The space sim genre has been cold and lonely over the last decade, with few noteworthy titles having dared to explore humankind’s fascination with the void. Born Ready Games, as they told me last summer, seeks to revitalise the genre with a modern take on space combat, while still drawing inspiration from the classic space sims of the 90s. Strike Suit Zero delivers intense, frantic space combat, while feeling decidedly different from its space-faring predecessors.
Set in a future where humanity has splintered into two warring factions, the colonists, who have spread out to the farthest reaches of the galaxy, struggle against the U.N.E (United Nations of Earth), who fight to maintain control over them. As a fighter pilot in the U.N.E fleet, you find yourself caught in a struggle for survival when the colonists unleash an incredibly powerful weapon on the U.N.E. in an attempt to destroy the Earth.
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While it takes a while to really get going, Strike Suit Zero hits its stride when you acquire the strike suit – a powerful transforming space-fighter that can double up as an extremely dangerous and manoeuvrable mecha. You get to pilot three other spacecraft over the course of the campaign, unlocking a number of weapons in the process, but though each manages to feel unique while serving its specific purpose, they all pale in comparison to the strike suit. In its combat mode, the suit transforms, making you feel like quite the deceptacon, and allows you to turn on a dime, target multiple enemies, and perform quick dodges along all three axes – useful for both evading incoming weapons fire and closing in on enemies. This provides an entirely new way of dealing with space combat, and is both incredibly fun and satisfying.
In its combat mode, the suit transforms, making you feel like quite the deceptacon, and allows you to turn on a dime, target multiple enemies, and perform quick dodges along all three axes.
The defining feature of Strike Suit Zero is the combat. Whether or not you feel invested in the story, the gameplay will definitely keep you both challenged and entertained. The initial small skirmishes are eventually replaced by all out war, and towards the end of the game, you will find yourself dog-fighting with almost (and quite possibly more than) a hundred fighters, dodging around huge space installations, and caught in the crossfire of capital ships as they tear each other apart with beams and hot plasma.
Impressively, every beam, missile, plasma ball and flak burst seems to know exactly where it is going, leaving a storm of organised chaos for you to dance your way through. During combat between larger ships, you cannot help but sit back and marvel at how good the game looks. Graphically, Strike Suit Zero’s strength isn’t in the textures of individual ships, but in the large, complex scenes of warfare that it paints so well. The backdrops to many levels are breathtaking, and environments vary from nebula and debris fields to the open expanse of space. The musical score goes a long way towards keeping things fresh, with Indian and Eastern touches that work well during both hectic combat and moments of relative calm.
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The campaign is relatively short, but certain sections see large spikes of difficulty (though at the time of writing, Born Ready has mentioned that it is still reviewing the difficulty and balancing) – it took me almost fourteen hours to beat the game, but more than half of it was spent on just two or three extremely difficult levels. Irrespective of the difficulty, the game involves many escort sequences, and we all know how frustrating those can be. Each mission is divided into a number of stages, most of which begin with checkpoints. Since your fighter is restored to perfect condition every time you respawn (and because there is no other way to re-arm during the majority of the game), you will find yourself tempted to let yourself be killed as soon as you hit a checkpoint to prevent being constantly out-gunned.
Though manoeuvring and combat is enjoyable and the gameplay as such is solid, there are many aspects of the game that do not work well together. Strike Suit Zero is a very pretty game, but its eyesore of an HUD feels extremely out of place. It requires that you take your eyes off the action in search of information, and when you do, you can’t help but feel like what little it offers is given stingily. The targeting system, by far the most irritating and unhelpful part of the game, is extremely limited and can be a source of much frustration. Many missions revolve around destroying subsystems or specific types of enemy ships, yet it is often a struggle to pick out a specific target. At times, you will find yourself needing to swing wildly around in all directions, scanning everything. Occasionally, important targets will not be marked as objectives, and this can leave you flying in circles around an enemy cruiser in search of them while being torn apart.
After each mission, you receive a summary of the kills that you made, and scores, medals and unlocks are awarded based on your performance. Upgrades can also be unlocked by performing specific tasks during missions, but this feels forced and unnecessary. Instead of being rewarded for going beyond the call of duty, it feels like you are threatened with punishment for not being everywhere at once. There are many cutscenes in-game to help progress the plot, yet there was apparently a need to also include completely underwhelming pre-flight mission briefings.
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The controls are simple enough for the game to be played with just a controller, though personally, I found myself gravitating more towards a keyboard/mouse configuration. That said, undoubtedly the best way to play it is with a joystick. I was lucky enough to get to try this at Rezzed (my own joystick fell apart more than ten years ago) and even better than the nostalgia and excitement that it brought along was getting to hear the people at Born Ready passionately talk about how important it was to them that the game had joystick support.
Strike Suit Zero is a new take on an old genre, and it feels markedly different from ‘classic’ space sims. It provides an enjoyable and relatively stable space combat experience, but at the same time, don’t expect a large amount of depth to it beyond the graphics and combat.
- Motherboard: Intel DG33TL
- Processor: Intel Core 2 Quad Q6600 (2.40ghz)
- Graphics card: ATI HD 6850 1GB DDR5
- RAM: 4 GB DDR2
- Power supply: 450W
- Peripherals: Razer Diamondback mouse, standard USB keyboard, Xbox 360 controller