How Strafe’s ‘Millennium Edition’ overhauls the entire game

Talking tweaks and updates with Strafe: Millennium Edition developer Pixel Titans

When it released in May 2017, Strafe was something of an anomaly. The first-person shooter looked like a game from a bygone era. It was fast and violent, not unlike Quake, with relentless enemies hell-bent on stopping players dead in their tracks. Dying was an integral part of the experience. Unlike most shooters, running out of life didn’t just mean that you had to replay the level. Instead, Strafe made players start all over again. Biting the bullet — or pipe, rocket, or any number of things that can kill you — meant buckling to randomized level layouts. In Strafe, you never know what’s coming next.

Strafe‘s blend of frenetic first-person gameplay and roguelike design might seem common half-a-year after its release, but at the time it was at the forefront of a modern niche subgenre. 

“We wanted to play this game so bad,” developer Thom Glunt said about Strafe‘s core concept, “we started a studio just to make it.”

That sense of determination informs the entire Strafe experience. It’s punishingly difficult; the kind of game that demands your full attention. But it isn’t challenging for challenge’s sake. According to Glunt, Strafe‘s design — both as a hard-as-nails shooter and a surprisingly deep roguelike — was born of an earnest desire to fill what Pixel Titans saw as a gap in the gaming market.

Strafe is the kind of game that either clicks with a player immediately or pushes them away after a few deaths. It’s not uncommon to die multiple times on the first level, surrounded by dozens of deceptively deadly enemies in mere seconds. There’s a certain allure to its design, but many found the retrowave shooter to be too much to stomach. Be it would-be players approaching the game with misguided expectations (Pixel Titans describe Strafe as a “roguelike first-person shooter” at the top of the game’s description on Steam), or something else; Strafe seemed to puzzle and frustrate owners more than keep them glued to the screen.

And that’s where Strafe‘s “Millennium Edition” comes in. Both Glunt and Pixel Titans co-founder Stephen Raney think the update will drastically improve the Strafe experience for players new and old.

Looking at the list of changes and new additions to Strafe: Millennium Edition, it’d be easy to assume that the expansion was reactive. Pixel Titans took community feedback to heart when working on the update, but according to Glunt, the origins of it were a top-down decision. “We always planned to do something like this,” he said about Millennium Edition, citing the studio’s plan for at least a year-long support of constant major updates, tweaks, and other changes to Strafe.

Strafe: Millennium Edition manages to find a balance between the roguelike shooter roots that set the base game apart and a new hybrid experience. For every single quality-of-life improvement, like the new wandering merchant and mid-level save system, there are two extra features. Chief among the expansion’s additions are the new mutators. They’re a wild bunch. Some variants require players to change how they’d interact with the game, like rotating weapons every five kills, while others warp Strafe into a more “traditional” shooter by locking a single seed.

“One of our main goals,” Glunt said “was to make something that would invite players in.” Strafe earned a reputation as unforgiving after its release, but by including new features like the Traditional Mode mutator, Pixel Titan hopes that those who were turned off by losing all of their progress will find a reason to explore the Icarus once more. 

Of course, there are just as many — if not more — mutators and modes in the update that cater to Strafe‘s established, hardcore fans. Both the Speedzone and Steam-only Strafezone (it’s tied to the marketplace’s leaderboards) are designed to test the best players’ skills in speedrun-related challenges. 

Speaking with Glunt and Raney, it’s clear that the update brings Strafe closer to their original vision than ever before. According to Glunt, they released the game knowing that its genre-bending structure might not resonate with everyone. With the Millennium Edition, however, the developer feels that his game is in its best shape.

Between remixed enemy placement and AI, new rooms to overcome, and an astoundingly deep roster of mutators, Strafe: Millennium Edition is as rewarding as it is difficult. It’s still the same fast shooter that raised eyebrows earlier this year. Now, there’s something for every type of player. Through an update, Pixel Titans transformed a niche title into something with long-lasting appeal.

Strafe‘s like an iceberg,” Glunt told me during our conversation. “You can see the top and be impressed, but there’s so much more under the surface.” 

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Ray Porreca
Kane & Lynch 2 forever.
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