STRAFE Review – A Game That Just Feels Old

 

 
Overview
 

Genre: Rogue-like First Person Shooter
 
Release Date: 09/05/2017
 
Overall
 
 
 
 
 
1.5/5


 

Positives


- Enemy designs are grungy and interesting
- Forced adaptability is an interesting concept

Negatives


- Procedural generation leads to uneven level designs
- Some of the worst AI I've seen in gaming
- Weapons feel weak and boring to use
- Lack of enemy design variety


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Posted May 27, 2017 by

 
Full Article
 
 

I was only a tiny child in the days when PC gaming began to boom with the introduction of ground-breaking FPS games like Doom and Wolfenstein, so I missed what many consider the true emergence of the genre. While those games are certainly fantastic and helped shape decades of gaming, going back to them after years of genre enhancements isn’t the best experience, and so new games have largely stopped emulating their style. STRAFE is one game that has gone in the opposite direction, funded via Kickstarter as a procedurally generated rogue-like love letter to FPS games of old. While STRAFE’s run based action certainly evokes some of the same emotions that DOOM and Wolfenstein did, the game introduces a range of issues to the formula which drag the entire experience down.

The way STRAFE mirrors those early FPS games is immediately obvious when you play the game, with blocky geometry and incredibly simple textures. Enemies look like something you would expect to find in a game from 1996 and environments are grungy and oft-repeated. That repetition is what brings down the interesting environmental and enemy designs. The designs themselves are unique and fun to look at, but once you’ve seen the same enemy 50+ times in the same level, they begin to grate on you. While STRAFE is trying to channel the 1996 experience, we’re in a world now where you can have lots of enemy designs without worrying about system constraints. In this way, STRAFE is artificially constrained by a design decision to have it mirror games from that time too closely, without leveraging current technologies or design concepts that have vastly improved gaming as a whole.

These design decisions continue into the weapon and sound design of STRAFE, with a focus on a smaller range of weapons and accompanying sounds. At the beginning of each run you’re given the choice of 3 guns: a sub machine gun, a shotgun and a rail gun. Whatever you pick will be your only constant during your run, with any ammo pickups found during gameplay refilling only this gun and any other weapons you find being limited use weapons. This means you’re locked into a certain playstyle for an entire run after picking your weapon, forcing you to adapt to situations as they come. While that can be fun, the weapons themselves feel terrible to use. When you shoot, small pathetic noises emanate from your gun, with no emphatic sounds to be found other than with the game’s shotgun. This is especially apparent when firing rockets, with explosions being accompanied by nothing more than a small poot of noise. The guns also have no weight to them, with enemies never so much as flinching as you put shotgun blasts into them. Instead of feeling like a gun toting bad-ass, you feel like you’re running around with a peashooter. In a game where you’re doing so much shooting, it’s a big disappointment that doing so just feels so boring.

The one big way that STRAFE leverages the technology of today comes from its procedural nature, with maps being a collection of boxes and corridors randomly put together. While this easily increases the game’s replayability, it causes a massive number of issues with the core game itself. This is a game that is largely based around heavily limited resources, which is harmed by the inherently random nature of procedural generation. While other games build their combat encounters and designs around perfectly planned amounts of resources, STRAFE goes in the opposite direction. Just fought 30 enemies and low on health? Go searching through the entire map for the single health station that has been placed in an unmarked location within it. Now that you’ve found it, have fun with the single 10HP item the game has decided to randomly dole out on this run. I regularly found myself feeling like I was having an incredible run, only for the game to dole out tiny amounts of resources on consecutive maps leading to me quickly failing out. It would have been nice to see some sort of structure to the game’s design, as opposed to a complete free for all, as this just leads to the game feeling unfair and frustrating.

While there are many issues with STRAFE, the biggest of these comes from the enemy AI in the game, or more specifically, the lack of it. Even in 1993 when games were still in their infancy in many ways, you had enemies that would hang back and attack from a distance or try and come around you to attack. STRAFE has none of this, instead being filled with enemies that charge straight at you to attack. Even enemies with purely ranged attacks will blindly charge towards you, stopping a couple of metres away and pumping you full of shots, instead of hanging back further or going to the sides to attack you. Melee based enemies will just charge right up into your face, regularly causing a log jam as 10 enemies blindly run straight towards you despite all the empty space surrounding you. Instead of having fun, adapting to different enemy behaviours, you’ll generally just gradually back away as you fire shots in a straight line in front of you. As far as interesting enemy AI goes, this is about the worst you can see in a shooter.

When I first booted STRAFE up on my PC, I was hopeful. I envisioned an experience that brought that experience of 1996 to the future, encapsulating what made those old shooters fantastic while also leveraging the quality of life and general improvements made to gaming in the last 20 years. Instead, STRAFE is a game that just feels old, utilising the worst aspects of current technology and some startlingly bad design decisions which result in a game that should be avoided. If you feel like playing an old-style game brought to today’s standards, there are plenty of other games that are more deserving of your money.


Andrew Cathie

 
Rocket Chainsaw's premier Fantasy-loving Editor. I basically play anything and everything that looks like it could be fun or interesting.


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