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Game I won’t review – Strafe

strafe
This sounds exactly like the kind of game I would love. Rogue-lite FPS with classic 90s graphics and an apparent emphasis on fast frantic gameplay.

So why am I not reviewing this? Because I’m fucking tired of it with less than 4 hours played.

So let’s talk about it quickly anyways.

What’s good about Strafe

Hmmm… the graphics? I really like them, they go full-on with the 90s shooter feel (especially with the “Make Strafe Worse” option, though I don’t recommend actually using that option). The gameplay itself is generally okay. Shooting at stuff is fun because you dismember the crap out of everything and there’s so much blood and gibs that it’s visually stimulating to kill things.

Actually I started the game being way into it because of the super cheezy live-action cutscene in the tutorial. But right in my first run I noticed issue after issue.

What’s wrong with Strafe?

Well, it’s the whole procedurally-generated thing… in this case it feels… design-less. See, in other rogue-lites there’s a meaning to doing runs even if you die. You’ll likely unlock items that will make progression easier in subsequent runs. Here? Well, up to this point there’s nothing of the sort. I didn’t pass the third floor yet (for other problems I will note later), but you’d think I’d have gotten SOMETHING. I HAVE seen pop-ups for various tasks like number of barrels exploded or paintings destroyed (I don’t know what that means, every time I saw the prompt saying I destroyed a painting I didn’t see one), so maybe those actually unlock things? But 666 barrels would take too long for it to really give an unlockable thing, right?

So how this fails as a rogue-lite other than the lack of progression. There’s no items. Sort of. See, there’s a shop at the end of the second floor. That’s the only place you’ll get items. And the few items I’ve seen just don’t seem terribly useful. You do find main gun upgrades, which the game doesn’t really tell you what they do. Those increase accuracy, damage, fire rate and ammo capacity. Ammo capacity is the most important one, but it’s random anyways so it’s not like there’s strategy.

My other issue is one other people seem to not have experienced, but ammo. There’s not enough, sort of… I’ll try to explain myself… yeah this will be a long stupid paragraph… SO… Killing enemies and missile traps can get you scrap or credits. Credits are used at the store, scrap is used either at the store to get credits or at workbenches. As you explore the levels, you’ll find corpses, which will have guns or keycards (or heads for you to rip out, as they might be useable to open some doors with eye scanners). Guns you find have limited ammo, and once they’re empty you either throw them away (one of them explodes after being thrown away) or you smack them on an enemy’s head for an extra kill and the gun breaks. How ammo works is that you have a certain amount of magazines for your main weapon, which max out your ammo count each (so if you increase ammo capacity magazines give more ammo each). When you run out of ammo, your main gun becomes a melee weapon that’s completely useless. And by floor 3, unless you spent lots of scrap on ammo from workbenches (which may required backtracking through levels because there’s only one per floor), you’ll have barely any ammo left. And if you don’t have ammo left and you don’t know where the workbench is, or it’s in a room full of enemies… not much you can do. So this issue MIGHT be my fault. Maybe I’m meant to get lots of ammo from workbenches… but that can’t be true because you need to get armor from workbenches, which uses much more scrap. There’s only 2-3 health drops per floor (in a dispenser), there’s only armor pickups in secret rooms (but it’s rare) or from workbenches. So do you want armor to not die as fast, or ammo to kill more stuff? This system feels like it has little thought behind it.

Overall there’s not enough stuff. It’s kinda pointless to fully go through a floor, since you’re just wasting resources, but at the same time if you do find a secret that has ammo or armor then that helps tremendously… There’s a lack of balance, clearly. Would also be nice to be able to find items outside of the shop, for example. And there definitely needs more variety in the kinds of rooms you can find, they’re all just fairly boring monster closets with nothing of note.

There’s a map system, it’s shit. And for some reason looking at your inventory is in the HUD but you have to hold a button, while for the map it’s also in the HUD but you have to just press a button… weird. Also performance issues, but they’re not too bad.

Overall thoughts

I tend to enjoy Rogue-lite FPS. Ziggurat, Sublevel Zero, Tower of Guns and Paranautical Activity all come recommended long before Strafe. Strafe has some cool aspects to it. There are some times where playing fast is slightly fun (though the enemy types I’ve encountered aren’t interesting, maybe ones further down are), and there’s lots of blood and gibs, the graphics look cool… but man I’m not having fun with this at all. It comes close sometimes, but unlike other Rogue-lites it feels like there’s no progression so dying is JUST annoying. When I’m playing, say, Has Been Heroes, I’m depositing souls every run to unlock more stuff. Here? I don’t even know if there’s unlocks at all. 4 hours in I unlocked exactly nothing, so I assume not.

It’s not that it’s specifically bad, I do think some people will enjoy it, but to me it’s more that it’s badly thought-out. If it were a straight-up standard FPS with solid level design it would be fine. Because it’s a rogue-lite missing basic rogue-lite concepts, it’s pretty weak.

Also I hear the PS4 version sucks balls (even more  performance issues), but I have no idea why you’d want to play a fast-paced FPS with a controller. That sounds absolutely stupid to me.

Hint: shoot the computer at the end of a floor.

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