Truly overlooked action/RPG classic.
Strife may be getting on a bit these days, it’s nearly 10 years old, and in many ways is very dated. Don’t let this put you off though, this underdog is still very much worth playing. This early mating of 1st-person shooter and RPG has a fun story, exciting action and more exploration than most modern shooters. And a flamethrower, oh yes.
While the story in Strife is nothing incredible, mostly reminiscent of an old dark sci-fi flick: think cults, cyborgs and prophecies. So far so good, but it actually sports a voice over during the intro and stylish graphic novel type stills. This explains the series of events leading the main character to end up a prison cell. Pity the guards left him with a knife-glove weapon. Squirting jugulars ahoy!
Once in the game proper it feels very much like a Doom game – which is expected as it uses a modified version of the engine. It may fell comforting and familiar but in terms of gameplay most comparisons stop there as the gameplay has a lot more to offer than its technological founder. Players of Dark Forces will feel quite at home with Strife to begin with as the game world is very well designed and feels like a real place. After escaping the prison the level opens out into a town which is the main area of the game and can be explored at will. Drop some cheques off at the bank, pick up some supplies and start a fight down at the local. I personally wouldn’t recommend the latter however, the guards don’t take kindly to stabbings. Quite reasonable I guess. Better to go and find the local Rebel base, just down the street from The Orders HQ. Handy eh?
The level construction is based around the town and acts as hub which is a first for a 1 person shooter if I remember correctly. This allows you to return to areas even after finishing, adding to the sense of immersion. The town is a decent size and feels like a real place with lots of people wandering about that you can talk to. There are guards as well, but along as you don’t start shooting everything, they’ll leave you alone. Yup this is an RPG, you can talk to people, buy items go on missions etc. Without giving the story away you basically end up joining the rebel group opposing – The Order - and set out to stop them. Not on your own though I might add, a member of the rebels called Blackbird is with you at all times during the game watching and listening over your comm system. She is a fantastic addition to game and is actually given some depth developing her to be more than just a way of delivering the mission objective.
This may be an RPG but don’t worry, there is plenty of shooting as well! Combat is quite different from Doom, with opportunities for stealthy movement and silent kills with the crossbow. The big guns are great as well though, with the usual assault rifle, rocket launcher and grenade launcher making up the mainstay of your offence. Some of these have different types of ammo to spice things up a bit. However, the star of the show is the flamethrower, it’s Syndicate all over again! Bodies burn, twist and scream as you torch rooms of bad guys making this one of the most violent shooters at the time (except Blood maybe). There are also two super weapons, the Mauler (disintegration gun, with green explosive death for a secondary fire) and the Sigil which connected to the story. It grows through out the game until the end where it’s an Über powerful lighting BFG, very pretty. All of those that like their squelchy sound effects and gory death scenes are in for a treat.
Level design is also very good. They obviously spent a lot of time trying to give the game integrity and congruity rather than leaving it be corridor crawls. There is plenty of detail in the game world, all areas have a distinctive feel and possessing lots of little objects even breakable monitors and glass. Item pick ups are generally sensibly placed (i.e ammo in the armoury etc) which means that you can go quite a distance without seeing a health boost. This means prior planning and stocking up before missions can make assaulting enemy bases that little easier.
I feel that if Strife had come out in 1995 before Quake, it could have been big. Strife really as a lot going for it and offers more than even some modern shooters do; a good story line, well paced challenging action, interesting characters and strong visual style. Strife by all standards is very good action/RPG provided the aged graphics don’t interfere with the experience. If you like a bit of story and character interaction with your shooting give it a go. Failing that, give the flamethrower a blast, it’s brilliant!