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Yahtzee reviews Strafe.

Transcript Edit

So E3 is over with, the summer now stretches out before us like the intestinal tract of a beached tuberculotic whale, which is the perfect opportunity to slam the door in summer's face. Fuck you, summer. All too hot and no games and don't think I've forgotten about all that David Berkowitz business. I'm gonna talk about a game that came out last month, in spring, before everything got fucked up. Strafe, a roguelite.

 Indie gaming has been beating the roguelite drum like it's a dusty carpet with the face of a cabinet minister these last few years. There doesn't seem to be any genre on God's green earth that someone hasn't thought of enhancing with procedural generation and permadeath. We've got Roguelike dungeon crawlers, we've got roguelike space sims, we've got whatever the fuck the Binding of Isaac is. We've got Roguelike Castlevania-style platformers, Roguelike Megaman-style platformers, Roguelike straight platformer on the rocks, I hear there's even a Roguelike investigative Lovecraftian horror adventure game by some jolly talented indie developer who certainly isn't rubbing himself through his trouser pocket as he types this. No I don't mean Darkest Dungeon, shut up.

 Strafe is a Roguelike shooter that evokes 90's FPSes like Quake and Unreal and everything else that was low-poly and brown like a very disappointing Rubik's cube. It's a deliberate evocation of retro style gameplay with a subtext of nudge-wink self-aware irony, and it's published by Devolver Digital, because of course it is. Even if it had tried to get published by someone else Devolver Digital would have burst in the window dressed like a highwayman and kidnapped it, because this is very much Devolver Digital's shit. Devolver Digital breakfast every morning on a big bowl of pixels and a tall glass of the piss that it took out of something.

 There is a plot, in the same way that my cutlery drawer has a grapefruit spoon in it somewhere that I could probably find given an hour and some earthmoving equipment. It's something like, you're a space salvager type person and you've beamed down to some planet space station thing in a distant corner of the universe to find materials, and something's happened to the place and its occupants roughly equivalent to what happened to Sunderland after they started selling Diamond White in two litre bottles.

 But honestly, what the game's about is what all those Quake-likes were about: here's you, here's the level exit, and here's five hundred grunting primates in Warhammer cosplay who are determined that never the twain shall meet. Fortunately you have a shoulder-mounted murder stiffy with which to blow off all their arms and legs.

 I don't mind telling you, listener: Strafe has become my new unwindy game. A game that I can just sit down to at the end of a long, three hour work day and mindlessly play while I listen to a podcast or maybe some music that young people don't like. Which I hasten to add doesn't necessarily recommend a game. I mean, Euro Truck Simulator has been one of my unwindy games in the past and it wouldn't be my fucking BAFTA nom.

 Strafe's just a nice, nostalgic, comfortable place for me, takes me right back to my youth playing games like Quake and Duke Nukem 3D and Who Can Masturbate To Climax In The School Showers Without Mr. Trevers Noticing. Straightforward point and shoot action, no fucking stealth, no fucking minimap, and definitely no fucking preanimated takedown moves.

 You see, you never kill only one thing in Strafe. Kill one thing and there's about seventeen more things just around the corner who are all triggered by the sound of triggers being pulled, ironically. But if the intention was to evoke the mindless rocket-jumping fun of Quake then that and the whole Roguelike element combine like samosas and licorice. In Quake, self-preservation was always fairly low on the list of priorities, it went under killing the enemies, exploring the level and using rocket explosions to hurl yourself onto the tops of doorways. And that's because, in Quake, health packs are lying around like it's Christmas morning at the old folk's home, but in Strafe, you can only restore health from the occasional sandwich dispenser that's as generous with its contents as an emetophobe on a desert island and self-preservation is paramount.

 I think a more accurate name for Strafe would have been Backpedal. 'Cos that's what you have to do every single time you alert anything. Most of the enemies are only programmed to make a beeline for you and start thwacking at your undercarriage and the rest shoot slow-moving bullets so the smartest thing to do is create distance, wait behind a doorway that can bottleneck them and pick them off like a disgruntled Walmart greeter. For all the enemies you reduce to clouds of objects that look like they were recovered from a sink trap in a kebab shop, it's hard to get a sense of abandon. Especially when you have to be twitchily looking over your shoulder constantly, either for acid spitting traps mounted to walls above the door you just came through, or for one of the inevitable monster closets that randomly open behind your juicy arse.

 Funnily enough, though, the hardest part of the game is probably the first part, when you're on tight corridor safari on board the USS Blind Corner. Get past that and you're probably in for a long run, as from then on the environments get more open and chances are good you picked up nine rocket launchers on the way that you forgot about.

