Strafe is a game from 2017 that looks like a game from 1993, that advertises itself as a game from somewhere in the mid-90s. Like all good retro-styled projects it knows precisely what was fun about its forebears—early 90s first-person-shooters, or "Doom Clones"—the sheer speed, the need for fast lateral movement, the responsive controls and crunchy, evocative environments. And it adds the requisite moderns twists for playability.
I am not very good at Strafe, I'll admit it. Nor am I really above what you'd call "barely competent" at most FPS games (immersive sims are kind of the only exception), and yeah, shooting things for too long gets me good and bored. But something awakened in me last year, upon playing Doom (the 2016 project). Something about the speed and the timing and the platforming that made fights feel more like a chaotic, bloody dance than a rote, repetitive series of motions, and I found myself loving the action.
Strafe is doing something similar, albeit with random level generation (and some light crating mechanics that allow you to trade "scrap" from fallen enemies on bullets and armor) and a generally less stringent leash on the chaos. Where Doom at least loosely had "arenas" for the craziest bits of action, Strafe just lets it all out at the jump, pumping hordes of enemies at you while you blast through appropriately maze-like environments, asking only that you spray crimson everywhere.
It's so fast, and enemies rush you in massive groups, collecting into piles of chunky, malignant 3D models reaching out to eat your face. You can jump over those piles, twist mid-air, and start blasting bullets into them. You can throw grenades and bait them out into corridors of death, taking advantage of their dopey AI.
And you die quickly—and often—if you aren't good at keeping the hordes contained. Strafe, like the best of the olden FPSes is all about getting the jump on groups of enemies, learning their patterns, and clearing out the room as fast as possible, lest the next group of aliens/demons gets too big to deal with.
I died so many times while playing this game, But I started back on 1-1 every time, with a big smile on my face, and a "one more game!" attitude. I only actually stopped playing because it was Friday night and I had to do some paperwork before leaving the office.
Its labyrinthine environments never disappointed. Its enemies (aliens? Mutants? Hostile flying Cheetos?) never let me down, spawning from obvious monster closets. And its humor, gentle enough outside of the delightfully doofy FMV "tutorial," is light and appropriately, earnestly 90s-rad.
Back in the actual mid-90s, my young self wasn't playing PC shooters (it was platformers and the occasional racing game all the way until around the N64 days). So my enjoyment of Strafe really comes from a place of new appreciation of older mechanics (or at least, for that style of movement). I'm happy to pretend I'm in an alternate history with Strafe, sitting down in 1996 as a 12-year old with a lot of nasties to blast.