DE­VEL­OPER Pixel Ti­tans / PUB­LISHER De­volver Dig­i­tal / WEB­SITE


STRAFE is a clas­sic ex­am­ple of a game sidestep­ping be­fore it can walk. This fast-paced, glee­fully gory FPS is in­spired by the hall­mark shoot­ers of the 1990s – Doom, Quake, Half-Life and so on. It ap­pears to have it all: chunky vi­su­als, mazy lev­els, scores of en­e­mies and enough blood to fill a whole decade’s worth of shoot­ers. But trag­i­cally, it makes a ba­sic and cru­cial er­ror – its guns are ut­terly dread­ful.

Although STRAFE may look like it stepped out of a time ma­chine from 1996, it’s struc­turally sur­pris­ingly modern. STRAFE is de­signed as a mashup be­tween a straight­for­ward shooter and a rogue­like, which means its lev­els are ran­domly gen­er­ated each time you play, and if you die, you go right back to the start.

Visu­ally, STRAFE looks su­perb. Pixel Ti­tans has done a great job of turn­ing the blocky, an­gu­lar look of mid1990s shoot­ers into a de­lib­er­ate style, in­fus­ing lev­els with bold colours and de­lib­er­ately overblown ef­fects. What’s more, each of its four stages is a homage to a spe­cific shooter. The first stage, the space­ship Icarus, is a love let­ter to Doom, while the un­der­ground neigh­bour­hood of the Burbs is a direct ref­er­ence to Half-Life. It’s a guided tour through FPS his­tory.

The ran­dom gen­er­a­tion of lev­els keeps you on your toes, and most lev­els still look im­pres­sively like they were de­signed by hand. How­ever, STRAFE suf­fers from se­ri­ous bal­anc­ing is­sues. The first stage is ridicu­lously hard, with hordes of en­e­mies clus­tered into very tight spa­ces, and only a smat­ter­ing of health drops across its three lev­els. Once you get into the sec­ond stage, how­ever, it be­comes con­sid­er­ably eas­ier. The lev­els are more open and en­e­mies spawn in smaller num­bers. It’s un­for­tu­nate, as it means you spend a large por­tion of time in the game’s least in­ter­est­ing area.

Frankly, STRAFE’s pun­ish­ing difficulty curve wouldn’t be such a prob­lem if the game felt sat­is­fy­ing to play, but sadly that isn’t the case. The main prob­lem is that the guns feel and sound light­weight and weak. The shot­gun and ma­chine gun feel se­ri­ously un­der­pow­ered, and even though en­e­mies seem to have ar­ter­ies-un­der-fire­hose lev­els of pres­sure, the game’s bal­lis­tics lack sub­stance, so shoot­ing op­po­nents car­ries no sat­is­fac­tion. Some weapons, such as the plasma gun, are bet­ter than oth­ers, but many of STRAFE’s more in­ter­est­ing guns are dis­pos­able pick­ups.

While STRAFE is keen to ape the clas­sic shoot­ers of yore, it fails to learn the most im­por­tant lessons from them; the pre­cisely engi­neered weaponry; the care­fully paced difficulty curves; and the del­i­cately struc­tured level de­sign. Doom and Quake may have ap­peared loud and ob­nox­ious, but be­neath the blood and noise, they were sub­tle and in­ge­nious. STRAFE is nei­ther, and it shows.

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