Developer: Pixel Titans
Release Date: 09/05/2017
Publisher: Devolver Digital
Platforms: Win / OSX / PS4
Another one so soon!?!
It seems like only a few weeks ago that the brilliant Devil Daggers strafe-jumped into my steam library, but did you know there was another retro-styled shooter waiting in the wings? Well, you probably did. STRAFE (yes it has to be in caps) has been touted absolutely fucking everywhere for the last 5 months now but for those of you who've been hitting the turps a little too hard let me bring you up to speed. STRAFE is a kickstarted 'retro' style shooter that aims to combine roguelike elements with twitchy late 90's shooting. The Idea is similar to Devil Daggers with solid shooty mechanics built on endless randomly generated fun, but instead of an arena shooter you get something similar to Quake. Unfortunately, it's not all rosy...
Lets get started with the gameplay, STRAFE is broken into several chapters, or 'zones' that are completed in linear succession, each zone has 4 or more stages and if you shit the bed you have to restart the run back at stage 1 with naught but the shirt on your back and the helmet on your head. As for the killing implements, you get a single primary weapon (a shotgun, railgun, and machinegun) each with a secondary fire mode, other more powerful weapons can be collected but these have very limited ammunition and are basically disposable powerups. You're not completely fucked however because more permanent upgrades and abilities are available! Like any roguelike you can collect doohickies (or scrap as they call it) to upgrade your weapons, or convert into cash and buy new abilities, you also convert scrap into sheilds or ammo at special machines to get yourself out of a tight spot but this doesn't always pan out well as we run into STRAFE's major issue.
None of STRAFE's components gel particularly well purely because of its randomized nature. If you look at the shooters STRAFE is attempting to ape (Half-Life, Quake, Unreal) you'll notice just how carefully they've tailored player progression. Weapons, maps, and enemies all carefully compliment each other, very often when a new weapon is discovered a new enemy or element is unveiled (or vice versa) this of course goes out the window when your arsenal and map are a literal crapshoot. The consequence of all this is that you have to play STRAFE extremely defensively if you hope to make progress, which completely undermines the fast and frenetic gameplay that the weapons were balanced for and the whole thing starts crumbling like the Christchurch CBD. The earlier dilemma of do I choose more armor or take the chance and buy a better gun never comes up because you're either being an anal cunt with ammo and scrap galore, or you're constantly getting fucked 5 ways from Sunday. This almost binary difficulty pattern means that STRAFE just isn't fun.
So what else has STRAFE got to offer you ask? Fuck all really. It plays up the campy 90's shooter aesthetic during the tutorial and menus but drops it pretty quickly once you get into the game (as the devs intended). It comes with a leaderboard of sorts and promises of VR support in the future, I can see this game being updated and tweaked to death by the devs, which is brilliant because if they can crack the balance issue they'll have an absolute winner on their hands!
So what's more to say? STRAFE is a simple game with great potential, but potential is only worth so much and there are already better games out that actually work. I wasn't a backer but I did have high hopes for strafe but it broke my shriveled gaming heart, ahh well at least we still have the classics.