 Unless of course you used a teleporter. See, a handy thing for a Roguelike to have is some kind of permanent upgrade to work towards for the benefit of all future playthroughs, fun as it is to bang your head against a wall, it only gets that little extra spice after the permanent brain damage. In Strafe you can assemble a teleporter for each level past the first that lets you start on that level rather than the default, so I went out of my way to complete the slightly esoteric steps required and successfully finished the teleporter to level 2. Only to try it out next run and swiftly get my balls pulped, because I was trying to beat level 2 enemies with starting equipment. I was plinking away at one of them rock monsters like a lion tamer with a water pistol. So if you are looking for a bellend to the grindstone action power fantasy along the lines of Doom or indeed Deum you might be put off from Strafe, where the starting enemies will mob you like you're a kindergarten teacher with Pokemon cards glued to your ankles.

 But I'm somewhat into it as a Roguelike. There's something very zen about losing everything you've been working towards because of a few careless mistakes and having to start anew from scratch, it's the same reason I set myself on fire every weekend.

 And what really makes Strafe for me is the little details. The scrappy visual design, the slightly dodgy gameplay choices, the elaborate secrets like the hidden Wolfenstein 3D pastiche and the bunny hopping level, that's what evokes the freer, more experimental early days of 3D game development in the 90s, more so than any amount of rocket jumping. That's what gives Strafe the edge, the fact that it seems like it was crafted by flawed human beings with a vision in mind, rather than a genetically engineered boxcar full of human skin with an overfunded marketing department.

Addenda Edit

ScreenshotsEdit

Strafe01

Devolver Digital would have burst in the window dressed like a highwayman and kidnapped it

