Strafe is video game thrash-metal
March 3, 2017 // 1:58 p.m.
Send More Paramedics were a horror film-influenced thrash band from Leeds, and their 2006 album The Awakening contained a track entitled 'This Crowd is Crushing Me'. It's a wall of noise and fury, and I mostly remember it because, seeing the band live back in 2006, someone broke my nose as the crowd — myself included — jumped around to it. It was chaos, and first-person shooter Strafe plays exactly how that memory feels. Strafe is bloody, noisy chaos and feels like the closest thing to video game thrash metal I've encountered.
Taking inspiration from iD's 90s hits Quake and Doom, Strafe feels like these games but with the dial turned up to 11 with a very visible wink at the audience. I sat down at the PC and was quietly confident that — as someone who still plays quite a bit of 90s classic FPS titles like Doom, Wolfenstein 3D, and Rise of the Triad — I had what I needed to not entirely embarrass myself at the hands-on.
At first this proved true, and I battled my way through several rooms before succumbing to death by a thousand tiny mistakes. Then, back to the start to try it again. Strafe starts you off in the same situation every time. You're in a safe room with three guns in front of you. You choose between a shotgun, a machine gun, or a railgun. This is your weapon, there are many like it — out there in the procedurally generated, doomed space station you'll be fighting your way through — but this one is yours, and you'll be slowly picking up upgrades for it. You'll find plenty of other weapons dotted around the place, a disc gun reminiscent of Tribes, a grenade launcher, and others, weapons that you'll fire dry and then dump during battle. This initial choice, though, determines the main way that you'll fight in the game.
It's satisfying, too. Shotgun's roar forth as you bisect enemies; machine guns slowly tear off limbs, putting enemies down in a hail of gunfire. The shooting is remarkably satisfying, and the act of picking up a plasma rifle, emptying it into the horde, and then tossing the now-overheating Plasma rifle into the stragglers before it explodes, wiping them out, is genuinely pulse-pounding. There's a great shooting game here, and this is apparent even in the opening few levels I've played.
During the hands-on, Pixel Titans director Thom Glunt told me how he was inspired heavily for the way the weapon you use changes from The Binding of Isaac's tears. We talked about how it was possible to break the game for yourself in The Binding of Isaac by getting a ridiculous mix of power-ups, and he said that while that was an initial plan, in testing it turned out less fun in a high-skill FPS to let the player break the game, and so instead the developers focused on more interesting but subtle power-ups. These will change from weapon to weapon, which Glunt mentioned meant that there were three different possible effects.
You'll need them, too. The enemies here are everywhere, and you'll often find yourself completely swamped by them, rocket jumping free of crowds of enemies trying to tear you limb from limb, unloading your weapon's secondary fire mode — which during my hands-on every weapon had — into the hordes as you try to never stop moving (with coming to a standstill being tantamount to death), as if you were some sort of combat-trained shark.
Strafe launches on March 28th. We'll have a review, but if it's anything like this, it'll be bloody fun.