When I sat down with Stephen Raney and Thom Glunt, co-founders of Pixel Titans, to look at STRAFE®, they stressed that it ends with a registered trademark symbol. Seriously, my first note from my meeting during GDC was “like over-branding™"—and that’s a quote. Despite this marketing gusto, they were also passionate about STRAFE® as a throwback to those early shooters, like Quake and Doom, id Software’s classics. The nostalgia is apparent, but the modernization is where the game seems like it will really shine.
Pixel Titans, perhaps true to their name, gave STRAFE® a pixelated, old-school look, but instead of working with sprites as their inspirations did, everything is modeled in 3D. Part of the unique aesthetic, though, is the copious amount of blood and gore guaranteed to litter every playthrough. Dismissing the sometimes confusing concept of disappearing corpses, enemy pieces and the gallons of red lifeblood spewed from their husks are persistent. You can even use blood like a breadcrumb trail in a labyrinthine level. The developers also demonstrated blood’s other purpose: It can be used to cover pools of health-whittling acid sometimes poured across the floor. The game prefers whichever material is on top, so players can be strategic with their wanton murder.
When starting a new game, you have a choice among three different types of guns that’ll serve as your permanent weapon through each randomized play session. Rooms and monster closets are pre-defined, but they are arranged in random order whenever a level is loaded. Over the course of your killing spree, enemies will drop scrap metal you can use to upgrade your weapon or trade with a mysterious character for stat-boosting items or bonuses in future levels, like more items in chests. If you’re not simply content with your one-gun arsenal, you can pick up dropped weapons to empty out their clips. And akin to the Tediore brand of weaponry in Borderlands 2, throwing them when the clip is empty results in other weapon effects.
Players who wish to view the tutorial will be treated to another old-school feature: the FMV. Pixel Titans put a lot of work into making the corniest video ot could, featuring an instructor with questionable line delivery, dead-simple control tests, and the occasional boom mic descending into view accidentally. When I asked Glunt, who was talking while Raney played, about STRAFE®’s story, he quoted Doom and Quake visionary, John Carmack: “Story in a game is like a story in a porn movie. It's expected to be there, but it's not that important.”
Not to settle on a flippant answer, he went onto explain that despite the gameplay focus, there will be story which can be gleaned from environmental clues. I also noticed that unlike Doom, there’s no visible face of your player character to represent health, so I asked if you ever see him. The answer honestly surprised me. Glunt didn’t want to spoil anything, but he told me players will be able to create their avatar at the beginning of the game, choosing the gender on a slider between male and female. It took me aback to think this throwback to bro-focused games included an option for non-binary gender, and it was the only at GDC I saw with that feature. How refreshingly progressive!
STRAFE® should be released in early 2017 for PC, Mac, Linux, and the Oculus Rift. It will feature 16 super-violent levels of mayhem. Each one is complemented by some authentically awesome music from ToyTree. Oh, and I forgot to mention permadeath. (Silly me.) Yes, if you’re looking forward to playing this, get ready to die over and over again as you try to perfect your strategy. Although this personally is not my type of game, it looked really slick and fast, and I’m positive it’ll feed its niche admirably…with blood.