I have a weird relationship with the 90’s, as someone born too late to be a part of the pop culture, yet still young enough to vicariously live it through the 20 year nostalgia cycle. It’s like I was there, without ever living through No Doubt, cassette tapes, and optimism. The idea that fashion and music recycles every 20 years has become slightly irrelevant since the internet made memes the dominant form of human communication. Nobody seems to have told Pixel Titans that though. Rocking a 90’s shooter aesthetic, Strafe, explodes onto the scene drinking a bottle of hooch and playing air guitar.
Strafe’s presentation as a mid to late 90’s shooter runs deep. Just check out the launch trailer. From the live-action tutorial videos, to the MS DOS menu to access other modes, Pixel Titans show a lot of love to the period. Pixelated textures and blocky environments harks back to early 3D level design. Strafe strips back everything superfluous to the experience of running and gunning.
Pixel Titans have taken a rare decision to not lay all the games mechanics on the table. As a rogue-like FPS, Strafe is utterly brutal. The difficulty curve is damn steep to begin with. It took hours of experimentation to work out the inner workings of the games finer points. While this does encourage experimentation, at times Strafe is obfuscating critical info. Not being told all ammo remaining in a clip is lost on reload took a few too many failed attempts to figure out.
Violence in Strafe is a pro-longed, draining affair. It wants you to kill everything. Fast. Right now. It measures the blood sprayed over the levels in gallons. After taking the first shot the music ramps up, enemies pour out from every hallway, and it’s on until the level’s finished, or you’re dead. There is no reprieve from combat. Arms, legs, and faces are regularly found removed from bodies, with appropriately bloody outcomes. Only a few enemies to be found in the starting area, but as I progressed the variety mounted up. Prioritizing targets becomes more difficult when everything is hyper lethal.
Death comes fast in Strafe. A thirty minute run can be crippled within a few bad seconds. Every hit was a massive loss, with health and armour being difficult to regain, usually costing heaps of valuable scrap or cash. The initial barrier of getting past the first areas in one go was a daunting task to begin with. The repetition of the cold grey corridors and the same enemy set is a harsh Drill Sergeant to bludgeon players into shape with. It can take a while for the game to click, but when it does it begins to unfurl, become more rewarding as I away from the opening section.