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Space combat reborn. That’s the boldly ambitious promise that UK indie developer Born Ready Games has saddled its first ever project with, and though the claims of such PR-laden taglines are so often hopelessly vacant , for the most part, Strike Suit Zero achieves its lofty goals.
In the most literal sense, it looks to provide a platform upon which the genre can build; the partially Kickstarter-funded mech-‘em-up itself looks to be the catalyst for a somewhat overdue resurgence in space combat – a genre that’s fallen a little by the wayside in recent years.
Freelancer, Freespace, Wing Commander, X-Wing vs. TIE Fighter – the synonymous classics of space combat are all too familiar to the guys and girls at Born Ready; as fans of the genre, they say that there simply hasn’t been enough quality to quench the insatiable thirsts of space-faring gamers for far too long.
Step up, Strike Suit Zero.
If you’re interested in this game for its story, I suggest you walk away now as it’s simply not the main draw here. The United Nations of Earth spent billions of dollars and hundreds of years mastering intergalactic travel, uncovered the many mysteries of the universe, actually found intelligent life and – surprise, surprise – started a bloody war with it.
You assume the role of a disgraced U.N.E pilot simply known as Adams. The first couple of levels serve as a tutorial where you stake your claim for reinstatement. A hardy commander begrudgingly concedes, and you’re consequently introduced to an Artificial Intelligence named Control.
The U.N.E has reason to believe that the enemy possesses a classified weapon capable of destroying Earth. After Control analyses critical mission logs, she takes a shining to you, and – surprise, surprise – surmises that the previously outcast pilot is the only man who can save the Earth from certain destruction. The narrative does a decent job of driving the action forward, but it’s not going to win any awards.
Post-haste, Control sets about devising a secret weapon to turn the tides of war in your favour. The nature of the weapon? The titular Strike Suit, of course. The Strike Suit is the brainchild of renowned mecha designer, Junji Okubo, and is a highly manoeuvrable fighter with the added ability to transform into a mech at the drop of a hat.
Where a game like this is critically make-or-break is its gameplay, and we’re pleased to say that Strike Suit Zero delivers.
Aside from traditional mouse and keyboard, Strike Suit Zero features support for flight sticks and standard gamepads. Based on my experience with the game and feedback from Kickstarter backers, this is generally considered the most comfortable way to play. I personally played with the Xbox 360 controller.
Strike Suit Zero’s controls are pretty much what you’d expect for a game of its ilk; they’ll get you through the game’s 13 missions with no fuss for the most part, and this extends to the game’s HUD.
A few clever design choices – primarily relating to the reticle and targeting system – make taking down enemies a thing of pure joy, and, seeing as you’ll be spending 99% of your time doing just that, Strike Suit Zero is simply a blast to play.
There are two ways to target an enemy: the B button locks on to the nearest craft, whereas the X button will target the ship that’s deemed the easiest kill – that is, the one that’s directly in front of you. It’s a simple but welcome mechanic, and it makes trying to find that next kill a bit less frustrating and a lot more streamlined.
Once you’ve got a target in your sights, you’ll first want to deplete their shields with the machine gun before finishing them off with a missile, an unrelenting stream of cannon fire, or a devastating combination of the two. A second floating reticle illustrates where you need to fire to hit a moving target, and it’ll turn red once you’ve got a valid shot. This is particularly useful when using your cannon as it removes that element of hit-and-hope, allowing you to really place your shots with precision.
Defensively, not only is your ship fairly speedy and agile, but it’s also equipped with EMP pulses which act as a de-facto substitute for flares, allowing you to shake off incoming missiles. Using these will temporarily disable the suit’s thrusters, though, so be careful when you use them.
You’ll definitely want to keep an eye on your ship’s health at all times because the checkpoints in Strike Suit Zero can be brutally unforgiving. You have two health bars: the shield, which regenerates, and the armour which doesn’t. If your shield depletes, it’s advisable to seek refuge from the battle for a few seconds or so and wait for it to regenerate. If your armour depletes, it’s game over.
Add to that the finite ammunition supplies of things like missiles, rockets and machine guns, and you’re constantly weighing up and managing your resources, only lending to the frenetic and fast-paced nature of the on-screen action.
Before you start a mission, you’ll have the chance to customise your ship’s weapon loadout, and you might want to take some time to think about it. Standard missiles are a good all-rounder, but require a target lock and two or three seconds of prep time. Rocket pods don’t require a lock-on and are deadly against slow-moving frigates, but you’ll need an almost clairvoyant level of precision if you’re using them to take down a fighter, as they’ll only fire in a straight line. Swarm missiles have a fairly limited range, but not only do they lock instantly, they look awesome too.
As you progress through the game, you’ll slowly unlock more weapons and weapon variants, and by achieving in-game objectives, you’ll be able to upgrade them. This keeps things fresh and gives the sense that you’re becoming gradually more and more badass. The necessity to select your weapon loadout also adds a welcome layer of strategy to the otherwise mindless action.