Strafe02

[Quake] and the whole Roguelike element combine like samosas and licorice

Strafe03

It seems like it was crafted by flawed human beings with a vision in mind

Episodes
2007 - 2010
2007
Q3 The Darkness Demo · Fable: The Lost Chapters · Zero Punctuation (Episode) · Heavenly Sword and Other Stuff · Psychonauts · Console Rundown · BioShock · Tomb Raider: Anniversary · Manhunt · Peggle
Q4 Halo 3 · Tabula Rasa · The Orange Box · Super Paper Mario · Medal of Honor: Airborne · The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass · Clive Barker's Jericho · F.E.A.R. Perseus Mandate · Assassin's Creed · Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock · Mass Effect
2008
Q1 Super Mario Galaxy · Silent Hill: Origins · Crysis · The Witcher · Resident Evil: The Umbrella Chronicles · Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare · SimCity Societies · Yahtzee Goes to GDC · Uncharted: Drake's Fortune · Devil May Cry 4 · Burnout: Paradise · Turok · Zack & Wiki: Quest for Barbaros' Treasure
Q2 Army of Two · No More Heroes · Condemned 2: Bloodshot · Super Smash Bros. Brawl · God of War: Chains of Olympus · Mailbag Showdown · Grand Theft Auto IV · Painkiller · The World Ends With You · The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion · Haze · Metal Gear Solid 4
Q3 Webcomics · Lego Indiana Jones: The Original Adventures · Alone in the Dark · Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures · The E3 Trailer Park · Ninja Gaiden II · Prince of Persia Retrospective · Soulcalibur IV · Braid · EVE Online · Too Human · Spore · XBLA Double Bill
Q4 Mercenaries 2: World in Flames · Star Wars: The Force Unleashed · S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Clear Sky · Silent Hill: Homecoming · Saints Row 2 · Dead Space · Fable II · Fallout 3 · Guitar Hero: World Tour · Mirror's Edge · Left 4 Dead · Sonic Unleashed · The Year in Review - 2008 · Prince of Persia
2009
Q1 Awards for 2008 · Tomb Raider: Underworld · Far Cry 2 · Gears of War 2 · LittleBigPlanet · Thief: The Dark Project · Skate 2 · F.E.A.R. 2 · Spider-Man: Web of Shadows · The House of the Dead: Overkill · 50 Cent: Blood on the Sand · Resident Evil 5
Q2 X-Blades/Halo Wars · Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars · MadWorld · Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X · Siren: Blood Curse · The Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena · Valkyria Chronicles · Velvet Assassin · Duke Nukem Forever · Bionic Commando · InFamous · The Second Annual E3 Hype Massacre · Prototype
Q3 The Sims 3 · Ghostbusters: The Video Game · Overlord 2 · Red Faction Guerrilla · Wii Sports Resort · Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood · The Conduit · Silent Hill 2 · 2.5-D Hoedown · Tales of Monkey Island · Wolfenstein · Batman: Arkham Asylum · Beatles Rock Band & Guitar Hero 5 · Darkest of Days
Q4 Scribblenauts · Wet · Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story · Brutal Legend · Washington D.C. · Uncharted 2: Among Thieves · Dragon Age: Origins · Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 · Assassin's Creed 2 · Left 4 Dead 2 & New Super Mario Bros. Wii · Demon's Souls · Holiday 2009 · The Saboteur
2010
Q1 Awards for 2009 · Torchlight · Darksiders · Bayonetta · Dark Void · Borderlands · Mass Effect 2 · Dante's Inferno · BioShock 2 · Aliens vs Predator · Heavy Rain · Battlefield: Bad Company 2 · Final Fantasy XIII
Q2 April Fools 2010 · God of War III · Red Steel 2 · Just Cause 2 · Silent Hill: Shattered Memories · Splinter Cell: Conviction · Nier · Dead to Rights: Retribution · Monster Hunter Tri · Alan Wake · Red Dead Redemption · Alpha Protocol · Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands · E3 2010
Q3 No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle · Super Mario Galaxy 2 · Singularity · Crackdown 2 · DeathSpank & Limbo · Shadow of the Colossus · Split Second: Velocity · Transformers: War for Cybertron · Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days · Mafia II · Metroid: Other M · Video Game Voters Network · Amnesia: The Dark Descent
Q4 Halo: Reach · Dead Rising 2 · Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions · Castlevania: Lords of Shadow · Enslaved: Odyssey to the West · Fallout: New Vegas · Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II · Call of Duty: Black Ops · IPhone Games · Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood · Splatterhouse · Epic Mickey · Holiday 2010
2011 - 2014
2011
Q1 Top 5 of 2010 · World of Warcraft: Cataclysm · Fable III · Minecraft · A Shadow's Tale · Dead Space 2 · DC Universe Online · MindJack · Two Worlds II · Bulletstorm · Killzone 3 · Kirby's Epic Yarn · Dragon Age II
Q2 Pokémon White · Yakuza 4 · Crysis 2 · Nintendo 3DS · Portal 2 · Castlevania: Symphony of the Night · Mortal Kombat · Brink · L.A. Noire · The Witcher 2 · Hunted: The Demon's Forge · Duke Nukem Forever (for real this time) · InFamous 2
Q3 Alice: Madness Returns · Shadows of the Damned · F.E.A.R. 3 · The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D · Call of Juarez: The Cartel · Bastion and From Dust · Catherine · Red Faction: Armageddon · Deus Ex · Deus Ex: Human Revolution · Driver: San Francisco · Dead Island · Resistance 3
Q4 Gears of War 3 · Hard Reset · Rage · Kinect · Batman: Arkham City · Battlefield 3 · Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception · Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 · The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim · Saints Row: The Third · Assassin's Creed: Revelations · The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword
2012
Q1 Serious Sam 3: BFE · Top 5 of 2011 · Super Mario 3D Land & Rayman Origins · Sonic Generations · Star Wars: The Old Republic · Amy · Resident Evil: Revelations · Darkness 2 · Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning · NeverDead · Syndicate · Mass Effect 3 · Twisted Metal
Q2 Yakuza: Dead Souls · Ninja Gaiden 3 · Silent Hill: Downpour · Kid Icarus: Uprising · Fez and I Am Alive · Prototype 2 · Risen 2: Dark Waters · Sniper Elite V2 · Diablo 3 · Max Payne 3 · Dragon's Dogma · E3 2012 · Lollipop Chainsaw
