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Before I begin, let me take a moment to thank our esteemed host, Lucius Merriweather, for welcoming me into this fine Manor, and thank you in advance to you poor readers out there, for allowing me the opportunity to befoul your unsuspecting eyes with my uncouth words.
Now, if you’ve heard of Strafe, it was most likely due to its controversially NSFW (due to graphic violence) promotional trailer that dropped a few years ago, when the game’s Kickstarter campaign began. If not, Strafe is essentially a parody/tribute to the X-TREEEEEME first person shooters of the 90’s, presented in the form of a sadistic, procedurally generated roguelike. This description alone will either fascinate you or send you screaming for the hills, depending on whether or not you happen to live in that particular patch of land, residing deep within Niche territory.
Personally, as a long-time fan of classic Quakes and Dooms and such, I found the concept very compelling… BUT, now that the time has come, does Strafe live up to its hype? Even now, I’m not entirely sure, which in itself is not exactly a glowing endorsement for the game at all, is it? Strafe absolutely nails the over-the-top 90’s attitude, both in-game and through the course of its continuing, impressively amusing marketing campaign, but when it comes down to the gameplay, it’s a bit of a mixed bag, one that contains many unfortunately amateurish mistakes.
The combat is fun, but it’s definitely overly simplistic, with no AI to speak of, just enemies rushing headfirst towards your position once triggered, in a way that feels more similar to post-nineties wave shooters like Serious Sam than the nineties shooters it’s trying to emulate. It’s also viciously difficult, to a degree that will probably put most players off pretty quickly. Not to toot my own horn, but I can beat any Dark Souls type game or roguelike you throw my way, but I still haven’t finished Strafe. (Mark my words though Strafe, I’ll get you someday.)
Another aspect that is oddly both exciting and frustrating is the amount of secrets and Easter eggs. Exciting, because there are so many nods to classic shooters and interesting little hidden mini-games, such as a secret arcade cabinet that lets you play a Wolfenstein 3D clone (done in Game Boy style for some reason) to win some extra power-ups. Frustrating, because most of the secrets are so obscure that you almost certainly won’t find any of them on your own. Having to really work for those optional, non-necessary secrets is one thing, but you also have features like teleporters that allow you to skip worlds, which would be very nice to have access to, considering the fact that full runs of this game can take up to 3-4 hours – but that would be too easy. Instead you have to assemble each teleporter in each world, piece by piece, and 3/4 pieces are random drops, some of which have incredibly low drop rates. I still have never seen the last piece I need to assemble even one of these things, and oh boy am I not a fan of being forced to rely on completely random luck over skill.
The game is also plagued by some baffling design issues, like an absolutely worthless mini-map and weapon upgrades that somehow actually make your weapon worse, as well as a disturbing amount of performance and sound issues and game-breaking glitches across all platforms. While it seems that the developers are trying their hardest to fix all the problems, you have to wonder why it was released in this state to begin with. This is an indie game with no big-company-enforced deadline to meet, yet here we are, about to receive a fifth patch within the first few weeks of release.
I love the idea of this game so much, and it’s obvious that the devs were really passionate about it. I even still kind of like it despite all its unfortunate flaws (is this what Stockholm syndrome feels like?), but I simply cannot recommend this game to anyone but the most fanatical nineties shooter fans and/or the most masochistic gamers in search of a challenge that goes beyond ‘hardcore’, into a realm that is, sadly, perhaps too X-TREEEEEEEME for its own good.