The best way to describe STRAFE is as Quake having a mid-life crisis on board the salvage vessel Red Dwarf. A nostalgic run through the gib infested worlds of yore but with smoother controls and more blood than a Tarantino movie. Anyone who’s had the sheer joy of ploughing their way through Brutal Doom will be fully aware of how fantastic retro shooters can be and when you’re dodging around the fodder filled halls of STRAFE, your grin will stretch from ear to ear. But Pixel Titans’ homage to the shooters of old is far more than a nostalgia trip and adds enough new to the genre that it’ll keep you coming back for more.
STRAFE is filled with classic FPS tropes: hidden doors, rocket jumps, speed hopping, weapon pick ups, surges of enemies and ridiculous boss fights. The art style and level design spark glorious flash backs to both Doom and Quake, with areas and weapons bearing striking resemblances to some of the most notorious moments from the godfathers of FPS. In fact there is so much that is similar between STRAFE and its influences that it seems redundant commenting on them. What makes STRAFE stand out from its brethren is that it takes all that is great about classic FPS games and places them inside a rogue-zero. The levels are procedurally generated and though there has been some complaints about the algorithm causing items to be placed in difficult to reach areas, I only found this added to the overall challenge the game presents. And STRAFE is ruddy difficult. This is no casual shooter and anyone who does complete STRAFE’s multiple levels deserves a frikin’ medal – and as for anyone who can platinum this game, a statue should be erected in their name and we should all worship at it. However, the insane difficulty doesn’t detract from how much fun you’ll have – with all the limbs and blood flying everywhere, the frantic pace and the incredible soundtrack, it’s just a joy to behold. The last time I remember having this much fun in a shooter was when id brought Doom back. It really has the potential to be an incredible game.
Unfortunately, even with the recent updates there are still some areas that need work before STRAFE can become the potent death machine we all expected it to be. The guns have no oomph to them; even as monsters explode across the walls you never feel like you’re wielding anything with any real power. The machine gun may as well be attached to a watering hose with the bullets spraying everywhere and the railgun, a weapon that’s supposed to be powerful, slow shooting and accurate, has the same chance of hitting the bullseye as a blind man at a pubs darts championship. Though there are weapons you pick up along the way, nothing has that double barrel shotgun feel of Doom or the crunch you got from Halo’s magnum.
Monsters are as thick as pig excrement: drawing minions down a thin tunnel or forming a kill train is way too easy – and if you can get them to turn in a tight loop, you can blast away without fear of any of them landing a hit on you. In fact the main reason you die is from the limited amount of health available and how hard it is to gain armour during a run. There are also a couple of irritating glitches that see you fall out of the map, teleport you into the depths of space or even watch sections of the ship float off into the stars. Though to be fair, these instances are rare and only happened two or three times on my numerous runs through the game.
STRAFE wonderfully blasts its way through corridors and open terrain, monsters crumple at your feet as you rollick your way through their mounting corpses. The speed with which you can manoeuvre through rooms is a master-class in retro-shooters and the diverse amount of secrets and hidden areas make backtracking through a level something James T. Kirk would write home about. However, during a run through the main game there are occasions you will notice substantial slowdown. Luckily this tends to only happen at the start and end of each level but on occasions where large numbers of monsters appear you can notice jumps in play. Not a major issue in the main game but when you move to Murder Rooms, a mode that sticks you in a single room and fills it with enemies, the slowdown makes it nigh on impossible to play. First person shooters live and die by their ability to maintain constant frame rates and fast game-play, so this is an issue that needs to be sorted quickly if STRAFE doesn’t want its next article to be an obituary.
With STRAFE resetting after death, upgrades are vital in your ability to progress further. Having collected credits along the way, the idea is that you spend these in the shop, giving you bonuses, upgrades and a whole series of goodies. But living aboard a vessel filled with blood thirsty killers has made the shop keeper paranoid, causing him to place a group of killer robots behind a transparent screen. Now before the recent patch, these robots would just blast at you through the screen, not giving a damn about barriers and filling your corpse with molten lead. Thus purchasing new abilities without taking damage was nigh on impossible. But the team at Pixel Titans have already shown that they are going to be supporting STRAFE and have already solved this problem – other developers should take note, great work guys.
STRAFE is a really enjoyable game and even with all its issues, I loved running through it. But it does need some more work and if it wasn’t for the proactive attitude shown by the developers, I couldn’t have fully recommend this title. However, with Pixel Titans already showing a desire to support and improve this wonderful game, it’ll only be a matter of time before STRAFE becomes one of my favourite FPS games on the PS4.