Strafe PlayStation 4 Preview -- Hampered by Early Development
Evoking the look and feel of a generation of first person shooters that have long come and gone, Strafe on PlayStation 4 needs some work before it becomes a spiritual successor to the likes of Doom and Quake. Moving like a skater on ice, drifting in and out of enemy fire, and using outrageous weapons to eviscerate the opposition is a load of fun, but only when the frame rate is able to keep up. Developer Pixel Titans has a great game kneecapped by performance.
It should be noted they did reach out to me over Twitter to address my concerns, stating that they are aiming for 60 FPS on PlayStation 4 and the demo on display at PSX wasn’t as good as the PC version since they didn’t begin porting until the PC version was completed.
— STRAFE® (@STRAFEgame) December 10, 2016
Presented as a rogue-like, each run in Strafe begins with you choosing a starting weapon and teleport into a decrepit space station or ship of sorts overrun with mutated monsters and deadly robotic sentries. Its up to you to blast your way through the hordes of enemies that stand between you and the next level. You can pick up weapons gained on the field as well, from shotguns, to railguns, a club, and many other variations of firearms.
Enemies are broken up into mindless melee prisoners that relentlessly pursue you, armed foes who shoot from afar, robotic sentries that stand still, and spider-like monsters that leap at you. Each can be felled with the right amount of bullets, though sometimes the game struggles to keep up to speed.
The concept alone is clever and I’m surprised I haven’t seen it done before on this level. A fast-moving FPS combined with the popular rogue-like genre based on runs and speed/high scores, I enjoyed my time with it despite my reservations about the rogue genre. With most entries in that genre you have to either implement shortcuts or insert an entry level that won’t get boring after your hundredth run. With Strafe however, the kinetic, fast-paced combat means you can blow through the early stuff relatively quickly once you get a feel for the controls and various weapons. Grouping and alternate fires enable players to take out large swaths of enemies at once, and memorization of the map’s features will allow you to blow through them.
Framerates would drop, stutter, and generally struggle to present the action in a smooth manner throughout the demo playable at PSX. Drops were harsh enough that it made the game hard to even play, especially when you had large groups of six plus enemies on-screen at once. Having previously seen Strafe running on PC’s, I know that smooth performance is something they are likely optimizing for, but its just a disappointment that the playable version suffered from this setback.
Visually the game has a rough but charming presentation, with large polygon figures reminiscent of the original PlayStation and Dreamcast. This type of graphical style on the PC allows for up to about 200FPS according to the developer, and they hope to hit 60FPS on console. While currently less-than-stellar when it comes to performance, I have little doubt that Strafe will be able to deliver on smooth gameplay upon release. It was just a bit disappointing to not be able to play that version during the convention.
Blood quickly soaks the floor, walls, and ceiling as you shoot of limbs, blow apart bodies, and cause general destruction to anything and everything that moves. Protecting you from death are an armor and health meter that are rarely replenished after you disembark the introduction. Weapons are simple enough to understand and use.
There is no aiming-down-sights and instead you have to rely on skating in and out of enemies range or projectiles, while also keeping in mind acidic blood that may coat the floor. Make no mistake, Strafe is quite violent. Limbs will frequently be severed, enemies erupt into violent bursts of blood, and most will rush at you with reckless abandon. Everything is out to kill you, and in return you work to essentially wipe out all that moves.
Your playable character moves quickly, and each weapon also has an alternate fire. Remembering to reload is clutch, as you won’t automatically do so once a clip is empty which may cause you to click the fire button only to watch your gun descend below the screen as that final foe draws ever-closer.
Junk and currency are scattered about for you to collect, as are ammo drops and additional weapons to supply yourself with. Levels are taken from procedural generation, as most rogue-likes are, though common elements are shared often in the beginning. I wasn’t able to get into anything beyond the first few levels unfortunately, so I cannot yet speak onto the variety of presentation accessible in Strafe. The future space aesthetic allows for a wide variety of environments to be brought into play, though we’ll have to wait for launch to discover what is fully available.
One of the challenges can be self-imposed, such as opting for the rail gun which has a slow rate of fire but packs a punch. This can force more methodical play than simply holding down the trigger until nothing is moving, but also requires you to rely on the game’s stability, which may or may not have been reliable during my play time. It hits all the bullet points it needs to: fast, frentic gameplay, a variety of weapons with different modes of fire and alternate methods for destruction, ruthless enemies that are equally deadly, and a willingness to engage with bloody violence.
While Strafe is great, I hope they are able to introduce a steady framerate and deliver on its core gameplay. I know there is an amazing high-speed first person shooter in Strafe, they just need to get past the technical issues first.