Friday, 1 July 2011

Strife (MS-DOS) - Guest Post


Say hello to legendary FPS-RPG hybrid Strife!

Let's begin.

It's a guy! But he's not shooting at me. If this is really an RPG, recklessly killing folks would be a bad move. He could be the guy who gives me the first task that sets everything up! If I were to sneak up on him and smash his head in, the game could break.

I've got a whizzo idea: let's leave the title screen on and see if there's an illustrated, narrated intro sequence to explain what's happening.

"The comet struck our planet without warning. We lost our paradise in a single, violent stroke."

"The impact released a virus which swept through the land and killed millions. They turned out to be the lucky ones."

"For those that did not die became mutations of humanity. Some became fanatics who heard the voice of a malignant god in their heads and called themselves "The Order"."

"Those of us who were deaf to this voice suffer horribly and are forced to serve these ruthless psychotics, who wield weapons more powerful than anything we can muster."

"They destroy our women and children, so that we must hide them underground, and live like animals in constant fear for our lives."

"But there are whispers of discontent. If we organize, can we defeat our masters? Weapons are being stolen, soldiers are being trained, a movement is born!"

"...born of lifelong STRIFE!"

That explained a lot, but not what I was hoping for. Readme time, I suppose.

Q: Why do I start the game fighting Acolytes?
A: Read the "Mercenary" story in the manual opener, it's funny.

Not gonna happen. Time to take a more proactive approach.

SMACK.

Wait, what's with my arm-o-tron? I didn't get the impression from the intro pictures that this was a sci-fi setting. Could I be some kind of kick-ass, time travelling mercenary? As well as in real life?

In the absence of more blatant direction, it appears my first objective is to escape from this place. Although the guy I disintegrated was carrying bullets, he didn't drop his gun so I can't use them. Blah.

Looks like I was dead wrong thinking this was a medieval setting. If that map shows the place I'm in, I'll have my work cut out for me escaping. This guy doesn't look like the rest and he's not shooting me. Is he a fellow prisoner? Unlikely. Does he run the place? If so, why is he just standing there?

Let's try talking to him! Now, which button lets me do that?

Well, it's not Return. That uses a health kit. Time to check the menu... and there's three pages of non-configurable controls waiting for me. That's something for me to check later.

I'm playing with voices on! How next gen is that! But voices mean no captions, so if you didn't hear what the guy said, you're a bit stuffed.

"In a small world, word travels fast. I hear you just removed some obstacles from your path. Nice work. Are you interested in some more lucrative projects?"

You hear? As in, you heard that I just murdered two men in broad daylight right outside this very room? Or did I literally move some obstacles before the game began? Who are you, anyway?

Space activates objects, like in Doom, but Return selects dialogue choices. That's annoying. I can choose to accept his offer, reject it, or simply ignore him. I'm-a go for it. I'm sure it couldn't possibly be anything dangerous.

"Good. Some uh, friends of mine need someone silenced. Beldin is being held by the Order in their Sanctuary. There's a rarely used entrance by a small pier off the river which is unguarded. Get in, shut him up, and bring his ring back to me as proof."

Break into a sacred place held by the sworn enemies of the last vestiges of free humanity and kill somebody? Okay, but only because it's you. And because you're giving me an electric crossbow. And paying me in gold.

Turns out that place I was breaking out from was nothing but a small corridor guarded by just those two people and now I'm in the town proper. Okay... where to?

Do you know where I'm supposed to be going? No?

"Bye!"

And I used ANOTHER medical kit! Damn it!

River! Follow the river! Press Space on everything to find the secret door!

Sanctuary located! It was actually pretty obvious, but the directions could have been a little more explicit. Let's see what this electrified crossbow can do!

I save the game... but I only have one save slot for my 'MECHANEKO' character. The tension! Or, alternatively, if I kill or anger a plot-critical character and accidentally save, I have to play the entire game again from the start. THE TENSION!

Strife is still Doom, so expect to fly around the place as a jet-powered, unable-to-jump mega-bastard and face many pretty tough enemies. Doors, buttons, lifts, shoot, buttons, lifts, doors, doors, lifs, get lost, map.

When you try to talk to these guys, they say "I'm going to kill you!" and your only response is "Thanks, bye!". Even in the face of certain death, the player character refuses to ignore basic manners! What a hero!

Be quiet and give me the ring, damn it! I don't want to have to kill you, even though that's what I'm being paid to do.

He wouldn't listen. Now he's dead. Back to the serious bloke.

If I can ever find him again! The town area is complicated for a Doom engine game. Where the bloody hell am I?

