Remember “ye olde” shooter? You know, Doom, Wolfenstein 3D and the like? No? Well, neither do I. I was far too young and preoccupied playing Tekken 3 and Rayman and the like. And besides, by the time I was gaming, the PlayStation had already come out, displaying full 3D graphics. So when it was time to start shooting some enemies in glorious first person, I was already spoilt for choice. In 3D. Now, before I played the game I always thought it was best to get the opinions of others on it, via reviews and such. And I couldn’t go five minutes without someone somewhere mentioning older games. “Modern games are terrible” they would whine. “Only two weapons at a time? And apparently hiding behind a wall for two seconds takes all the bullets out of your skull.” Then they’d guffaw amongst themselves  as if they made a funny. Well, here’s a game that’ll hopefully silence these complaining comedians, Strife.

From what I gather, Strife was built on the Doom engine, and shares many similarities. You can carry enough weapons to break even the sturdiest camel’s back. The player hits 0-60 in about 2 seconds, which feels more like skiing than running. And getting shot is a bigger deal, since sucking your thumb behind cover isn’t enough to replace the vital organs that now decorate the nearby wall. Instead, you need bandages. This is one argument I never understood. People comment negatively on regenerating health, but they think having a box of plasters is a viable option for removing bullets and repairing tissue. If they really want realism in their games, they should play something like Arma II, where one bullet can leave you bleeding out in a wasteland, till you slowly but surely come to terms with the certainty your impending of death in this situation. People who play games for fun shouldn’t really care about realism, as long as the game’s enjoyable.

Back to Strife, the beginning plops the protagonist in a room. The room’s filled with what I assume to be acid. To your left, there’s a knight in full armour. “Ok,” I thought, “A knight for an ally. That’s pretty cool”. Then he started shooting me. A knight in full armour shot me with a gun. I then realised I had a claw/knife thing in my hand. So I stabbed him several times in the head. Served him right. One thing that set this game apart from other FPS’ at the time was the ability to talk to NPC’s. They would give missions and hints to progress the adventure. The entire game is set in a hub world, with doors to different areas, each of which have different missions. I spoke to the first NPC by pure coincidence, since there actually wasn’t any marker or objective to tell me to do so. I just reckoned he was friendly since he was the first person I came across that didn’t try to riddle me with bullets. He told me of some quest to kill a guy and take his ring. Seemed a little petty, but he was offering to pay me, so I was game. Without trying to give spoilers for an 18 year old game, you’ll soon join a group of freedom fighters, who stand against “The Order”, who are obviously the bad guys.

Strife’s gameplay is a little odd for those who enjoy Doom and Wolfenstein 3D. You’re given a Y (vertical) axis to aim on. This doesn’t sound like a massive difference, but it is. Doom allowed you to aim within the same postcode as an enemy, and you’d hit it. This aided the gameplay, since there were a lot of unknown corners to turn around. You’d walk around a wall, see a baddie, go “aah” (because the graphics were scarily realistic back then) and shoot. You didn’t need to worry about aiming up or down, just as long as the enemy was somewhere close to the middle of the screen. Here, you do need to worry about that. Headshots do considerably more damage, and the knights are pretty well protected, even from these. Killing demons in Doom was fun. Couple pistol shots, or maybe one shotgun blast, and it falls apart. It feels more like a chore, or a slog. At times it even resembles a turn based game, since while your character can fire a stream of bullets, the knights fire in bursts.

Another defining feature of Stife and others in the genre is how supposedly “organic” they are. No objectives, no markers, no obvious “GO HERE” sign. It doesn’t treat you like a moron. As someone who always complains about handholding in modern games, it’s surprising to say I actually don’t like this. I don’t like how it doesn’t tell you where to go. Obviously, I don’t like flashing signs that beat the player over the head every five seconds. But at the same time, if you happen to look away or get distracted from one piece of crucial information, the NPC’s won’t repeat it. So you’d have to bumble around the place aimlessly, waiting for an event to trigger. Or at least, that would be the case if not for the Tab key. Oh, the beautiful Tab key. This brings up a map, which features a pulsing circle over the objective. This is incredibly helpful, as I wasn’t aware of it for quite a while. However, while it tells you where to go, it doesn’t actually tell you what you have to do once you arrive. This can lead to a bit of what I call point and click adventure syndrome- press every damn object in sight until it leads to progress. It’s not dignified, but it works.

Overall, this is a love letter to those who either loved that era of games, or played the original Strife all those years ago. No regenerating health, no cover systems, no obvious markers telling you where to go. You can carry half an army on your back and still sprint faster than Usain Bolt. And it’s great fun.