Q3 Quantum Conundrum · Spec Ops: The Line · Walking Dead · Inversion · The Amazing Spider-Man · Half-Life · Wreckateer and Deadlight · Steam Roundup · Sleeping Dogs · Darksiders 2 · DayZ · Guild Wars 2
Q4 Borderlands 2 · FIFA 13 · Resident Evil 6 · Dishonored · XCOM: Enemy Unknown · Medal of Honor: Warfighter & Doom 3: BFG Edition · Assassin's Creed 3 · Halo 4 · Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 · Hitman: Absolution · Far Cry 3 · ZombiU
2013
Q1 Top 5 of 2012 · Paper Mario: Sticker Star · Black Knight Sword & Hotline Miami · Anarchy Reigns · DMC: Devil May Cry · The Cave · Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch · Dead Space 3 · Aliens: Colonial Marines · Crysis 3 · Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance · Tomb Raider · SimCity
Q2 The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct · BioShock Infinite · Lego City Undercover · Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon · Injustice: Gods Among Us · Star Trek · Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon · System Shock 2 · Metro: Last Light · Next Gen Buyer's Guide · Fuse · Remember Me · E3 2013
Q3 The Last of Us · Deadpool · Animal Crossing: New Leaf · Ride to Hell: Retribution · Dark · Mario & Luigi: Dream Team · Rise of the Triad · Papers, Please & Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons · Pikmin 3 · The Bureau: XCOM Declassified · Saints Row 4 · Killer is Dead · Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs
Q4 Grand Theft Auto V · Lost Planet 3 · Beyond: Two Souls · The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD · Batman: Arkham Origins · Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag · Call of Duty: Ghosts · Exclusives Showdown · Ryse: Son of Rome · Dead Rising 3 · Super Mario 3D World
2014
Q1 Top 5 of 2013 · Knack · Killzone: Shadow Fall · Survival Special · Broken Age · Might & Magic X: Legacy · The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds · Dark Souls · Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII · Strider · Thief · Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 · Dark Souls II
Q2 Titanfall · InFamous: Second Son · Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes · The Elder Scrolls Online · South Park: The Stick of Truth · FTL: Faster Than Light · Child of Day-Light · The Amazing Spider-Man 2 · Tesla Effect: A Tex Murphy Adventure · Wolfenstein: The New Order · WATCH DOGS · E3 2014 · Murdered: Soul Suspect
Q3 Tomodachi Life · Enemy Front & Valiant Hearts: The Great War · Shovel Knight · EarthBound · Transistor · E.T. · Firefall · Sacred 3 · Risen 3: Titan Lords · Daikatana · Lichdom: Battlemage · The Sims 4 · Destiny
Q4 D4: Dark Dreams Don't Die · Hyrule Warriors · Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor · Alien Isolation · The Evil Within · Bayonetta 2 · Sunset Overdrive · Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare · Assassin's Creed: Unity · Far Cry 4 · Dragon Age: Inquisition · Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric · Top 5 Games of 2014
2015 - 2017
2015
Q1 The Talos Principle · Elite: Dangerous · Five Nights at Freddy's and This War of Mine · Lords of the Fallen · Saints Row: Gat out of Hell · Dying Light · Grim Fandango · Evolve · The Order: 1886 · The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask 3D · Resident Evil Revelations 2 · Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number & Ori and the Blind Forest
Q2 Battlefield: Hardline · Bloodborne · Half-Life 2 Update · Axiom Verge & Stealth Inc 2 · Mortal Kombat X · Grand Theft Auto Online · Broken Age: Act 2 · Wolfenstein: The Old Blood · Cyberpunk Double · The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt · Splatoon · Hatred · E3 2015
Q3 Alone in the Dark: Illumination · Batman: Arkham Knight · Yoshi's Woolly World · Cave Story · Godzilla · Rocket League & Tembo the Badass Elephant · King's Quest: A Knight to Remember · Nom Nom Galaxy & Freedom Planet · Everybody's Gone To The Rapture · Volume · Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain · Mad Max · Gears of War Ultimate Edition · Until Dawn
Q4 Super Mario Maker · SOMA · Rock Band 4 · Assassin's Creed Syndicate · Halo 5: Guardians · Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 · Rise of the Tomb Raider · Fallout 4 · Star Wars: Battlefront · Just Cause 3 · Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water
2016
Q1 Top 5 Games of 2015 · Devil's Third · Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam · Assassin's Creed Chronicles · Xenoblade Chronicles X · The Witness & Bombshell · Gravity Rush · XCOM 2 · Firewatch & Layers of Fear · Far Cry Primal · Stardew Valley & SUPERHOT · The Division · Salt and Sanctuary
Q2 Republique · Shadow Warrior · Quantum Break · Dark Souls III · Ratchet & Clank · Star Fox Zero · Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door · Uncharted 4: A Thief's End · Doom · Homefront: The Revolution · Overwatch & Battleborn · Mirror's Edge: Catalyst · E3 2016
Q3 Mighty No. 9 · Inside & Shadow of the Beast · The Technomancer · Furi & Song of the Deep · I Am Setsuna · Headlander & Quadrilateral Cowboy · Quake · No Man's Sky · Grow Up · Deus Ex: Mankind Divided · Metroid Prime: Federation Force · The Curious Expedition & Mother Russia Bleeds · ReCore
Q4 Capcom Five · Clustertruck & Lichtspeer · Paper Mario: Color Splash · Mafia III · Gears of War 4 · PlayStation VR · Battlefield 1 · Titanfall 2 vs Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare · Dishonored 2 · WATCH DOGS 2 · Final Fantasy XV · The Last Guardian
2017
Q1 Top 5 Games of 2016 · Let It Die · Dead Rising 4 · Hitman · Gravity Rush 2 · Resident Evil 7 · Yakuza 0 · Nioh · For Honor · Nintendo Switch & Breath of the Wild · Horizon Zero Dawn · Nier Automata · Ghost Recon Wildlands
Q2 Mass Effect Andromeda · Yooka-Laylee · Persona 5 · Remastered Editions · Outlast 2 · Sniper: Ghost Warrior 3 · Prey · Wilson's Heart · The Surge · Injustice 2 · Vanquish · E3 2017 · Strafe
Q3 Get Even · Hollow Knight / Dead Cells

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