The door I found leading out of the Sanctuary was guarded by an Order acolyte... who completely ignored me. I guess they just let armed peasants wander in and out of the Sanctuary freely. I don't know how it works.

"See you later!"

Was that my good manners again, or a sinister threat?

Okay, I found serious bloke. He was exactly where I left him, in a hard to find grey room along the grey wall up the grey staircase next to the grey walls.

Now I've got a woman called Blackbird talking to me in my brains. She wants me to go... somewhere. She doesn't say where. She doesn't even hint at it.

At least I'm 100% human. That's reassuring.

By a series of misfortunes and coincidences, I end up at a tavern. Nobody wants to talk to me. :(

Except this trustworthy-looking sort and his tired Italian accent.

He claims to be a talent broker for the rebels. He says I could make a lot of gold if I let him hook me up with the right people. What to do?

1) I'm interested.
2) Screw the rebels!
3) Thanks, bye!

Well, serious guy and Blackbird are working with the rebels rebelling against The Order. Could this guy's rebels be rebelling against Blackbird's rebels? Would that make them Order-aligned, or a mysterious third party? How many different sets of rebels could there be?

There's only one thing for it. Screw the rebels!

"No second chance! Oh guaaaaaaaards.... kill 'im."

Two guards teleport in and shoot me, so I stab like crazy until they're dead. I turn around and expect to find the shady guy shooting me in the back, but it turns out he was killed by his own guards. SNICKER. I get all his stuff from a secret room.

Next, I have to fight my way out of the tavern.

This turns out to be easier than expected as nobody outside this room seems to care that I just killed a man and his personal guard. I guess he really was nobody. I calmly walk out the tavern and have another go at finding the rebel base.

After some uneventful wandering, Blackbird calls me up and says that the rebel base is in the Town Hall. I recall seeing the signs for the Town Hall dotted around, but I can't place it exactly. I'd walked past it dozens of times... in case you want to play Strife, the Town Hall is the building that looks like everywhere else.

This guy is the watchman for the rebel base. I have to give him the password to get in. The password is 'I need gold.' Is that a good password or a bad password? It's inconspicuous, sure, but I hope that their rebel base isn't full of folks who were hiding in the town hall for shelter and begged this guy for gold.

Hidden underneath the Town Hall, the rebels secret base. I'm taken to the leader of the rebels. The big cheese himself:

Macil. He gets to be the leader because he has the most heroic face. Do you think anybody would follow that squishy faced guy I met at the start? Hell no.

The rebels are in need of a 'problem solver' to give them the edge they need against... blah... blah...

You know what? No. To hell with it. I'm bored out my mind here!

"You might want to reconsider considering you're surrounded by heavily armed angry rebels."

No.

"Then die in shame and dishonour!"

Turns out Macil is invincible. Boooo.

I'd really like to stop playing now, but I can hear you through the magic of the Internet yelling at me to KEEP PLAYING because it GETS GOOD when you start doing missions for Macil. Fine.

Macil wants me to find a corrupt governor, do a mission for him to get the keycard to the prison, then bust into the prison and rescue some guys.

"Fight for the Front! And Freedom! MOVE OUT!"

Gaaah! Sorry, Macil! I didn't mean to attack you again, the buttons are right next to each other.

AND I used another damned medical kit! AAARGH!

After a quick reload (tense stuff due to the single save slot), Macil wants me to make use of the rebel base facilities to prepare for the mission. The quartermaster doesn't want to give me a gun or any ammo ("You're not ready yet."), and this medical guy offers me a stamina implant that will 'completely jack me up'. And when I accept, he says it isn't ready. Thanks, guys.

Hours pass, and I'm finally at the governor's mansion. I accidentally help myself to all his healthpacks and ammo while I'm here. It's not my fault. It's Doom, so I'm made of velcro.

This guy sounds the complete opposite of how he looks. He's got a choice of 'chores' for me, one 'messy' and the other 'bloody'. I'll take whatever, thanks.

Doomy corridors.

Crates 'n' barrels. Because I got a pass from the governor, I'm 'supposed' to be here. Which means absolutely no fighting. How boring is that?

After pressing Space on every last identical guy in this warehouse, I have found my target! At this point I'm so exhausted I don't care what he has to say. I blast him and slide back to the mansion to pick up the prison documents, then slide back out to the prison for more fun.

The prison warden doesn't care who I am. He doesn't want strange armed men running around his prison without his personal approval. Which means...

Shoot everything! Finally! Robots! Guards! Bang bang bang!

