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SummaryGameplay and technology may be two separate things, but you need both.
The GoodThere's a lot of creative juice running through Strife's veins that's for sure. The game sets itself appart from other Doom clones by introducing a lot of rpg touches like npc interaction, sidequests, hub-based levels and character improvement (albeit not with the standard experience points) as well as other gameplay-enhancing gimmicks.
Taking place in a post apocaliptic world, Strife casts you as a roguish character who gets caught in the fight for freedom of a rebel alliance intent on overthrowing your typical oh-so-evil despotic cult. As the story moves along things start to go really trippy, with genetic experiments gone wrong, betrayals, extraterrestrial intervention, and all sort of kooky sci-fi things told mostly via the game itself and on stylish comic-booky cutscenes and fully voice-acted (make that very well voice-acted) conversations. The plot can get a little far-fetched, especially since among it all you remain the typical last hope of humankind, but it's entertaining and remarkably interesting for an fps plot, and besides you have two possible endings to give you an excuse to go at it again.
The game is an fps at it's core, so you have a nice arsenal of things that go boom, and while most of it is standard fare (machine gun, rocket launcher, grenade launcher, flame thrower, etc.) there are weapons with different ammo configurations (explosive rounds, incendiary rounds, poison bolts, etc.), as well as a weird "ultimate weapon" from which you collect pieces as you go defeating bosses and which has different and overlapping powers. You'll get to try those weapons on the many, many, many enemies which occupy the collection of maps which composes Strife's world, maps which are very well designed and combine large open areas with winding corridors, and span everything from military outposts to frontier towns and alien spaceships all filled with enemies, items and secret areas and challenges.
The goodies are handled via a nice inventory system which deepens the gameplay options by including the standard collection of bio-suits, medikits and other interesting items like targetting computers (for enhaced accuracy) as well as teleporting beacons for calling some backup.
The rpg angle is small but serviceable, essentially aside from getting bigger guns and inventory space, you can purchase health upgrades as well as accuracy enhancements (tough they don't seem to make a major difference). You also have to supply yourself with ammo and equipment from stores (especially early in the game) and so money becomes another aspect to consider and the game does deliver a much deeper gameplay experience than the usual shooter fps games.
The BadThere is a lot of "sameness" in this game, and the level design usually has "filler" sequences in it, plus there are some odd elements like the addition of "secret" areas which felt coherent in Doom, but not so here (why the hell after finding a secret cave you come to a giant pedestal with a weapon on top of it in the rebel base????). Similarly, the amount and disposition of the firefights and challenges is a total borefest, there is one very interesting sequence which involves a co-ordinated assault on an enemy base, but that's the only standout sequence on Strife. The savegame system is a piece of crap since it only has one slot (reason number one why I didn't even try to check out the other ending) and the enemy and critter design sucks. Trust me, I know it sounds like bitching when one says things like that, but they are all completely boring stormtropper wanna-bes or Fisher-Price robot-thingies.
Yet all of that is merely bitching when compared to the one big, huge, crippling flaw of this game: The Doom engine.
I know we all like to say how the creative elements are all that matter, and how we would all play anything as long as it has a good story and solid gameplay... but this is the game that proves that technology DOES matter. It may not necessarily be the top element in our priorities, but it DOES matter. Strife is a game done in 1996 with 1992 technology, and the results are just terrible. It's as if a game would come out now using the Quake 1 engine.... And while the gameplay of Strife is something new, it's not THE gameplay experience, in fact, System Shock did the fps/rpg with a plot -thing earlier and used a much more advanced engine than Doom's (not to mention that it was a much better game).... No, I'm sorry, but if I'm going back to the Doom days, I'm gonna do it with Doom, where the violence is plenty, the action is fast and furious and there is no reason for you to turn your brain on. One may think that the technical deficiencies affect Strife only on the graphic front, but the problems seep into the very bones and structure of the game, and they take their toll on the gameplay just as they do the graphics.
Strife just came out to late man... tooo late... And I know what you are thinking: "Stupid Kid, I know your kind! You just want the latest 3D particle effects and thingamagingies and known nuthin' of real gaming!! Go play your Quake 8 and leave real gaming to men"
....well dude, that's exactly what I tought of the kind of people that dissed Strife... until I played it!
The Bottom LineReal sad man... Strife is not a triple A title, but it sure has a lot of honest creative work poured into it. I feel pity for it, for if it weren't because of it's dated technology, Strife would have been a decent title and an entertaining fps. As it stands it's just too little too late.
Let Strife be a lesson to all you idealistic designers, and know that even if you have a killer game design it's nothing without the technology to at least support it.