|Developer: Double Helix||Release Date: February 18, 2014|
||ESRB Rating: N/A|
|Platforms: PC, PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One
Strider opens with a scarf-donning, spike-haired gent gliding into an industrial complex amid heavy gunfire and explosions. The opening cinematic promises a campaign filled with furious action and a combat-heavy gameplay experience. Thankfully, the game delivers on that front for the most part, even though it falls short on many others.
Strider doesn’t really weave a yarn worth talking about. In fact, it barely has any storyline. It simply serves as a weak catalyst to give you reasons to slash people in half and blow robotic drones to pieces. But if you still crave some semblance of a storyline to give you that motivation, then Strider tells the tale of an assassin named Hiryu, whose only instruction is to kill Grandmaster Meio in Kazakh City (owing to Meio’s involvement in some super top-secret activities of an illegal nature), by any means necessary.
Granted, the story isn’t why you’d want to see this action platformer through to completion. Strider puts you in the assassin’s shoes and arms you with tight controls, excellent combat mechanics and responsive movement. You start off with the basic light and heavy strikes with your sword, but as the campaign progresses, you’ll get new abilities like a downward slam attack, slide kick attack, the ability to reflect enemy gunfire and energy-consuming special moves. These moves not only give you new ways to kick some robotic ass, they also serve as the key to accessing previously locked up areas of the map. Does that sound very Metroidvania-esque? That’s because the game takes major cues from many contemporary action platformers, incorporating elements like backtracking and encouraging exploration. Guacamelee draws a good parallel, although it plays a lot differently from Strider.
All the exploration wouldn’t have amounted to much had the controls not been responsive, and thankfully, that’s not the case here. Controlling Hiryu’s movement is absolutely amazing. The silky maneuverability, the ability to scale walls with ease and pull off impressive double jumps–it all feels smooth and responsive.
What really sets Strider apart, though, is that the game is extremely fast-paced and heavily focused on combat. The action never lets off, and you never go too long without killing foes. While some other games have emphasized a mix of melee and ranged combat (Klei Entertainment’s Shank comes to mind), never has the combat been this fluid and well-executed. It’s all enhanced by the fact that the controls are smooth and allow you to pull off some impressive combos. The lack of a combo meter is, therefore, disappointing because the game nudges you to constantly string together different moves and dish out elaborate, flashy justice.
The enemy variety is also a problem for the most part. For about two-thirds of the campaign, you’ll face the same enemy grunts, flying drones, and wall-mounted turrets with the successive levels only adding tougher versions of the same. The game tries really hard to make up for it by thrusting you into frequent boss encounters and thankfully enough, it largely succeeds. The boss fights are extremely exciting and fun. While they all are susceptible to the same old ‘find-pattern-dodge-attacks-mash-buttons’ formula, the encounters remain fresh as the bosses employ different tactics and keep you on your toes. They even change their attack patterns midway upon losing a considerable chunk of their health, forcing you to change your strategy. The fact that you encounter at least two bosses in each level helps alleviate the repetitiveness the combat otherwise induces into the campaign.
The combat difficulty can be, however, quite unbalanced at times. The enemy grunts can be taken on with little resistance, but thrown in ten of them with two mini-bosses, and you get lost in the crowd, quickly losing your health bar. The bosses also fluctuate in their difficulty. Some can be dispatched with relative ease, while some will have you scratching your head as to where exactly it was you bled out completely. The lack of a regenerative health bar is one of the major reasons for this. Having one would have ensured fairer fights for the most part.
Apart from combat, exploration and backtracking form a good part of the game; they’re encouraged and quite important, too, as you end up finding vital health and energy bar upgrades. There are numerous collectibles scattered around for you to find as well, including new costumes, upgrades for your weapons and concept art. The costumes offer nothing but cosmetic changes, though.
Since you do spend so much time exploring, it’s good that Strider is an extremely attractive game to look at. The 2D/3D hybrid art style is striking and undeniably stylish. The game employs a lot of flashy special effects for almost every action you execute, including landing attacks, breaking open health vials, and pulling off the aforementioned special moves, which makes the combat all the more fun. The game, for me, ran without a single drop in the frame rate anywhere, which is a plus, especially for a game that holds speed so close to its heart. There are also no noticeable load times when switching locations. It is worth pointing out that while Strider looks as good as it does, it rehashes a lot of the art assets throughout the campaign. Don’t be surprised to run into a room and feel a strong sense of Deja Vu. Repeatedly. The level design is also recycled to the point that many levels end up feeling indistinguishable. The industrial complex setting remains largely the same until the end, and it starts to get old soon. A little change in the background would have been nice.
As for voice acting, Strider doesn’t really boast anything good. Most of the dialogue is cheesy and over-the-top. But then, in a game that assigns such small importance to the storyline, that’s not too surprising. The heavy soundtrack is quite good though, having an appropriately fast tempo to match up to the furious battles.
If you’re itching to play an action platformer that throws wave after wave of relentless enemies at you, gives you excellently balanced combat mechanics to dispatch them in style, and fulfills all your exploration needs, you can’t really go wrong with Strider. It has its shortcomings; in particular, it struggles to keep players interested because of its limited enemy variety and a finicky difficulty balance. But it still remains fun, and the 7-8 hour campaign ends before the repetitiveness can get the better of it. The addition of Challenge Rooms, which offer timed scenario-based challenges, and Leaderboards, which keep track of your ratings and completion percentage for each level, give you reasons to return to the game after you’ve beaten the story. Give it a try; you won’t be disappointed.