A while ago a friend of mine recommended "Strife" to me, saying I'll probably like it, because it it was "like Doom
with more versatile gameplay and a real plot". I went to a local second-hand software store and asked the seller if he had a copy of "Strife". He said he never heard of this game. I browsed the net and found very little information about it. Only MobyGames provided me with the information I needed, and after I finally got the game, I understood an injustice has taken place.
"Strife" is commonly referred to (and disregarded as) a Doom
-clone, and technically, it is so. But from the point of view of gameplay, "Strife" enhances the old gameplay with some great additions. Probably the most outstanding aspect of "Strife" is the structure of its world. The game uses a hub system like in Hexen
; instead of linear levels there are large areas that are connected to each other.
"Strife" offers plenty of exploration. There are lots of little secret areas with extra items, and many totally optional areas that you can explore or neglect at your pleasure. In the middle of the game, there is a moral decision for you to take: you can agree to kill your commander or choose to trust him. I chose the second option, and I don't even know what would have happened if I had chosen the first. I imagine that would have lead the game onto a different path. The gameplay itself also allows you to make choices. Of course, most of the time you'll be drawn into fierce combat, but there are also many friendly areas where you can wander around and talk to people without being afraid to get shot. There are also places where you have to avoid being seen by security cameras and setting off the alarm. At a certain point, you disguise yourself as an enemy by wearing an acolyte's uniform, and can walk around and even talk to enemies until they realize you are an invader.
In friendly areas you can buy items, which is a great innovation - it adds an element of role-playing to an otherwise straightforward action game. If you run out of medical kits or ammo, you can just go back to town and buy those supplies (provided you have money, of course). You get money regularly after completing missions for the rebels, and at later stages of the game, you can find money in enemy areas. You can also buy weapons and armor from the shops in town. At the rebel base, there are a weapon trainer and a medic, who will upgrade your character. The weapon trainer will teach you to use weapons more efficiently, and the medic will raise your maximum HP - another nice touch of a RPG.
The levels in "Strife" are very creative. Prison, sewers, castle, mines, catacombs, factory, temple - there is a lot of variety, and I found only a couple of levels repetitive. The action is furious, especially near the end of the game. Enemies often come in large amounts, and attack you from all sides. But going straight to the goal and shooting everything at sight is rarely the best strategy. Most of the dungeons in "Strife" require you to operate switches and levers in order to clear the next area, so you usually have to explore every corner of the level.
The enemies in "Strife" are also very satisfying. Those are sinister acolytes, intimidating rocket-launching mechs, templars, who look like children in deformed armor. My personal favorites (if I may say so) are the spiders. They usually hang on ceilings and jump down only when I approach them. They belong to the most scary enemies I ever encountered in a game.
You have a perfect arsenal of weapons in "Strife". You are armed with a cool crossbow, that can be loaded with different kinds of bolts, a rifle (your basic weapon), missile and grenade launchers, flamethrower, and the coolest of all weapons - the sigil. You have to see that thing to believe me.
The story of "Strife" is not the most original one ever conceived, but is still much more than "bad guys attack, kill 'em all" of most other shooters of its time. "Strife" starts as a mission-based game where you have to perform tasks as a mercenary for a rebel group, but soon it develops into a much more sinister plot involving mind controlling, biological experiments, religious fanaticism, aliens, etc.
So far, so good. I guess most of the people who have played "Strife" will agree with most of the things I've said until now, but the main reason for the low popularity of this game is not lack of good plot, setting, atmosphere, or gameplay, but its graphics. What? A game rejected because of poor graphics?! Yes, unfortunately, some of our fellow gamers seem to care more for brand new engines and flashy effects than for gameplay and ambiance. But the point is not even that. The point is, the graphics in "Strife" are excellent. I finished the game on August 17th, 2003, after having played many modern 3D games. Not even once was I disturbed by the game's graphics. Not even once did I think: "Oh, what a game it might have been if it only looked better". "Strife" looks good, and sometimes, it looks great. The chapel, temple ruins, and alien ship belong to the most beautiful 3D levels I have ever seen. It is a shame most people haven't noticed it and only thought about the fact it used the old Doom
The save system belongs to the worst ones I have ever seen. Whoever thought first of using a single save slot for a shooter ought to be fired. Luckily, a patch corrects this issue, so remember: download the patch
. I had saved games in all the slots, and honestly, I don't envy those who played the original version of "Strife".
In the middle of the game there are a some levels which I felt were unnecessary. I'm talking about Bishop's Tower and particularly the security complex you had to infiltrate in order to deactivate the computer. There was too much "filler" material in those levels, not enough creativity, and too tedious switch-hunting and walking through maze-like corridors. Fortunately, most of the later levels are again excellently designed, but I felt there was too much of the same in many levels of "Strife".
And yeah, there were FPSs with a better engine at that time. So what?
The Bottom Line
"Strife" is a proof of the sad fact: in the world of FPSs, people pay too much attention to graphic engines and not enough to gameplay. "Strife" is a fantastic FPS based on an outdated engine, made at the time when a newer, more powerful engine (called Quake
) was already released. This is why it was "doomed" to oblivion. Its revolutionary achievements (large, open world, NPC interaction, touches of role-playing) were forgotten. "Strife" comes close to System Shock
in importance, being a step towards merging FPS with adventure and RPG. Deus Ex
also owes a lot to "Strife". But even without its historical importance, "Strife" is an atmospheric, fascinating action game that should be honored as the best FPS nobody ever played
. We gamers ought to be ashamed for letting this game slip through the dark holes of history.