Apex Legends, the battle royale movement shooter developed by Repsawn Entertainment, is no stranger to controversy. Because Apex supports crossplay, PC and Console players have been beefing for a while over the slight differences and advantages each side gets from their platform of choice. All of this set the stage for online outcry after the recent announcement that tap strafing, a PC exclusive movement technique, would be removed from the game.
Apex Legends, as a direct descendant of Titanfall 2, prioritises movement fluidity, chaining jumps, sprints, and slides to turn the battlefield into a canvas for expressive speed and grace. The amount of technique required makes them incredibly difficult to play at first. Entering a match of Apex Legends as a movement shooter newbie is… one hell of an experience. While you stumble around looking for anything to defend yourself with, your opponents will rocket around you, bouncing off of shit and grabbing everything within a thirty metre radius of their landing point in seconds. They will then shoot you to death.
One of the game’s higher level techniques that makes such domination possible is, or was, known as tap strafing. Tap strafing allows someone to jump into the air, and perform a full 180 while maintaining their jump momentum before hitting the ground. It combines a bunch of different movement abilities together with some unique quirks of the Source engine to create some truly wild shit. It is also only possible on PC, which is why it was taken out as of late August.
I’ll break it down into its component parts. First, it requires you to be able to bunnyhop. Bunnyhopping is the process of jumping the same frame your character makes contact with the ground in order to maintain momentum and quickly displace your hitbox making you harder to hit. Bunnyhopping is possible, but difficult on controllers because it has some pretty tight timing. It is much easier on PC, where you can bind “jump” to your scroll wheel allowing you to input dozens of jump inputs every second. It is a pretty common strategy in basically every first person shooter.
There’s an advanced version of this technique known as strafe jumping. Moving diagonally in a video game is faster than moving forward because that’s how triangles work. You’re moving the same forward distance in the same amount of time, with added movement to the side. You can then combine this with bunnyhopping. Once you’re bunnyhopping while strafing, you can quickly move the mouse to the direction you’re strafing in to convert your sideways velocity into forward motion. This allows you to move incredibly quickly, albeit with a slight curve.
Tap strafing built upon this technique with a quirk of the Source engine. The source engine checks for player direction and momentum every time the forward movement key is pressed. So if you were to tap forward while facing a different direction mid-jump, you could change the direction you’re going in. You could do this by literally tapping the forward movement key, or you could just do the bunnyhopping trick again and bind forward motion to your scroll wheel. Doing this allows you to radically change your direction in the air, which lets you move in some incredibly wild ways.
This movement technique is only possible on a mouse and keyboard, which gives PC players a huge advantage in a crossplay game like Apex Legends. Respawn has been trying to get their PC and console communities to play nice for a while, and it has not been going well. The removal of tap strafing is their most recent attempt to level the playing field.
While this particular situation is unsurprising given Apex’s history, it does highlight the difficulties developers will continue to face as crossplay becomes increasingly common throughout the medium. Having to balance not only weapon and character variety, but for hardware differences, presents an incredible challenge going forward.