In a blog dedicated to storytelling in games, it might seem odd to feature a first person shooter from 1996 - indeed, FPS games from this era could be seen as the opposite to the story rich adventure games of the era. While modern titles sometimes incorporate elements present in adventures - dialogue trees, non violence based gameplay, etc - the shooters of the mid 90s focused on speed, danger and the thrill of taking out fiendish enemies with a rocket launcher or chaingun. There were, however, some attempts at blending the two genres even back then, and Strife is a fine example of this.
|Have no doubt, Strife is a shooter at heart (as my double grenade launcher demonstrates here)|
What the game lacked in exciting new tech, though, it more than made up for in vision and boldness. Strife is not like its contemporaries - to my mind it's far advanced. Here you're given an actual plot, interactive conversations, memorable characters - heck, Strife has a town you can walk around and go shopping in. It's a little strange at first - after breaking your way out of confinement at the beginning of the game, you find yourself walking around a town, with no demons to kill, no aliens shooting at you, no ammunition lying around. In fact, if you attack the third person you meet, you'll probably be unable to finish the game.
|Strife, unlike many shooters of the time, had interactive dialogue trees with many characters.|
It also presents your objectives in a more compelling manner than most games of the same time. Gone is the compulsion to find 3 different coloured keycards for each level, and in its place are actual characters who give you tasks in person, advancing the plot and fleshing out the story of the world as they do so. The game still has pickups for health, weapons, armor and other items, but you can also use the money you've earned to buy the items from shops.
|Poison arrows like these make for quick, silent takedowns.|
Perhaps my favourite aspect of Strife, though, is the world itself. A dystopian, post catastrophic world full of oppression, mystery and a glimmer of hope awaits your exploration here. The world is open - you can go back and visit locations at almost any time you wish, and are free to roam as you see fit once you've unlocked areas. The world also changes - after the aforementioned castle assault, the resistance you work for takes over the castle and uses it as their new base. Curious, I made my way over to their old base, expecting to find goodies left behind. Not only had they left this place, the lights were now off, the gear all moved out and the place was desolate save for some rats who followed me as I made my way around, amazed at this unnecessary but incredibly pleasant detail. It'd have been perfectly understandable if Rogue Entertainment had just moved the characters out and left everything else intact. But they didn't, and Strife is a far stronger experience with the addition of detail such as this.
|Much of the story is told in cutscenes with stylishly drawn scenes reminiscent of graphic novels.|
Speaking of lonely, one thing Strife does something very right left me feeling very pleased - it doesn't separate neutral and hostile areas too distinctly. Modern shooters such as Far Cry 2 and Rage instantly break the immersion when you enter a neutral zone and suddenly can't shoot anybody, or enter a hostile zone and instantly there's nobody to talk to. The barrier here only enhances the artificiality of the experience, and Strife thankfully avoids this, with guards and alarms in the neutral areas and characters to talk to in enemy facilities. One of my favourite moments in the game was shooting on a guard in the town's tavern, only for the alarm to go off and a security shutter to close around the bar. Another was going up to a guard who was attacking me and being surprised by the fact that the game actually let me talk to him - even if his only words were "We're going to kill you!".
|Strife has a decent selection of enemies - these guys might not be barons of hell, but they still pack a punch.|