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STRAFE – Quick Game Review

STRAFE – Quick Game Review
STRAFE (PC [Reviewed], PS4, MAC)
Developer: Pixel Titans
Publisher: Devolver Digital

STRAFE is a retro style, rogue-lite FPS inspired by old school shooters from the 90s. There doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of story in STRAFE. You play as a scrapper, on a mission to get through all of the levels in one life. If you die, you restart from the beginning.

I believe the game is supposed to be fast-paced, but the fact that there is perma-death results in more slow and cautious pacing. My “S” key got a lot of use with tons of back-peddling to avoid as much damage as possible. Replenishing shields costs scrap metal. This scrap metal drops randomly off of enemies, and it’s extremely expensive to buy your shields back. You can also buy more ammo with the scraps, but I only ran out of ammo in one run ever. The scraps can also be used to exchange for a different currency which allows you to buy items from the store, such as activated shields and weapon mods. Splash damage from your own weapons is quite substantial, but it can be avoided if firing from far enough away. With some areas of the levels being close quarters, I often just avoided using any explosives.

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You can expect to die lots in STRAFE. I don’t mind dying when it’s my own fault, but with STRAFE, I find it a bit frustrating. The game likes to finds cheesy ways to make you take damage. With health and shields being scarce to find, it really got on my nerves at times. For example, clearing a room, and then moving forward, only to have walls open up, and enemies sneak up behind you, or having to take an elevator down to another floor, but enemies are waiting there to swarm you.

Pros:
  • good selection of weapons to find and use in each level
  • nice aesthetic; pixel style graphics look decent, the game succeeds at giving off that old school shooter appearance – blood splatter, and gore look awesome
  • some progression that allows you to skip levels by finding all the parts to build a teleporter
  • excellent music
  • performance: maintain 60fps for the most part while playing (GTX 1070),  but there are severe hiccups when moving from one level to the next (presumably while loading).
  • keyboard controls are fully customizable

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Cons:
  • sometimes damage feels inevitable, and unavoidable, and the game kills you in cheap ways that may be frustrating for some players
  • there are simply not enough items around to replenish health or scrap to replenish shields, so you can’t play as aggressively as you might like to resulting in a more “slow and steady” pace instead of “run-and-gun”
  • can’t buy ammo for any weapons you find, so you wind up using the starter weapon most of the time
  • AI pathing needs improvement; there are several times where enemies run into walls on a lower level trying to get up, or just get caught on parts of the terrain
  • enemies seem to aggro you through walls, and through the floors (enemies that you don’t know are there, and enemies that can’t possibly know you are there come running at you)
  • (nitpick) too many narrow corridors where there is very little space to actually strafe; it can be a real bitch trying avoid incoming projectiles in these narrow corridors (the first three levels were more annoying in this regard)
  • (nitpick) sound effects are sometimes inconsistent, and could use some tweaking (at times enemies seem like they are completely silent, and they sneak up behind you, while most of the times you can hear them just fine)
  • (nitpick) only partial controller support right now

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I’ve played the game for about 6 hours, and the furthest I made it was the start of level 7, which I think was about half-way. It’s always 3 levels in a row of the same theme, followed by 3 of the next theme, and so on. Even though it’s procedurally generated, the same theme can feel stale after a while. I wish they had mixed up the level themes more, it would have made it more interesting. There is potential replay value due to the rogue-lite nature, but for me the gameplay just wasn’t fun enough to want to keep playing the same themes in the same order over and over.

Conclusion:

Ultimately, I enjoyed the trailer for the game, more than the actual game itself. I’m not saying I hated the game by any means, but it certainly suffers from cheap tricks, lack of health/shield pickups, and poor AI pathing. No one thing really ruined the game, but the combination of issues definitely hindered my enjoyment of it.

Rating:

55