By taking out enemies, you’ll build what’s known as the Flux bar. Flux is the energy that the Strike Suit absorbs from fallen craft and uses to transform into its mecha configuration, officially Strike Mode. In this mode, your forward momentum ceases, and you become a lot more manoeuvrable and infinitely more powerful. Or so that’s the idea.
Unfortunately, while the onboard weapons do receive a noticeable boost in firepower, the controls for the Strike Suit are a little bit finicky; you double tap the analogue stick/movement key to dash in any given direction, which makes subtly adjusting your position a bit of a pain as you end up dashing all over the place. Not only that, but if you happen to be mid-roll when you jump into Strike Mode, it’s nigh-on impossible to control.
Luckily, it’s not a deal breaker, and you’ll still want to jump into Strike Mode at every given opportunity, simply because firing off a barrage of missiles and unleashing explosive vengeance upon your intergalactic adversaries is easily one of the most satisfying things you can do in any videogame to date. It’s just a shame that the controls for the game’s defining mechanic are somewhat poorly executed.
As the first properly-budgeted and properly-realised space combat game in what seems like an age, Strike Suit Zero succeeds in its rebirth attempt by default, but it goes above and beyond that, delivering a wholly thrilling and captivating seven hours of gameplay within an aesthetically awe-inspiring mise-en-scene.
Space – dark, desolate and largely featureless. Breathing life and character into the great unknown is no mean feat, but Strike Suit Zero delivers with aplomb. Skyboxes are genuinely breathtaking, delivering an almost ethereal experience with a very natural use of colour and lighting. The artistic deities at Born Ready have brought to fruition what is perhaps the most beautiful realisation of space in any videogame ever committed to pixel.
Perfectly complementing the game’s look is its sound design; alongside the usual thwoops, bzzzts and peeyowms you’d expect in a sci-fi shooter, Strike Suit Zero also features a fantastic original score by famed Homeworldcomposer Paul Ruskay with heavenly vocal accompaniment from Japanese singer/songwriter Kokia. From pulsating, frantic synths during the heat of battle, to gentle, soothing soundscapes outside of it that evoke a sense of wonderment and beauty, the soundtrack to this game is set to live long in the memory of this reviewer.
British game design, a Canadian composer and an aesthetic that lends heavily from Japanese anime and mecha culture results in a game that is stylistically very east-meets-west. This amalgamation of styles gives Strike Suit Zero its own distinct feel and sets it apart from space combat games past and present. And how about that name? Strike Suit Zero. Strike Suit Zero. Cool.
By this point, the game has suitably impressed, but that’s not to say it’s perfect. Aside from the aforementioned control annoyances, the game has some serious issues with difficulty. Checkpoints are sparse and unforgiving and you’ll find yourself hugely outnumbered most of the time. Born Ready Games describes the space combat fan as ‘hardy’ and designed Strike Suit Zero with this in mind.
Honestly though, the game will sometimes ask too much for all but the most experienced of players. A sense of challenge and consequent achievement is all well and good – it’s something that a lot of games are shying away from – but, at times, Strike Suit Zero can be too hard for its own good, often frustratingly so. It may well have been designed for ‘hardy’ veterans, but it would have been nice to have a difficulty option for less experienced players too.
The difficulty is amplified by the rather dull and borderline useless friendly AI, particularly frustrating during the defence and escort missions. Yep, there are escort missions. Nope, they’re not fun here either.
What’s more, if you so much as scrape against an enemy frigate or cruiser, your shield and armour will deplete dramatically, as if you’d just ploughed into it head-on with the force of a thousand suns. But for all its shortcomings and niggly faults, Strike Suit Zero is simply too much fun to not recommend.
It’s worth noting that some players have reported framerate issues, various bugs and crashes. We played on a single GTX 560Ti and the game ran at a locked 60fps throughout. We also never ran into any bugs, and the game didn’t crash once. Born Ready says all reported issues have been fixed since launch.
It doesn’t have a sprawling list of contemporaries to compete for your attention with, and so Strike Suit Zero’s gameplay plays it safe for the most part. In a generation of oversaturated and oversubscribed-to genres, you’d be forgiven for taking that as a negative. It’s not.
Yes, this is the space combat you’ve known for years, and yes, the narrative leaves much to be desired, but it’s just a relief to finally be playing a proper space combat game once more. With its no-nonsense, mission-based progression, hugely satisfying combat, glorious visuals and an incredible and atmospheric soundtrack, this is space combat done right.
The library of modern space combat games isn’t quite as boundless as the celestial backdrop upon which it is played out, but on the horizon looms Strike Suit Zero, looking to fill the void in an otherwise bleak abyss. It succeeds in style.