: for the level or two this reckless pace really suits STRAFE and brings out a lot of emergent badassery, but you won’t amass any funds, you’ll miss the randomly dropped keycards barring your progress and you’ll die pretty quick regardless.
- 1 2