Two and a half hours. That’s a new record of how quickly I’ve given up on a game. Yes, in the same time it would take you to watch Inception, Strafe managed to bore me enough to stop playing. The game is an utterly draining experience, one that is as confused in its design as it is unpolished in its execution. There seemed to be more thought put into the aesthetic than anything else, but if you’re into low polygon counts and pixellated UIs, I’ve got good news for you.
Strafe rocks the ’90s inspired look to nauseatingly glorious levels of commitment. Everything – and I mean everything – looks like something from a modern retro game. The enemies are blobs, weapons are bricks, the walls have ironically low-res textures, and the levels are more maze-like than a duck’s reproductive system. Seems weird that any of these would chug your computer down harder than a KFC addict on a treadmill, but hey, it wouldn’t be the ‘90s if games ran well! In theory, this aesthetic is as rad as it gets, but the novelty quickly wears off.
Strafe’s dedication to nostalgia is fun, but it makes the game annoying to engage with. Everything is pixelated in some way, including essential things like the map. There’s also nothing special about the art on display, drawing too much on old graphics for appeal without coming up with a personality of its own. Even the gore, the one sliver of identity this game offers up, gets real lame real fast, offering nothing more than a vapid chuckle the first couple times you take off a leg. These flaws might be more tolerable if the game was any good, but it’s nothing like what you’d expect.
I went into the game thinking it would be a throwback to Quake or DOOM, but what I got was more FTL than Serious Sam. The game is centred around runs, like Risk of Rain or any other Roguelike you can think of. As you go through a run, you collect scrap and credits to upgrade guns and buy items. The problem is that the rate and consistency of acquiring items and upgrades is so low that having to replay the game is agonisingly repetitive. These upgrades aren’t enticing either, offering little more than passive buffs or similar shooting modes. There’s nothing here that breaks the mould that you’re set in from the start, which is already dull enough.
One of the reasons why the game gets so repetitive is because you’re stuck with one of three weapons from the start of your run. Unless you regularly pick up stray weapons lying around, you’re stuck with a shotgun, machine-gun or railgun. That’s it. Moreover, you can barely even aim when you start a run, so it will often feel like you’re battling RNG more than your ability to point a crosshair. I’ve watched the railgun’s beam fly outside my crosshair multiple times, and trust me; RNG doesn’t make the game more fun. Solid gunplay would help, so it’s a shame that Strafe’s guns feel like super soakers.
To call the gunplay weak is an understatement. The sounds are barely there, let alone pounding into your eardrums with the ferocity of a thousand T-Rexes. The visual kickback is there, but you usually won’t notice because your weapon flings around so violently as you move. And, of course, the guns don’t shoot where you want them to. Oh, and if you die, you lose all your perks, all your upgrades, and you have to start all the way back at the start. There’s no permanent upgrades, no unlockable characters, so it’s all down to what you find on the run. The shooting isn’t fun to engage in, and the progression is non-existent, but man, the level design is even worse.
One of the elements that Strafe nails is the maze-like nature of the levels. Not in a clever way; they’re just procedurally generated. You would think this would make the game more replayable, but it makes it more annoying because there are no maps to memorise. You’ll recognise the general architecture of a few sections, but you’ll keep getting lost in the labyrinth of doors and hallways presented to you. When you factor in that everything just kind of looks bad after a while, you won’t be willing to try learning your way through a new map. You’ll just give up.
Strafe could have been a stellar game of fast-paced shooting and looting, but it fails to deliver on either front. The gunplay is dull, the graphics lose their novelty all too quickly, and the procedural generation hinders the game more than it helps. There are some fun references flung in there, but the game ultimately picks form over function. Strafe feels like a game that a student would push out for a mid-semester project, and while it might have been on par with what was happening in the ‘90s, it’s pretty underwhelming now.