We really did have high hopes for STRAFE. The modern roguelike/lite genre has been applied to everything from child rearing to rolling seeds with aplomb, but somehow no developer has managed produce a convincing FPS game using its framework.
There have been attempts in the past. Title such as Eldritch and Paranautical Activity have tried with varying degrees of success, but the community that loves these games has been waiting for a stellar game that properly combines these two genres.
So enter STRAFE, which as many prequel memes would say, looked like the chosen one.
Everything about this game looked brilliant, from the awesome/cheesy/radical late 90’s aesthetic to the early FPS mechanics that 2016’s DOOM proved could work in modern times.
Toss in the lovely elements of Rogue games and famed indie publisher Devolver Digital backing the project, and STRAFE looked like the game we’d all been waiting for.
Unfortunately, this game fails in both areas, falling short of being either a decent homage shooter, or a passable Rogue game.
STRAFE review: The sucky shooting
A common complaint with past Rogue shooters has been that the guns lack punch and feedback, making the gunplay tepid. This is a problem STRAFE has, as the three main guns on offer all feel wildly under powered.
Even the beefy looking shotgun barely kills the weakest enemy in one shot, and it sounds like a toy gun fired. This, as well as the low ammo capacity, make all three guns (an SMG, shotgun and rail gun for short, medium and long distances respectively) completely uninteresting.
You may be a bit confused here: why is this supposed to be a 90’s shooter if there are only three guns and they to be constantly reloaded? Well that’s because this game caves on one premise to satisfy another. As we’ll discuss later in the review, the Rogue elements of this game are responsible for the 90’s shooting being so weak in some areas.
Instead of the insane power trips of the games this title was trying to ape, players feel meek. The enemies in this game can kill you in just a few shots and, boy, do they take a lot of shots.
STRAFE’s enemies are both the best and worst aspects of the game. Let’s start with the positive side: credit where credit is due, new developers Pixel Titans created an awesome gore system here.
Shooting an enemy in a limb will usually result in that limb flying off and blood spraying everywhere. The blood system is very well done and it can even be used to coat acid on the floor to make the environment safe again.
However, STRAFE boast some of the dumbest enemies we’ve seen in years. As soon as you enter a room they sense you like a pack of psychic zombies and conga line towards you with no sense of strategy or self preservation.
STRAFE could be slammed for having flat gunplay, a shortage of weapons and disappointing sound, but it’s most damning aspect is that it literally doesn’t live up to its title: strafing is not something you should be doing.
Players who circle strafe a group of enemies will wind up being instantly murdered by a pack of enemies that jump them from behind, so they’re stuck slogging through most of the combat by kiting them into a narrow hall and gunning them down there.
STRAFE review: The rubbish Rogue element
Many people say that what makes dying over and over in roguelike/lite games tolerable is a sense of progression, where death contributes in a small part to winning the game. There’s really none of that here.
All we found to unlock were teleporters, which act much like the shortcuts in Spelunky, and you really shouldn’t use them. Skipping a level or two will result in you showing up to the later fights severely underpowered and without gun upgrades – and even those were designed badly.
In STRAFE’s pre-release marketing the interesting gun upgrades were touted in a series of videos. What those videos don’t show you, is that the upgrade machines are so distant from each other that you forget that they’re an element of the game. They give you a random upgrade you may hate, and those upgrades don’t make you that much more powerful either.
So with no progression or cool upgrades – something the roguelike/lite genre is built on – all STRAFE has left is its randomised levels, which are terrible too.
The level design of early FPS games were integral to making those titles flow, and this game flows like water through a clogged pipe. Maps are sometimes too short leaving players with little resources to progress, and sometime they’re way too long, stitched together awkwardly, and infuriatingly complex.
It also doesn’t help that this game has maybe the worst map we’ve ever seen. Seriously, it barely shows you anything, and it’s built into the game in such a way that it forms part of your hud. Remember in Far Cry 2 where you had to stop and read a map, and it was organic and challenging? Well here you need to squint at a blurry, pixelated mess that we can’t believe made it through QA. See it in this video segment and weep.
STRAFE review: Verdict
We could ramble on about this game, so let’s call it here. Maybe because we were in the boat with fans who were looking forward to this game since its awesome initial trailer, and maybe we love Rogue games too much to see one done so badly.
But the truth is that STRAFE showed so much promise, and it fulfilled none of it. With only its art style making it into the win column and its polished gore system saving it from being irredeemable, we can’t think of a reason to suggest anyone plays this.
- STRAFE was reviewed on PC. A retail code was provided by the publisher.