Strafe is the original Quake but with randomly generated levels. The end. Oh, you want more? Okay. It’s a breakneck-pace arena shooter, albeit with some modern touches that help to separate it from being a mere Quake clone.
The randomly generated levels is one of those contemporary additions. Every time you die the level changes in terms of its enemies, monster closets, rooms, power-ups and even its secrets. In gameplay terms, navigating the randomly generated levels mostly descends into jumping backwards while firing, circle-strafing, and generally ignoring the modern shooter philosophies that try to keep you shooting with your feet on the ground.
Forget about running and jumping impacting your accuracy, everything about Strafe is designed to keep you on the move as you dish out the pain. Strafe is no PC-destroying Crysis equivalent, given its deliberate fresh-out-of-the-’90s aesthetic, but the so-called Uber-Gore Tech is more than just a cheap attempt at making things bloody. It actually helps with the pathfinding.
Given the rooms constantly change, the fact you can splatter the floors, walls and ceilings with persistent blood actually helps as a guide when you get lost in the rocket-jumping mayhem. Because of course there’s rocket-jumping in Strafe: it wouldn’t be much of a Quake clone if it didn’t have that.
Despite the clear tongue-in-cheek ridiculousness of Strafe, Pixel Titans gets that the weapons have to feel great, and they do. One of the neatest novel mechanics is how Strafe treats empty weapons. Certain ones can be thrown once empty, for a last-ditched effort at killing one more enemy, but my favourite was how an empty rocket launcher can be swung like a baseball bat.
This is, of course, not ideal in a game that sends mindless enemies at you in waves. When you start each level, you get to pick one weapon to roll with, though you may find others along the way. There’s also the promise of weapon vendors hidden in the maps, too. The shotgun is meant for up-close death-dealing, the machine gun for mid-range engagements, and the railgun for fans of longer-range sniping.
These weapons can be upgraded, and sometimes in surprising ways. The machine gun, for instance, can be upgraded to have horizontal recoil, so the more you spray, the wider the recoil, and the more charging grunts you can shoot in the face simultaneously. On top of this, there are cluster bombs, gas grenades, trip mines, and the kind of upgrades you’d expect from a title that’s emulating the era that saw the creation of some of gaming’s greatest weapons.
On-the-fly tactics are rewarded and playing to the strengths of your chosen weapon’s primary and secondary abilities is a must if you don’t want to respawn and replay a randomised level. Fans of arena shooters should be heartened to hear that there’s a smattering of high-skill-ceiling guns, but the eight alternative builds per gun include something for all skill levels.
In a year that will likely see the release of the next evolution of arena shooters (Quake Champions and LawBreakers, specifically), it’s refreshing to see that Pixel Titans can embrace the core pillars of the old-school FPS subgenre while adding small modern touches that have big gameplay implications. Strafe is fast, furious and heaps of fun.