Preview: Strike Suit Zero

Since man first took to the sky, the dream of strapping into a cockpit and flying off into the unknown has been common. As aircraft developed and began to be used as weapons of war, legends of the aviator and the flying ace were popularised – they were seen as brave individuals who risked life and limb in the name of fame and service, and they became symbols of freedom and adventure. Dogfights took place in every school playground. As science expanded peoples’ frontiers and science-fiction helped us to dream of things once inconceivable, the love for the dogfight was pushed from the skies to the farthest reaches of outer space.

Born Ready Games showcased a pre-alpha demo of Strike Suit Zero at its first public appearance in July at Rezzed – the PC and Indie Gaming Expo. The independent design and publishing studio boasts a 20-person-strong team, and aims to bring back the space-action genre to fill a hole that has been largely void over the last decade.

In their own words, “Strike Suit Zero is an upcoming space-action game which pays tribute to the heyday of space combat games, whilst simultaneously introducing exciting new mechanics to make the genre relevant for today’s audience.”

The game is played as a space fighter pilot, who is embroiled in a struggle to prevent the Earth’s destruction. Over the course of the game, you get to fly a number of spaceships and access a variety of weapon loadouts. Depending on the craft, you fill different roles, including those of interceptor and bomber. As the game progresses, you gain access to the Strike Suit, an advanced space fighter that can transform into a death-dealing mecha at the press of a button.

Strike Suit Zero manages to capture the essence of space combat that older titles like X-Wing and Freespace excelled at – the thrill of the chase, the intensity of the dogfight, and the sense of scale that an all-out battle brings. At the same time, it offers a distinctively different feel.

The game is played from the third-person point of view. This makes it work extremely well with a dual analog controller, but it did take a while for me to get used to the mouse and keyboard configuration. It is especially useful when changing into the Mecha mode though, and the feeling of letting loose a barrage of missiles, plasma and lead is nicely complimented with the over-the-shoulder viewpoint and time-dilation effects.

Another way in which it differs from many classic space combat games is that the controls are greatly simplified – beyond your basic navigation, firing and targeting, there aren’t too many other buttons (and we all love pushing buttons). Toggling energy between shields, engines and weapons is now a thing of the past. This simplification has left me feeling conflicted. It is great in that it makes the game a whole lot friendlier and easier to get into. Also, it allows for the use of controllers without having to worry about fumbling for shield alignment keys and the like. Still, I couldn’t help but feel upset when I was not able to divert all my energy into my engines while chasing down a stray ship, or pump it into my shields and guns for a sustained assault on a cruiser. Similarly, the simplification of targeting controls and combat orders makes gameplay less confusing, but limits your ability to carry out tactical strikes and execute complicated engagement strategies.

Beyond all doubt, the game is pretty. The requirements for the game are as of yet unreleased, but from what we have seen, it manages to make explosions, debris, and even the distant Earth look stunning. The third-person perspective works well in allowing you to appreciate the beautifully designed spacecraft you are piloting, and the feeling of motion and acceleration felt when manoeuvring or laying into your afterburners.

Though there is still the possibility of Strike Suit Zero undergoing some telling changes before it is completed, even in the early alpha stages, it shows a lot of promise for an entertaining space-combat experience. Trading the immersiveness of the cockpit for the intense action from a third-person perspective may be a step in a new, interesting direction.

Strike Suit Zero will be single-player when it releases, but Born Ready is considering adding multiplayer support in the future. It is scheduled for a digital release on the PC in Autumn 2012, and for consoles in 2013.

NOTE: All experiences of the game were with a pre-alpha version and it may have undergone significant changes since then.

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