By Drew D. / August 3rd, 2017
|Developer||Double Helix Games|
|Original Release Date||Feb 19, 2014|
|Platforms||PS4, PS3, PC, Xbox 360
The Strider series has been around for decades, getting its humble beginnings as a manga and an arcade game in the 80s with a few ports and redesigns through the NES era. After an eventual sequel for the PS1 back in 1999, Capcom decided that it was finally time to reboot the Strider series. This recent rendition of Strider covers the main plot found in the original manga and arcade game, with its own modernized, action-driven style. Strider at its core is a 2.5D action game with combat, platforming, and a sprawling map for exploration, all of which serve to classify this as a Metroid style game ( not a Metroidvania, as it lacks any RPG elements).
Strider takes place in a dystopian world, in which the last remaining city, Kazakh City, is ruled by a mysterious being known as Grandmaster Meio. The Strider organization deploys its prodigy assassin, Strider Hiryu, to eliminate Meio and free its people from his despotism. Armed with his Cypher plasma blade and his extraordinary fighting and acrobatic abilities, Hiryu must infiltrate Kazakh City, decimate the oppressive military, stave off Meio’s subordinates, break into Meio’s Tower and take down the Grandmaster.
While the overall goal is obvious, destroy everything in your path and beat the final boss, the story falters from such a straightforward approach. From the main plot to character development, the story elements are severely lacking. The very start of the game exemplifies this lack of plot, depth, or development as Hiryu literally glides on screen and as you start running. A single message appears saying “Eliminate Grandmaster Meio.” There are plenty of opportunities throughout the game to fill in the details, but instead we are given a barebones outline of what we need to do and who needs to die. Much of the actual story content (if you can even call it that) needs to be unlocked through collectables, but these are short, dry descriptions that don’t tell us any more than what we can deduce on our own.
There are cutscenes throughout the game as well, but these are severely underutilized in explaining what happened to this world and why the characters within even matter. Hiryu himself is shrouded in mystery, as we are only made aware of his skill and mission. A man of very few words, he seems loyal to the Strider organization and unforgiving to everyone else, but that’s all we get. Granted, arcade games of the past didn’t have much story to them either, but since this game is a series reboot and available across all current consoles and PC, there was a significant opportunity to fill us all in, yet that chance was squandered.
Fortunately, the gameplay is what defines Strider and that execution is impressive. Combat driven, Strider features a classic, simplistic, yet effective combat style based on quick sword swipes and speed, allowing for seamless destruction as Hiryu can literally slice through waves of enemies without stopping. This is all the more satisfying when fighting bosses, as it becomes a race to inflict maximum damage in the shortest time. Simply put, inflicting so much damage in such short periods of time can be a lot of fun. Combat is augmented by the various powers and upgrades collected throughout the game. Kunai can be unlocked, allowing for ranged combat. The Plasma Catapult, when acquired, can launch Hiryu a short distance in any direction.
Elemental attributes can be collected for the blade, kunai and catapult, adding different effects for each, including reflective, fire, ice, and magnetic qualities and each can give you an edge in combat. The ice cypher can freeze enemies and make them a platform or temporary shield against incoming projectiles, while the magnetic cypher causes two boomerang projectiles to launch from the sword that can pass through walls. Reflective kunai can bounce off surfaces, flame kunai explode, and magnetic kunai can lock on to enemies and home in. All together they complement the classic hack-and-slash combat style and provide variation that only enhances the experience without interfering with the pace or intensity of it.
Outside of combat, Strider’s main features are its exploration and platforming. A direct copy of Metroid’s style, Strider’s game world is made up of a large map broken into major sections. Each section has its sprawling hallways, large rooms, platforms, secluded nooks, and outlying corners, all of which play a role in pacing play and housing hidden collectables. Barriers, in the form of doors that need certain elements to open or distances that require the catapult or double jump to clear, block paths early on. As such, pacing is determined by acquiring the necessary upgrades to move on. In terms of the main game, this is all very similar to Metroid and the execution is well done.