I get to run around and shoot things and hide round corners and DO THINGS. It's been hours, but I finally get a big area to explore and shoot stuff in. Hooray!

Only the Judge has the authority to release the prisoners. I need him to use a hand-print recogniser device but he's not cooperating.

Could you lend me a hand then?

You crack me up, player guy.

After getting lost in the prison for half an hour trying to find the room which lets me release the prisoners, I finally find it, release the prisoners, set up a very convenient teleport directly back into Macil's control room. Sounds a bit dangerous to me, setting up a teleporter directly into the secret rebel base. Especially since we're using the enemy's teleporter to do it so they can easily track us. Maybe that's the plan?

Anyway, I finally got to shoot something, so I'm done. It's safer if I don't continue. If I hang around Macil again, I'll only end up accidentally killing him.

And that's Strife! There's probably mods that increase the resolution to insane levels, replace the sprites with 3D models, or whatever, but none of them will change the fact that this game is terribly boring. Even with Doom's automap and rocket-powered rollerskates, I spent way more time being lost than I did either talking to people or shooting them. Maybe it's more fun if you've played the game through a couple of times and know where everything is, but before you can do that, you'll have to endure 'the first time', and 'the first time' is exhausting and boring.

5 comments:

  1. I beg to differ with your review. This game is anything but boring, and for what it's worth, it's way more imaginative than DOOM ever was with it's own engine. DOOM came out with countless spin-offs and sequels, and they were all mindless violence that didn't even attempt to tell a story.

    Strife had a couple plot holes and mess ups but considering the technology and time it came out, it was a work of art. Not to mention the voice acting, considering the genre, was second to none. Even by today's shooter standards most if not all voice acting is garbage. No characters are ever memorable or have fun personalities. I remember everyone from Strife from Rowan, Mcgruffin to the comical guards you talk to throughout the game.

    At any rate, I'm not bashing you here. I thought this page was a fun read, great job setting it up. I just think a little more credit needs to be given to a classic that was cut down before it could truly shine because Quake came out like a week later. Which is another game, in my opinion that wasn't spectacular in any way shape or form other than looking good for it's day. Unimaginative, pointlessly gory, and little to no story (until the sequels came out - got some good memories with Quake 2).

    Anywho, once again, fun read. Keep up the good work.

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  2. It says a lot about a video game's voice acting when almost a decade and a half later I can come to a website like this, read the quest dialogue from the images posted, and still remember the exact phrasing and tone the characters spoke in.

    And for the record, you've barely scratched the surface of this game :) Give it another shot with a proper graphical emulator, it might give you some inspiration to continue further.

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  3. No, just no. I completely agree with the review. I remember this game too, but what I remember is how AWFUL it is. I can see how you can think this game has memorable characters with unique personalities, but frankly, I think DOOM's original plot of hell on earth (err, mars) was actually better. Because it didnt get in the way of actually playing the game! But none of that matters, hell maybe you are actually right eventually, but it didnt make any difference to me, because the concept of making an RPG with dialog choices and supposed "depth" in a doom-engine game is REDICULOUS. Maybe nowadays in doom-legacy or something with high-res this is playable, but back then? It was a 340x200 MESS! I couldnt see a damn thing, and what I could make out was completely impossible to navigate. Not the amount of linedefs and polygons that this game pushes made it run like absolute crap on the computer I had at the time. I wasted hours trying to like this back in the day, and I can see some of what you like in it, it would have been ok as a top-down 2D RPG or something but DOOM-engine?? What were they thinking??

    I can only see liking this if you have absolutely nothing else to do, and can afford the time to make a hand version of the auto-map, checking everything out exhaustively and writing down the name to everything by hand. And even doing that I cant imagine how you would actually be able to get the plot-sequencing right, because every time I found someone who wasnt anonymous and was willing to talk about something real they just told me to fuck off untill I did something ELSE that made no sense.

    Maybe, hidden deeep inside, there is a decent game here, but I couldnt find it at the time, and I cringe at the thought of trying it again today.

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  4. WRONG.

    This was one of the best games of the year, and most people ignored it because it didn't have ZOMG THREEDEE like Quake did.

    The voice acting is great, the plot is better than many published novels, and the level design is great, especially in the later half when it was mostly Tim Willits making the maps.

    This game isn't Doom or Hexen so don't go into it expecting a fast-paced kill-everything FPS. Think of it more like Arena The Elder Scrolls but with better weapons, and a game world where you don't have to walk 500km at the speed of a wounded turtle to get to the next interesting thing.

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  5. Loved Strife, is a great game.

    -Rob K.

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