The well known sadistic folks at Devolver Digital paired up with Pixel Titans a bit over a year ago. After a successful Kickstarter campaign in 2015, fans all over the world wondered when this eternal wait would be over. Now, I have to say that STRAFE proved to be exactly what I wanted it to be. Prepare to experience the quirkiness of 1996’s FPS games packed with procedurally generated levels, a complex and rather detailed gore system and a blasting soundtrack that will pound into your eyes while you’re rocket jumping across the facilities of ICARUS.
In STRAFE you command a Scrapper that has been sent on an impossible mission. As you might be imagining right now, things turn out pretty bad for our character as it’s left alone in a place filled with undescriptible creatures (and hundreds of Gluttons). It will be your mission to choose between a Shotgun, an Assault Rifle or a Rail Gun before diving in into the game. STRAFE presents four different zones with three stages each, which are all randomly generated.
While it’s unlikely to have two exact same playthroughs, the core elements of STRAFE remains almost the same in each run. In every second stage of the four zones you will find a shop that lets you buy all kind of items to aid you in this ridiculous mission. Head-stomping boots, double jump, a flying friendly drone that is very good at headshots, adrenaline to increase speed and attractiveness (for real) are only a few of the items you can purchase in these stores. Each one of them helps to shape every single run in a different way by affecting your (accuracy, rate of fire, damage, clip capacity) while also experimenting with new combinations at the same time. You will need money in order to obtain them, which can be found from random enemy drops or by exchanging scraps for it in a machine.
Have you ever seen a shotgun turned into a grenade launcher? Me neither, not until I played STRAFE that is
As a highly qualified Scrapper, you will be spending your time searching for it among thousands of dead bodies (or what is left from them) and chests in order to upgrade and replenish yourself with ammunition and armor. There are also special terminals that are kinda hard to find, but will add a random upgrade to your primary weapon for free. Have you ever seen a shotgun turned into a grenade launcher? Me neither, not until I played STRAFE that is.
Needless to say, all three weapons feel and play differently from each other. Both the Assault Rifle and the Railgun are better than the Shotgun in terms of range, and while the second is more precise, you will be left vulnerable often due to its nature. All strengths and weaknesses are complemented by a secondary fire that can also be upgraded in the mentioned terminals. And while they are really helpful when dealing with a big number of enemies at the same time (which you will encounter to be doing very often), firing them consume more ammo than the usual.
Thankfully, while STRAFE introduces many modern elements, it remains true to what it proposed. The game looks and feels like a title from 1996 from the very beginning, along with carrying many classic elements from the genre: rocket jumping, very detailed secrets, using coloured keycards to open doors and increasing your health capacity by stacking food. Additionally, the difficulty will take us to start over the levels over and over again, but we can create a shortcut if we manage to repair a teleport in the beginning of each new zone. Thing is, succeeding in this task won’t be easy, and enemies will do anything to stop us from doing so.
STRAFE is violent, hard and aggressive, but luckily we are granted with enough tools to make our inevitable death fun and dynamic
From slow moving Gluttons, to those giant and treacherous creatures that hide from us in plain site as rocks, STRAFE has a lot of different enemies that can prove to be a pain when we underestimate them. Many times I found myself running across an entire room searching for a safe corner in which I could be away from the danger, but that almost never happens. Enemies chase you probably more than they should, some stay still in the roof waiting to surprise you, and others can shoot you from the other side of the map while you are trying to dodge a horde. STRAFE is violent, hard and aggressive, but luckily we are granted with enough tools to make our inevitable death fun and dynamic. There are many weapons (with limited ammo) that you can find in each level, barrels that you can shoot at or throw at enemies, and even explosive bugs that proved to be really useful.
The art style is very appealing and you can see how much details the developers put in each design. Zones are very different from each other, and not a single one does not introduce new enemies and elements to the player. But what really impressed me is how much blood these grunts can drop around the map, and how we can affect the environment with it on our own advantage. There is a bit of gruesomeness in painting entire rooms with blood, but it also serves to purpose to shut down fires or cover acid. The Uber-Gore system is a great and funny addition to the core game, and I will never get tired of seeing meat bits stuck on walls or painting entire pools with blood.
Aside from the main campaign, STRAFE will be introducing three new modes in a free update sometime around next month, which are: a Daily Challenge called STRAFEZONE in which all players experience a common run; a Weekly Challenge that is meant for speedruns called SPEEDZONE that grants special rules such as infinite ammo and taking less damage from rocket jumping; and Horde More challenge called MURDERZONE, with a progression system that lets you unlock objects to help you survive longer according to how many gallons of blood you have spilled from enemies.
Sadly, there are some things in STRAFE that can’t be passed unnoticed. The game takes some time to jump off, and the first zone is perhaps not the best way to see it as a full. STRAFE leaves a lot to player to know and experience on themselves, but unexperienced players might find restarting many times until they can actually reach the second zone. Also, I experienced some bugs in which enemies shot me from behind a wall or a closed door, and could only be killed with a grenade/rocket and a bit of aim. As for enemies, it’s unlikely that you will hear them behind you, and it can lead to unexpected attacks that are more frustrating than surprising.
The Uber-Gore system is a great and funny addition to the core game, and I can never get tired of seeing meat bits stuck on walls or painting entire pools with blood
But, once you get the hand of the basics of the game and start to get sunk into its gameplay style, it won’t take long until you are doing all sorts of tricks in mid air without getting a scratch. The items are a big part of this, and some can truly change the experience without ever letting it become ridiculously easy to overcome. Music plays a big part of this, and the 23 tracks performed by ToyTree are a joy to listen.
STRAFE might not go down in history as an innovative shooter, but it certainly managed to capture the true nature of the genre in its own charming way. There are many secrets that I have left to uncover myself, and I can’t wait to see jump into the leaderboards and compete once the additional modes are released. According to Pixel Titans, there is already an expansion planned (alongisde the awaited VR mode), so we can rest assure that there will be enough STRAFE for years to come.
This copy of STRAFE was supplied as a review code by Devolver Digital for PC. Diego Argüello has spent 13 hours headbanging and painting entire rooms with pixelated blood.