PT decided to go with a Quake 1 & 2 inspired level and character design, from the plain textured walls to the plasticine-looking monsters. The thing is, those first two games were just not that fun. Seminal? Yes! They brought the first person shooter out of the flat 2D sprites of Doom, into the 3D modeled world of today. Were they fun to play? Not at all. Quake didn’t really come into its own until the third installment, and stranger yet, Raven and Valve were the ones to create real gameplay out of its engine. The Soldier of Fortune series, and of course Half-Life, contained the meaty gameplay that the first two Quake games needed.
Strafe is all about the gunplay, and it’s only slightly above par. You start with one of three weapons, finding more along the way. There is even an upgrade station you can come across that will boost stats or change the projectile type. While the weapons have some heft and weight, they feel only better-than-mediocre. They are not the (mostly) impotent peashooters of the Quake series, but they’re not the smile-inducing glee of a double-barrel shotgun either – and they need to be.
Strafe uses the old school health system, meaning no regeneration, however health packs don’t drop from killing monsters. Instead, you regain health through a food dispenser that may or may not appear on the level somewhere. To add even more difficulty, the dispenser has a random and limited amount of food available. The saving grace here is that you don’t have a cap on your health, so you can eat to your heart’s content without having to worry about remembering where the dispenser is.
Ammo and armor can be crafted from the scrap that you get from killing monsters and opening chests. A converter is available somewhere on each level that lets you purchase both in small or large amounts. The ammo is only for your primary weapon though, other weapons you pick up become one-shot melee weapons once empty. The converter will also let you revert your main weapon to it’s original firing mode if an upgrade you applied is undesirable.
The levels Strafe contains are semi-procedurally generated: Handcrafted rooms are placed in a random order to change things up. It helps, but very shortly the repetition wears through the thin veil of variation it creates. The game is broken down into biomes of multiple levels. If you can stick with it, the theme changes beyond brown and boring, but you’ll spend far too long looking at the same old artwork. Strafe’s generation system can also build muddled and hard-to-navigate designs. There is a map feature, but its adherence to old-school design make it almost useless.
This is the biggest hurdle in Strafe. Most will just get frustrated and stop playing before they get beyond those opening levels. There is more here, really: There are secrets, hidden rooms, 30 weapons, and over 20 different enemies including an ending boss fight – but what does that matter if no one stays long enough to see them? There is an easy mode, but it barely makes a difference. Most of what kills you is cheap monster spawns coupled with claustrophobic level design.
The game that Strafe should have mimicked most is actually a mod – Brutal Doom. The over-the-top gore, guts, and visceral gunplay that the creator built within manage to make an old and tired game so much fun to play that you don’t care what the levels look like. This is where Strafe needs to be. All you have is gameplay – there is no story, there is no wow to the levels. If Pixel Titans could manage to fit that into a GOTY edition, or add a “Brutal Mode”, then you would really have something to go with all that fantastic marketing.