I love retro games, especially those I might have missed when I was a kid. Strife fits the bill—developed in 1996, it was released at the height of my obsession with first person shooters. Strife stands as one of the earliest examples of a role-playing game in a first person format—but developer Rogue Entertainment left lots of room for shooting and looting. Rogue Entertainment unfortunately didn’t go on to do much else beyond a few Quake and Quake II missions packs, and more notably American McGee’s Alice in 2000—but they shut down their studio in 2001. Fortunately, Night Dive Studios—game developer veterans and lovers of retro games—released the Veteran’s Edition in 2014, and that’s the version that finally made it to Switch this year. But how does a game originally developed in 1996 play on Nintendo’s modern handheld hybrid? Pretty damn well, actually.
Most of the credit needs to go to Night Dive here, but Strife: Veteran Edition, at least to me, is a wonder on the Switch. Maybe it’s the fact that I’m somehow more impressed that this old timey game-originally meant for bulky CRT monitors and huge grey cases–can fit so comfortably on the Nintendo Switch. My brain tells me that it’s not that impressive—but my inner child can’t help but see something that has no right to be on a handheld run so well. But it’s not like Strife was using the latest technology even during its original release—it was built on the (even then) aging Doom engine, instead of the newer emerging Build or Quake engines. But the Veteran Edition has solid visuals, and looks about as good as you can make a game that is based on code that is almost a quarter of a century old look.
Strife: Veteran Edition is a first person shooter with role-playing game elements. For its time it was revolutionary—because you didn’t just shoot everyone you see on sight. Some NPCs are friendly, and give you quests that move the story forward. They’re all pretty straightforward: go somewhere to do something or get something, and shoot at everything that shoots at you. There are no waypoints, but there is a map that you can just to get your bearings. You’re guided through your journey by a mysterious woman named Blackbird that spends most of the game as a voice in your ear—with her true nature actually depending on which decisions you make through the story.
Strife is an older game, and while it uses a modified version of its original engine, it’s as true to its original form as it can get. That means enemies that are sprites—and not much variation between them. Most NPCs look like each other, but once you talk to them, their character portraits and short bits of voice acting reveal their true personality—and these are both aspects that have held up pretty well over the years.
As with most first person shooters of the era, it has a small assortment of guns to eventually discover. It also has an item system—you can carry health kits and other items like buffs that can help you through your journey. Most of the weapons you use are normal shooter fare—and actually seem like variations on Doom weapons. There are some differences, though, including stealth kill weapons like the punch dagger and crossbow.
Strife’s action starts slow—and I thought it would only throw a few enemies at me at once. But fights can get crazy, and eventually start to look a lot like Doom, with dozens of enemies and walls of projectiles. The combat in Strife is fun—but I grew up playing this type of shooter, and my nostalgia gives me a bit of bias. But Strife’s first person combat almost feels as good on the Switch Pro controller as it does on a mouse and keyboard. If you prefer gyro controls, that’s an option too—and able to be enabled in both handheld mode and with a Pro controller or Joy-Cons.
As always, I’m thrilled to see older games gain new life. I never would have played Strife if it wasn’t for the Veteran Edition. Night Dive Studios are masters of their craft—and that craft is bringing back old games to a modern audience. It’s something you love to see, and Strife: Veteran Edition is definitely a game that deserves more love—especially for those who might have missed it the first time around, or those who are curious about it from a sort historical perspective. It turns out that it’s a pretty fun game, too.
Strife: Veteran Edition is out now for Nintendo Switch and Windows.
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