Thursday, 25 April 2013

Review: Strike Suit Zero (Steam PC)

Strike Suit Zero is one of the many successes of the Kickstarter age of game development.  Developed by Born Ready Studios based here in the UK the game is a love letter to a now largely dead genre, the space flight sim.

You can see the influences everywhere from Gundam and other mecha anime to X-Wing & TIE Fighter, Wing Commander and Free Space 2 the game is littered with little nods here and there.  The basic premise of Strike suit is in the far future humanity has colonised the stars and expanded into many different systems but at a cost.  The colonies now so far from Earth's influence want independence and Earth isn't willing to give it to them.  A chance discovery of alien technology gives the colonists a bargaining chip for freedom which Earth accepts.  Unfortunately Earth backs out of the deal once they have what they want and a full blown civil war erupts with both sides desperate for victory.

From here the game takes you from one dogfight scenario to the next in a thirteen chapter campaign that will determine the fate of earth.  You are essentially playing the douchey earth forces who suddenly become the good guys when the colonists deploy a Death star like super weapon which can destroy planets.  It's a weird situation to be in because the initial story fluff paints the UNE earth forces as the bad guys while the colonists seem like the good guys wanting self governance and freedom from earth.
Fleet combat looks pretty, reminiscent of Battlestar

The missions themselves take the form of classic space sims with standard dogfights, capital ship attack runs and base defences.  You will regularly be pulled away from dogfighting to protect a friendly frigate or transport from hordes of fighters or swarms of missiles, other times will see you targeting specific guns on larger vessels to help out your fleet.  This is where the Strike suit element of the game comes in.  The suit is capable of transforming into a Gundam esque robot complete with heavy cannons and multiple missile launchers capable of wiping out entire squadrons in seconds and whittling capital ship defences down rapidly.  It's a neat trick and sometimes is essential to completing tasks quickly and without losing too much time.

Time is a key element to Strike suit zero.  You are graded after each level based on points earned through kills and other actions while also trying to finish the missions as soon as possible.  This lends the game a very arcade like feel as you attempt to top your old score as fast as you can.  Why would you want to do this?  Well the levels have numerous post battle status reports that either strengthen the colonial fleet or the UNE fleet.  The game's ending is based on your prior success so replaying levels with new unlocks and better ships is always fun.

Combat is fun and works very well for a number of control types.  Playable with mouse + keyboard, joystick and gamepad it suits all styles and works surprisingly well.  It felt like playing freelancer with the mouse controls and that's a good thing.  There are numerous unlockable weapons which alter your playstyle with different types of laser which drain energy at varying rates for different damage outputs, while ballistic weapons have ammo conservation issues but the ability to keep the trigger held down.  The different fighters outside of the strike suit each feel different in their style of play and offer different weapon loadouts to suit your tactics.

The strike can quickly down large vessels
Be warned though this game pulls no punches and can be very hard at times with fire coming from every direction coupled with overwhelming to do lists of objectives you may need to quickly prioritise targets and perform hit and run attacks.  The AI for friendly ships does a decent enough job of helping when it can, but don't expect them to do the mission for you (even though they are supposed to be helping) while you dogfight.  Enemy cruisers are a daunting thing to attack as they are bristling with weapons which can quickly drain shields and leave you vulnerable, but it's also quite fun to take out a capital ship piece by piece, leaving it a smoking hulk with no means of defending itself.

My only complaints about the game is the lack of squad controls even basic ones.  The ability to call for support to keep enemy fighters off you would be nice and also to tell friendly fighters what to focus on would help also.  Sometimes you feel like you are on your own while the rest of the fleet fights in a tiny pocket of the map.  When the game is telling you to attack a large ship and nothing else it would be nice if command would assist with a few fighters to keep you covered.

Graphically the game is passable.  The space maps looks amazing with some really beautiful artwork and no single level looks dull.  The fighters look a little low poly and uninteresting to look at, strike suit included, but the larger ships have a lot more going on in them as they fire every weapon available to them.  Flak fields and beam cannons firing you really are reminded of those epic battles of Freespace 2.  Friendly and enemy ships are identified via their glowing light trails in a sort of TRON light cycle way, blue being friendly, red being enemy.  The game isn't going for top of the line visuals but it's nothing to sniff at considering the comparatively low budget this game had.

Each map is unique visually and very pretty
The soundtrack is pretty good, being inspired by anime, Born ready have gone with a theme that sounds very reminiscent of Ghost in the shell stand alone complex.  The voice acting is generally good with a few lines feeling a bit duff but it's passable.  Weapon sounds are fitting with each having a distinct 'feel' when used. 

Overall Strike Suit Zero is a fun if not short love letter to the space flight sim of our youth's.  Combat is frenetic and fun and the missions are varied enough to keep things interesting.  It does fall down in a couple of areas with a sometimes steep difficulty curve and a frustrating lack of squad commands, but it does a majority of things right.  Couple this with the recently announced DLC packs on top of what is already available and Strike Suit Zero could be a franchise we see more of in the future.

Strike Suit Zero is currently £14.99 on steam.

SCORE: 7.0/10


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