Unfortunately, the rewards for backtracking and exploring is for naught, as most of the collectables are underwhelming. While the upgrades to health, energy, and weaponry are useful, other collectables, called cubes, unlock enemy data, concept art, and story information. As I said earlier, these bits of plot information are short, dull and vague. They add almost nothing and what information is there can be inferred by players anyway. While some of the concept art is nice to look at, linking plot info to a collectable system was a poor choice, especially on top of this disappointing lack of detail. Add to this the fact that these cubes make up the majority of collectables available, it simply makes exploration not worth the effort.
Aesthetically, Strider is an inconsistent composition of success and failure. In regards to the good, visually, Strider features impressive 3D character models and some of the nicest lighting effects I’ve seen this generation. The model for Hiryu, with his plasma scarf, mask, and different (collectable) outfits, are all well designed and convey his identity as a skilled assassin. The models for the bosses are equally impressive, demonstrating the deadliness and power of each of them. The lighting makes this game feel like a futuristic world, from the swipes of Hiryu’s sword to the glow of laser fire. The bosses, with their custom weapons and stunning attacks are further heightened by the attention given to lighting effects. Even the glow from hallway lights, computer screens, and flame effects are all stunning.
Unfortunately, the devs really dropped the ball when it came to the common enemy models and the level designs. The set of all common enemies consist of a soldier, a mech, a flying droid, and turrets. That’s it. This set receives different color pallets to coincide with their power and defense. And while the soldier and droid models can be armed with an assortment of weapons, it definitely starts to feel like you’re fighting the same enemies over and over again. Different colors and skins are not enough to hide the infuriatingly lazy design choice here.
As for level designs, the devs falter to the point of breaking immersion. The play fields are bland and boring, as the majority of play occurs in overly simplistic rooms and halls. While there are exceptions, such as when play occurs on rooftops, in houses, or in the research lab, as these locales help sell the idea of infiltration, the majority of the levels are plain, almost sterile in appearance that clashes with the idea of a dystopia. It’s just too neat and clean to convince anyone that this is a downtrodden city oppressed with squalor and misery.
Something else that bothered me is the distinct lack of flow in level design. In many instances, the flow from room to room is strange and sometimes flat out nonsensical. For example, you can enter a train station from a palace next door. Why would a luxurious palace lead to the lower levels of a train station? Other instances of this include moving from lava filled rooms to spotless barracks or going from sewage treatment areas to sterile halls with polished tiled floors. This lack of flow does nothing for immersion and makes me question what the developers were thinking. Finally, the backgrounds for these levels don’t do them any favors, as they are just as bland and underwhelming. Limited detail, limited color palate, and graphics that harken back to the PS1 lead to backgrounds that are unimpressive and serve no other purpose than to fill in the space.
Despite the visual missteps, the audio is perhaps the most disappointing aspect of the game. Horrendous voice acting plagues the few cutscenes we actually get. The voice actors are ridiculous in their performance, providing a rambunctious delivery to their lines. It’s so awful that what little immersion you may have had is utterly broken. The soundtrack is slightly better than the voice acting, but only because it’s not a complete joke. The biggest issue is how and when the music plays. The majority of gameplay is met with silence, perhaps to convey the hopeless, dystopian theme, however it’s not implemented well enough to convince. When there is music playing, it’s incredibly low, despite the default maximum volume. Also, when tracks play, they don’t necessarily add to the intensity or danger occurring on screen, rather they just seem to get lost and are easily ignored, if you even hear them.
Despite all of its story and aesthetic missteps, Strider is still worth a playthrough or two, especially if you are familiar with the series or are a general fan of Metroid style games. It’s a short trek, only taking around ten hours to complete, but there is definitely fun to be had. Trying to recapture its past glory, this modern rendition does have its moments of greatness. If you can get past the bland visuals, nonsensical level design, and embrace the simplistic objective of destroy everything everywhere sans reason, then Strider may be considered a decent reboot effort.
CapcomDouble HelixDouble Helix GamesHiryuStriderStrider 2014Strider Hiryu