The trailer for Strafe is what first-person shooter developers in the early 1990s might have made were it not for censorship boards and legions of parents ready to wail, “Won’t somebody please think of the children?”
Strafe is a retro-style FPS launched today on Kickstarter by indie studio Pixel Titans. Melting faces, exploding heads, an art style that feels like a reincarnation of the original Quake, and references to some of the earliest, cheesiest video game television ads are featured in this trailer for a game that has sold itself, in large part, on audacious use of gore.
The bloody havoc of that trailer shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone following the development of Strafe. The developers have thus far hung their marketing on something called “Über-Gore Tech.”
We can’t tell if they are serious or not, but the developers have suggested that Strafe’s system of physics-informed, persistent gore is meant to serve as a navigation aid. Imagine yourself as Dexter with a sci-fi machine gun reading blood spatters on the walls, and you grasp what the developers are suggesting.
The levels in Strafe are procedurally generated, i.e. effectively random. As crazy as it may sound, modern-day FPS gamers with their intuitive grasp of game physics might be able to use gory visual cues to find their way around a level.
Strafe is an inside joke for gamers who grew up during the early days of the first-person shooter, with games like Wolfenstein 3D and DOOM. Even the website for the game feels lifted straight out of the 1990s. Developer Pixel Titans is also poking at more current events. For instance, take this “secret level” within Strafe. It’s an obvious reference to Wolfenstein 3D.
It is also called “Lufenstein,” is colored in sepia, and is about shooting pilots before they get in their planes. Those are references to Luftrausers, a 2D shooter game that drew attention for concerns over perceived use of Nazi iconography similar to those expressed over the original Wolfenstein 3D when it was released.
Our take is that Strafe serves as commentary, intentional or otherwise, as to the importance of context in regards to video game content. The gory violence of Hatred has been found offensive by some not for the blood and gore itself, but for the fact that it is a mass-shooting simulator. Hatred was recently rated “Adults Only” for violence by the Entertainment Software Rating Board, and the context of the violence specifically cited as the reason for the rating.
Strafe, on the other hand, could likely only receive a “Mature” rating at worst, because it’s about sci-fi guns and what appear to be space monsters. In that sense, Strafe is also stepping back in time to reflect what video game insiders were telling parents’ groups in the mid-90s in response to concerns about video game violence. Context is everything.