Review: Strafe

Posted by: 6/5/2017

Strafe became quite popular during it’s Kickstarter campaign. The pitch was pretty simple: developer Pixel Titans wanted to invoke ’90s shooter nostalgia, and put all of the style from that era into the game. But the finished product doesn’t really invoke feelings of ’90s shooters. It just feels like another indie roguelite game.

The strongest aspect of Strafe is the look and style of the game. The game starts with a ’90s looking FMV with an attractive lady that explains the basics of the game and sets up some bit of story. You are a scrapper, and after a daring mission, you teleport onto the Icarus to see why it isn’t responding. What you find is the ship has been overrun by demons, so your goal is to make it as far as possible in the ship and save the Icarus.

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It’s a decent premise for why you’re on the ship, and as a scrapper, you collect scrap from enemies you kill to get ammo, shields, and upgrade weapons. But Strafe falls short of being anything interesting by being a roguelite.

There is a bigger conversation to have about indie games and the roguelite genre, but I feel like Strafe would have benefited from a more straight forward campaign with an actual story. There are games that are able to use the mechanics usually found in roguelite games to its benefit, but Strafe is not that kind of game.

Having weak roguelite elements would not be an issue if the game was actually fun to play, but that can be hit or miss. It is ironic that a game called Strafe does little to encourage the player to actually strafe around enemies. There could have been a mechanic where you get a damage multiplier or something from continuous strafing. But since the game is a roguelite, and the maps are randomized, it encourages players to funnel enemies down a tunnel and take them out.

The shooting doesn’t really feel interesting, and the controls feel kind of sluggish. You don’t get that precise feel as you do from other PC shooters. It also feels kind of slow, which is odd since we had a new Doom game recently, and the speed of that game was perfect. They could have just emulated Doom with low polygon graphics, and it would have been way better.

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For being a sci-fi game, it doesn’t feel like the music matches the tone of the game. It sounds like something that would be found in a game more like Rogue Legacy (a good roguelite game) than a shooter where you are killing enemies on a spaceship. It specifically needs more epic guitar riffs if they are trying emulate a ’90s shooter.

There are a few other issues I have with Strafe. It is hard to tell when you’re taking damage, and health is very limited. I understand that it is a roguelite, but with shooters, you expect some way to recover health. It is this disconnect from the actual FPS genre that takes me out of the game.

Also, the game uses ragdoll physics for the enemies when they die, which looks really weird in what is supposed to be a ’90s shooter. It would be a lot better if the developers handcrafted a few death animations. That would make it feel more like a ’90s shooter.

Strafe is an interesting idea, and I have been wanting more games to use ’90s games as inspiration, but Strafe misses the mark.

Score: 7/10

Strafe was developed by Pixel Titans and published by Devolver Digital for PC and PlayStation 4 on May 9th, 2016. A retail copy of the PC version was provided by the publisher.

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