Strike Suit Zero aims to remind us of the space sim glory days when, in our minds, piloting a polygonal Interceptor in Star Wars: TIE Fighter matched the splendor of Luke’s iconic trench run. But for all my love of George Lucas’ original trilogy, I refrain from most intergalactic dogfights for aesthetic reasons. How many times can you paste a mass of polygons together and call the result a frigate? How many colors can you blend on a black background and label as a galaxy? How often can you play the lone pilot destined to save your home planet from destruction? The genre has evolved so little since the early ‘90s that developer Born Ready Games hopes to bank on these shortcomings with their titular Strike Suit.
But first, some backstory: In the game’s distant future, humanity expanded to other solar systems, searching for the alien signal that gave them the knowledge to do so. However, these budding settlements grew larger the longer the hunt continued, and so did their desire for independence. When Earth’s government denied the colonists their freedom, they retaliated with an ongoing war.
You can tell they're evil because their light trails are red.
Our disgraced hero Adams finds himself caught in the political upheaval when a rogue scouting party interrupts his latest test flight. Rumors say the colonists built a weapon of devastating unknown power – one that could endanger the safety of Earth’s people if left unchecked. With his prior probation no longer a factor, U.N.E. (United Nations of Earth) commanders send Adams to investigate the disturbance. The events that follow rehash the same space odyssey pioneered by titles like Homeworld and Freelancer – titles that inspired Strike Suit Zero. You, embodying the sole flying ace capable of opposing the antagonists, must travel between galaxies and assemble a tattered fleet large enough to counter whatever rebel device could erase your home world’s existence.
With such strict adherence to sci-fi conventions, Strike Suit Zero’s gameplay needs to soar higher than the competition; for better and for worse, this Kickstarter project does. Adam’s initial objectives bolster the excitement, as the campaign does not begin with the Strike Suit prepped and padded – only after the third mission does your AI co-pilot jettison the training wheels and let you manipulate this flying mecha.
Until then, Adams operates an average fighter, which banks and rolls with appropriate weight while players glide through the voids of space, launching rockets, dropping bombs, destroying turrets, and swatting colonial flies. But gamers need to balance between shield-draining plasma cannons and armor-destroying missiles when chasing down fleeing assailants. These moments craft a hectic game of cat-and-mouse, though the kamikaze dogfights lead to some harrowing displays of chicken, too. Flying towards the enemy to deliver heated projectiles to the rival ship’s cockpit seconds before impact exhibits certain cinematic flair.
Images like these make me wish Mass Effect had controllable space combat.
Early mission success (and enjoyment) stems from the solid gamepad controls; then Born Ready hands you the Strike Suit. Players earn flux by destroying enemy ships, cannons, and turrets, which powers the warbird's transformation from an ordinary vessel into a one-man, supersonic mech. However, this one hook that should make the combat more appealing does the exact opposite. Whereas the jet's regular flight mode responds to inputs with a little force, Strike mode answers too well, and targeting quickly becomes an exercise of patience.
In Strike mode, a slight nudge on the analog stick spins the camera 90 degrees, the lock-on points towards turrets thousands of meters away, and the main guns prove hopelessly ineffectual unless you hover near your enemies. Once the fighter's shields fail (and they will), the Strike Suit turns into a brittle piece of scrap metal. I often perished when malevolent capital ships laced me with plasma because I could only concentrate fire on the colonial fodder knocking on my escape hatch. The Strike Suit has no real means for maneuvering either, except for a quick evade that drains flux reserves and the ability to ascend or descend. For all the talk about the machine’s combat prowess, you sure make for an easy target.
The kindred AI would rather watch Adams struggle through many inescapable assaults, too. One stray plasma round stops the Strike Suit’s shields from recharging, and enemy fighters often engage Adams first, ignoring the swarm of allied ships buzzing lazily about. The developers do force you to pilot other craft occasionally, such as a slow-maneuvering bomber or agile interceptor, except most objectives never deviate from traditional search-and-destroy confrontations or painfully one-sided escort missions. The Arcadia, a surviving U.N.E. flagship, finds itself the victim of regular ambushes, and Adams alone must drive the colonists back into hyperspace while his commanders float aimlessly through the nebula, absorbing airborne torpedoes sent their way. Lose the Arcadia, lose the game.
Engaging Strike mode this far from the target only wastes valuable flux.
The loss of the Arcadia or Adams’ inevitable death introduces players to the demoralizing checkpoint system, which sets progress back by ten minutes or more. Strike Suit Zero replenishes your health and ammo fully after each restart, but annihilating several capital ships only to meet your doom by a wayward missile for the fifteenth time could break any person’s spirit. You cannot quit the mission and resume progress later, unfortunately; finish your objectives in one sitting with multiple deaths, or begin the chapter anew at a later date. Each of the missions also includes a side objective that, once completed, provides passive upgrades to your aircraft. These optional quests entail rescuing or protecting allied frigates, however, and the idiotic AI makes saving these weakened vessels a fruitless gesture.
Strike Suit Zero shares another problem inherent to many games of its genre: the vast emptiness of space. Without any landmarks on the horizon, barrel rolls and hasty escapes are liable to disorient players, and there’s no way to know where enemy ships are in relation to Adams without a minimap. Meanwhile, the stars play host to the sci-fi battles and repeated outbursts of swearing. Watching a ship’s looping contrails while the soundtrack’s harmonious arias hypnotize you provides a serene feeling, but the echoing ring of incoming missiles brings you back to the nightmare. Ruined planets often appear as the backdrop to your plights, a warning of things to come should your mission fail.
Make no mistake, though. In Strike Suit Zero, you will fail, and only the most determined pilots will come to Earth's aid. Born Ready had the potential to revive a classic genre, to remind people of their early childhoods where a cheap plastic joystick and CRT monitor gave us the same adrenaline rush only movies could evoke. There may be nothing flawed about the average story and uncomplicated controls, but the soul-crushing checkpoints, the Strike Suit’s handling, Adam’s brain-dead allies, and the abysmal escort missions set this arcade space simulator back by decades.
Publisher: Born Ready Games
Developer: Born Ready Games
Release Date: January 23, 2013
Number of Players: 1
Platforms: PC (Reviewed)