Strife (DOS)

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Developed by
Critic Score
100 point score based on reviews from various critics.
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Written by  :  Unicorn Lynx (174057)
Written on  :  Aug 08, 2016
Rating  :  4 Stars4 Stars4 Stars4 Stars4 Stars

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Landmark FPS

The Good

I'm anything but a hardcore fan of first-person shooters, but I am an admirer of several seminal 3D games that opened new horizons for gaming - Ultima Underworld, King's Field, and System Shock. The latter, in particular, combined modern gunplay with RPG elements and exploration, earning the title of the first great hybrid FPS. Strife is more modest in its aspirations, but it's also closer to classic Doom gameplay in terms of speed and sheer amount of hostile encounters. This game is, therefore, the first fully traditional FPS that deviates from the usual stage-based, shoot-only, arcade-like approach to the genre.

What I like most about Strife is its approach to world design. Like Hexen, it presents a "hub world", i.e. interconnected locations that form a logical whole. One of the things that puts me off in early first-person shooters is the way they are broken into disjointed, arbitrarily designed levels - a feature carried over from early arcade games, where immersion in a coherently constructed, large world was certainly not a priority. Strife turns to role-playing games to borrow a different concept: increasing and enhancing the player's immersion by presenting a vast area that feels much more realistic and less "game-like". It does so more convincingly and consequently than Hexen, and goes quite a bit further on the path of enhancement and innovation.

Strife features such novelties as completely friendly areas, non-player characters to talk to, missions received through in-game conversations, and even some freedom regarding their order. By introducing those elements, Strife clearly paves the way for famous games such as Deus Ex. In general, it affirms the notion that first-person shooters can be more than just adrenaline-raising, non-stop visceral trips through simple environments. Strife was among the first FPSs to incline towards the generous and ambitious philosophy of genre-enhancing and genre-merging.

In Strife, you can visit a tavern for snippets of local gossip, tackle a mission earlier than you are "supposed" to, kill friendly characters and bear the consequences, and even make a decision in the middle of the game that will branch the storyline and lead you to one of the two possible endings. It has additional interesting RPG touches such as two attributes, accuracy and stamina, and a way to increase them. It contains one of the first instances of stealth-based gameplay - certainly not as prominent as in Goldeneye, but noticeable enough to make a difference between shooting everything on sight in an enemy base or infiltrating it in a disguise. It has several cool setpieces, such as a coordinated assault on a castle.

Strife also offers a lot of the traditional frantic action that has distinguished Doom and other games inspired by it. The enemies come in large quantities and often tend to overwhelm the protagonist. There are interesting hostile creatures such as giant crawling spiders and robots of various kinds, from slow droids to agile ninja assassins. Your arsenal includes such cool weapons as a grenade launcher and a crossbow with poison bolts.

The game's world is not just large and interconnected - it is also atmospheric. Strife is set in a dystopian feature that incorporates dark sci-fi and pseudo-medieval elements. There is plot development in the game and various characters who participate in it. Strife clearly has more personality and depth than most other FPSs of its time, and many later ones as well.

The Bad

Obviously, the game's biggest problem are its outdated graphics. To be fair, Strife came out before Quake; but, if I'm not mistaken, Duke Nukem 3D with its much superior engine was already around. The weaknesses of the engine are even more evident in an ambitious game like Strife: its massive open areas and indoor environments may lack detail and look bland, and the game's innovative gameplay touches co-exist with such a remnant of the past as the absence of mouselook.

The quality of level design is somewhat uneven. Next to excellent maps and some outstanding setpieces there are long-winded key hunts set in featureless corridors. The game is large and long, and the final stages do tend to drag; I almost wished the game would have ended a bit sooner.

The save system in the original, unpatched version is a piece of crap. Only the semi-absent saving of Dark Forces can beat the one-save-slot policy of Strife. Be sure that you play the patched version of the game!

The Bottom Line

It's tempting to dismiss Strife as an obsolete, languid variant of Doom, but that would only mean missing out on one of the most interesting and fulfilling FPSs of that prolific era. In terms of gameplay concept, ambitions, and scope, this game is certainly not an epigone, but a precursor of the future.