Pixel Titans invites you to paint the world red in Strafe, a retro-styled rampage inspired by a bygone era of shooters, featuring chunky graphics, ridiculous ultraviolence, and a decidedly radical soundtrack. The game's announcement in 2015 turned heads with its old-school stylings and off-the-wall, face-melting live action trailer, which parodied classic video game adverts. However, despite its reverence of the genre's forefathers, Strafe doesn't take in a lot of what actually made them good.
Strafe doesn't make the best first impression – a strange, surrealistic tutorial introduces only a bare minimum of mechanics before dropping you back at the start screen. Your first few attempts at the main game will likely be met with disaster – a frustrating scarcity of health kits, a totally useless automap, and vague, counterintuitive gameplay mechanics can leave you disillusioned.
The core gameplay loop is at odds with itself – a great emphasis is placed on speed, with some near-comical movement physics and bonus power-ups on offer for beating level par times – but rushing through levels is almost guaranteed to land you in a bad situation. The messy level generation doesn't treat speedrunning kindly, and is rife with dead ends and Doom-style monster closets.
Strafe's creeps have little in the way of AI other than rushing towards you, and it becomes a chore having to run circles around every room to avoid being mauled. The cramped corridors and hordes of mindless goons leave little room to execute Strafe's titular manoeuvre – "Backpedal" may have been a more appropriate title for the game, although that wouldn't be nearly as catchy.
Strafe's inventory comes as a saving grace for the action, with a wide variety of powerful, crunchy guns on offer, as well as some wacky, experimental weapons to try out. A choice between three reliable primary weapons (a shotgun, an assault rifle, and a railgun) is offered upon starting the game, and disposable secondary weapons can be looted around the levels.
While these secondary guns can't be reloaded, they each pack a solid punch, and are disposed of in comical fashions once their ammunition has been expended. Rifles and such can be swung as blunt instruments, pistols can be thrown as tomahawks, and the various energy weapons can be overcharged and thrown as makeshift grenades.
Complimenting Strafe's over-the-top equipment are some equally over-the-top blood physics, allowing you to coat levels with a fine red glaze. Blasting heads and limbs off of enemies will result in a crimson tide spewing forth from the deceased, soaking walls, floors, and even ceilings in a scarlet sheen. Each and every gallon of blood is simulated and tracked individually, and a lifetime tally of blood spilled can be checked at the main menu.
To aid in your quest for blood, Strafe also offers one of the most mind-blowing soundtracks of recent note, with an array of crunchy synth and heavy electronica to kick some ass to. Early levels sport electrifying, fast-paced beats, while later zones break it down with overpowering, bassy jams. Strafe's tunes are a blast to listen to, and do everything in their power to preserve a sense of momentum in spite of the level design.
The overall package isn't quite the sum of its parts, as few of the ingredients gel together properly – you've got enemies from Serious Sam placed in levels from Doom, as well as an emphasis on quickness but with harsh punishments for speedrunning. Strafe offers some cheap thrills with its punchy line-up of guns, hilarious blood effects and stunning soundtrack, but a number of small issues and needless frustrations pile up to spoil the experience.