Thanks to services like Kickstarter and Indiegogo, we are now seeing brand new games from genres that have been long dead or stagnant. Releases like Broken Age have put new life into the traditional Point and Click Adventure genre; before that, the long dead Space Simulation genre got a new title with the release Strike Suit Zero.
Like other notable games in this genre, the player will be piloting a ship in space and engaging in all sorts of zero G dog fighting alongside non-playable characters (NPC) allies. The hook that separates this game from others is your ship’s ability to transform into a bipedal mech, with far greater weaponry that is possessed by any of the enemies that you will encounter in this game.Strike Suit Zero does not give you this transforming ship right away. You are forced to play through the first one and a half missions with the ships that would be available to the other NPCs in the game. This section of the game serves as the tutorial, teaching you the basics of space flight, how to fire your weapons and introduces the dog fighting that will make up the majority of the game play in Strike Suit Zero.
The dog fighting mechanic in Strike Suit Zero is incredibly fun; after targeting an enemy ship all sorts of information is presented to the player through the heads up display. Distance to your target, armor, and shield percentages are easily seen and able to be processed quickly to keep up with the fast paced ship to ship combat. When targeting an individual enemy, two icons will be displayed; the enemy itself and the target that you should be shooting at, so that you can properly lead the target.
You will need to take different actions against enemy ships, based on what kind of weapons you have. Some missiles require you to keep your target in your reticle so that you can lock on, while others will automatically lock onto the closest enemy target after being fired. Transforming into the mech provides you with a completely different set of weaponry, and it is usually a lot more devastating, allowing you to shoot down multiple targets simultaneously with minimal effort.
Combat against larger capital ships is quite different from dog fighting. The player typically is not able to deal any measurable damage to targets that are not small fighters. The player’s role when engaging a larger ship is to cripple it by destroying the defensive guns and cannons attached to the capital ship. Once these cannons are destroyed a squad of bombers will be able to safely make multiple passes at the capital ship to take it down. This needs to be balanced with defending the rest of your allies from enemy bombers and incoming torpedoes.
What I noticed immediately about Strike Suit Zero, when compared to other genre veterans such as Freespace, is that its game play systems are significantly reduced and stream lined. The player does not have to manually adjust shields or engines, or take power from one subsystem to give greater power to another. The streamlined features do allow this game to have full controller support, which also gives it increased accessibility. This game is quite fun to play it the way I did, on my television with Steam Big Picture Mode using a wireless Xbox 360 controller.
There is one flaw with controls that irritated me all throughout the game play. When playing a, primarily, space simulation game I want to control the ship like a normal plane, with an inverted Y axis, so that as the player I would push down on the analog stick to make the play fly upwards. The controls are like this by default, as I would have expected; however, when I transformed into the robot mode, I expected the controls to switch to something more in line with a modern shooter. They did not switch the controls when I transformed, which made it quite a jarring experience. Thankfully this can be switched manually in the game options; but, I kept experiencing a glitch where the controls would not save my preferences. This resulted in the controls reverting to the default each time I closed the game thus requiring me to change the controls every time I wanted to play.
The plot of Strike Suit Zero is quite cliché for the genre. It focuses on a war between Earth and its planetary colonies who desire independence. The colonies discover an alien weapon that has the power to destroy entire planets leading to a war. Most of the characters in this game are so one-dimensional that their personalities would resemble cardboard cut-outs of the archetypes that they represent. There is not an NPC in the game that has any complexity, or motivation, other than what is directly stated to the player through the ship to ship communications. On the other hand what I find great about how the story is delivered is that the complete narrative of the game is delivered to the player entirely through communication chatter from one NPC to another, with a few exceptions.
During a mission, game play will occasionally be interrupted to show a cinematic or cut scene and I feel that these cut scenes are completely unnecessary; without them the game would have been better paced. I would have found it preferable if when one of these events happened, an NPC would have state the event over the communications systems. As the player I could have turned and witnessed the event happening in real-time. A system like that, for delivering the story or updating a mission objective, would have been ideal; but alas the developers of the game chose otherwise.
With those somewhat minor issues aside, everything else about this game is very well put together. The visuals are fantastic from both an aesthetic, and technical, perspective. The ships that you engage and defend are incredibly detailed and scaled very well. While flying around them I found it easy to imagine that inside of this fictional universe, these are ships that could have a crew in the dozens to even hundreds. As the ships take on more and more damage, they are able to be seen in further states of decay. The Strike Suit itself looks great, and watching its weapons fire is impressive. This game is complemented with the soundtrack composed by Paul Ruskay, who brought us the soundtrack from the original Homeworld.
While this game was not the “hardcore” space simulator that I was expecting, or wanted, I still feel that Strike Suit Zero is a game that is definitely worth playing. It streamlines the genre, and adds plenty of new features to make it attractive to players that might have been too put off by titles like Freespace, Wing Commander, or Tie Fighter. Strike Suit Zero is fun to play, great to look at, and is an enjoyable addition to a stale genre that needed something new.