I got Strafe after falling in love with its completely balls to the wall launch trailer and finding out its main premise was to bring back the insane action from the mid-90s shooters like Doom and Quake. I’m a pretty simple man myself, all you need to do to instantly convince me to become interested in a game is to tell me said game retains the fast-paced action and heavy metal attitude from those games, just like last year’s Doom, or 2014’s Shadow Warrior.
Did Strafe deliver it? Well, yes and no.
Yes, because Strafe definitely retains the good old ultraviolent FPS attitude from Doom and Quake. The labyrinthical levels are still here, and so are the hundreds of enemies being thrown at you at once. The controls are also the quakiest they could get.
No, because despite the visuals and the core gameplay, the game is more of a half-roguelike, half-arcade title than a classic FPS just like id Software’s masterpieces. The game’s pace is even faster than those older titles, and its pick-and-play nature, combined with randomly generated levels, make Strafe more of an arcade experience than anything else. Especially given how brutally difficult it is.
Be prepared: Strafe is hard. Really hard. For some people that would be enough for them to completely ignore the game, for others, that’s a plus. Strafe surely reminded me of Doom‘s hardest modes, including the well-known and well-feared permadeath. Personally, that difficulty spike in Strafe was hit-and-miss for me: while I did appreciate the level of challenge the game offered without a second option, there were some infuriating technical problems and glitches which really bugged me (no pun intended) during my playtime.
Strafe is quite a technically flawed game. Not only it featured various slowdowns (and for crying out loud, the game doesn’t demand that much from the CPU nor it’s graphically powerful for a computer to suffer while running it), various hitbox detection issues (both with you missing shots when the enemy is right next to you, and enemies attacking you from behind walls), and finally, inconsistent power-up placements, although I do admit the last one is quite of a problem that is present in pretty much any roguelike out there, and it’s more about sheer luck than an actual issue.
Those power-ups are unbelievably cool to handle, and serve not only as great additions to your run, but also as nods to other FPS games. You can pick up an upgrade which transforms you into a demon just like in last year’s Doom, or a shotgun just like the one from Superhot which also gives you the power to freeze time if you don’t move. It’s all about being lucky enough to get one of those. Besides them, you can carry one main weapon (a machine gun, a shotgun, or a railgun), which is the only weapon you can get ammo for during your run, and as many secondary weapons you can find, which act more as a few bonus shots each. You can always count on a good old shotgun to get the job done, it’s a game inspired by Doom we’re talking about, after all…
The best aspect of the game, by far, is its pretty convincing 90’s ‘tude, especially in the soundtrack department. There are many techno tracks infused with rock and industrial elements, which sound just like a game from 1996. Not only are they incredibly convincing age-wise, but they’re pretty good in their own right, as well. A special mention to the tutorial video as well, featuring poor-quality live action FMVs. Oh boy, the nineties were awesome!
Strafe was indeed a nice game, being a brutally challenging arcade shooter I haven’t seen in a while. I won’t lie, though: its technical flaws and myriad of bugs were too annoying and inexcusable for a game that clearly does not burn a computer’s processor with complex graphics, set pieces and complicated gameplay.
There is indeed a lot of charm thrown into the mix, however. A lot of bloody, brutal, gory charm. Long live the 90s.
Also available on: PS4