Friday, 21 March 2014

Whiskey Reviews: Strider limps onto PC

Platform: PC
Release Date: 19 February 2014
Developer: Double Helix/Capcom
Publisher: Capcom
Where to get it: Steam
Price: £11.99

At last a new Strider game!

You'd think that would be a good thing but currently the situation isn't so clear. On one hand we have a great looking game, with a classic sounding musical score that manages to build on the excitement without getting in the way but on the other hand we have shoddy gameplay and repetitive, grating sound effects.

Graphics first; the game looks good, kind of a mix of smoothly shaded 3D and comic book style colourings and clean lines. However the graphics are often a source of frustration as doorways are obscured and background objects look like foreground objects and you go plummeting to your death even early in the game. Additionally the camera appears quite zoomed in, providing a very narrow field of view during normal gameplay to presumably show off the lovely model of Strider himself and the fantastic animation attached to every one of his movements but it's also frustrating because the camera angle is constantly shifting in and out as you enter and leave combat or jump around, causing missed jumps, mid-air uncertainty and worst of all - attacks that come from off-screen and are unavoidable.

The audio is a similarly double-edged sword. While the music is perfectly complimentary to a Strider game and is comprised largely of easy to enjoy, exciting synthetic music that manages to stay in the background it's also party to the horrendously repetitive attack sounds and flat, unexciting gunfire sound that's spammed at you almost constantly by rooms of enemies (more on those later). Voice-overs are adequate if a bit cheesy, though the source material doesn't lend itself well to seriousness but the large neon orange box surrounding the portrait and subtitles of in-game announcements is an unforgivable screen-space hog especially when the camera is at its normal resting position where these subtitles can take up a full quarter of the screen and obscure what you're doing entirely - even worse is the fact that they happen in gameplay, hiding parts of breakable floor or vents and sometimes even enemies entering from the lower portion of the screen.

The enemies are your typical Strider fare, robot soldiers by the dozen with assorted drones, turrets and traps mixed in. While the design is uninspired and bland the enemies themselves prove a challenge but not one that feels fair nor enjoyable half the time. A prime example of this is the fact that you cannot duck under enemy bullets as crouching causes them to aim slightly lower and still hit you with the final portion of their burst (standard enemies fire about 5 rounds per attack) and jumping over the shots often results in you getting another enemy on screen and getting hit by them, or caught in a crossfire and losing half your health before you can do anything about them.
Drones commit one of the action game genres cardinal sins of being able to charge their attacks as they're entering from the foreground or background, meaning that they can fire a volley of shots on you as soon as they enter the gameplay plane, making it impossible to take them down before they get a chance to attack you and often extremely difficult to not get hit while trying to evade them.
Turrets too are often mixed in with the drones and enemies, often in completely unfair numbers considering the amount of hits it takes to bring them down. Often when turrets are present amongst other groups the patterns of fire are a complete unnavigable mess, making the best tactic in some of these situations to just say "screw it" and charge the enemies head on with no care for your own health.
Then we have the snipers who use the tried and true method of announcing their appearance with a red line (laser sight) between you and them, with their aim pausing just before they fire to give you time to dodge the coming attack. Sadly these attacks often come while you're flying through the air and end up being undodgable by everyone but those with sub-10 millisecond reflexes.
While on the topic of enemies and unavoidable damage it's worth pointing out that almost every single room, rooftop and monkey-bar like girder is lined with little floating health boxes with a smattering of larger health packs usually floating higher up where a couple of jumps are required to break them but they feel like a crutch to the gameplay, rather than making the enemies fair, predicable and counterable they've just plastered the map with hundreds of healthpacks so you can (even on hard difficulty) ignore getting shot most of the time.
It's also worth mentioning that, so far, I have found no way to counter or block enemy shots either.
Then there's the heavy troopers, early in the game they come in two varieties, yellow and red. The red ones shoot napalm mortars while the yellow ones can launch their fists for a ranged attack. Both these mech-like enemies flash red and drop to a vulnerable state when heavily damaged but sometimes you can wail on them as much as you want (I actually took to using two fingers to tap the attack button as fast as possible during one of these encounters) and the enemy will just get back up, hitting you in the process. Reaction times are also an issue against these soldiers as they have one attack that's seemingly telegraphed by only a couple of frames of animation before it triggers, giving you about a quarter-to-half a second to get out of the way which is almost impossible to dodge - at least it doesn't do much damage.

Another peeve of mine is that while Strider is fast, agile and very responsive to control inputs there are a few flaws in the controls that are, again, frustrating. A missed jump that sees you latch onto a wall right below an electrified portion will often see you electrecuted for no apparent reason, even if you press away from the electric trap and Strider does a little knee-slide move when you crouch after running but the distance you have to move to trigger this small (about 2-3 feet distance) slide is seemingly arbitrary as I couldn't always get it to work.
Another redundant control is the secondary attack (Y on the 360 pad) which sees Strider do a kind of feeble uppercut that's so delayed and lacking damage that it may as well just not be included as getting in close enough and pressing the button to use it will just prompt the standard soldiers to jab you with their bayonets every single time.
That said, the primary attack has a generous range and a charge-up ability that doubles the range and damage and can be fired in 8 different directions even when clinging to walls and ceilings. The charge attack's increased range also allows it to pass through thin floors and ceilings, allowing you to strike at some enemies from complete safety.

Strider is undeniably a Strider game, despite the new "metroidvania" style but where the originals were supremely difficult but fair this one feels artificially difficult and needlessly frustrating from multiple angles at once. The developers haven't got a lot wrong but what they did get wrong is the parts that should be polished to perfection (barring the repetitive sound effects, that's a whole other fine-line that's often sheer chance of whether you land on the right side or not). These small flaws sadly don't make Strider a slightly cloudy gem but instead feel like the turds in an otherwise excellent punchbowl.
Further detracting from the appeal are throwbacks to the older games, such as scalable minarets and the Ouroboros boss at the end of the opening area which feel less like a fun homage and more like a tired rehash from developers too lazy, or cowardly to strike out on their own and design something new and awesome for the Strider-verse (is that even a thing?).

So can I recommend Strider? Absolutely not. The PS2 versions remain the definitive home Strider experience for both new and old fans. Go play any of the older ones on NES, Genesis, TurboGrafx CD, Playstation or Playstation 2.

Score: 5/10 mistakes were made.

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