Genres: Space Combat Sim
Release Date: 23/01/13
Strike Suit Zero Review
Back in December, I previewed Born Ready Games’ Kickstarter-funded space combat game, Strike Suit Zero, and was generally pretty impressed with it. A few months on the full game has been released, so it’s time for me to once again strap myself into the cockpit of the Strike Suit, and see what it can do.
Set in the year 2299, you take the role of Adams, a brilliant space pilot with a past that’s gotten him grounded. The game begins by putting you in the cockpit of an Apex Fighter, and undergoing an assessment to judge your fitness to return to duty. Your companion, Reynolds, takes you through a series of manoeuvres to familiarise you with the actual business of flying a space fighter. After flight controls are covered, a small group of enemy crafts kindly turn up to offer you some weapon practice. A slightly clichéd set up to the tutorial maybe, but it does keep things short and to the point. This game is all about the ‘pew pew’, and BRG don’t want to delay you getting to it any longer than necessary. Indeed, by the end of mission 3 you’re out of the Apex and into the Strike Suit itself. The other two craft, the Interceptor and the Bomber unlock later on in the game, but as I said in the preview: why wouldn’t you choose the Strike Suit? It’s just so cool. Probably the only time you’ll get out of it is when you’re forced to, apart from that though…
Despite what I’ve read elsewhere, I had no frame-rate issues on my machine – even during the most hectic combat the game was solid. The various parts of space are luscious looking, the anime art style and colour palette provide a glorious backdrop for all that combat. The Junji Okubo designed Strike suit looks suitably cool, though it still lacks an in-cockpit view, a disappointing omission set to be rectified by the developer. Strike Suit Zero is chock full of interesting visual touches, the nebulae look lovely, the engine trails give a sense of speed, as do the various bits of space debris that whiz past your ship. It almost seems a shame to command so much of the player’s attention with the combat, you barely have time to look up and notice all the details.
Combat is smooth and silky, fast and frenetic. After I’d mapped the weapon switching to the extra buttons on my gaming mouse, swapping between strike suit modes and the various weapon types became second nature, which is handy because in the heat of dogfights, quick thinking keeps you alive. My one tip for you? Make sure you know where your EMP button is – it will save your life.
Talking of extra buttons on my gaming mouse, the DPI pre-set buttons came to my rescue the first time I switched to strike suit mode. Reticule sensitivity is much higher than ship mode for some reason, and it caught me off guard to begin with. A quick tinker with options smooths things out though, so no panic. Once you get the hang of it, switching the suit to strike mode is where it’s at. Strafing around in the 3D environment, taking down enemy craft never gets old, even if the mission objectives do.
Sadly, the game play never quite matches the heights the art-style manages to achieve, thanks mainly to some rather out-dated mission mechanics. I know BRG wanted to hark back to those beloved space combat games of old, but at times it feels like they’ve sacrificed some originality in doing so. Things are not made any better by having to repeat the harder bits of the game multiple times either. The NPC AI could be better, your fellow pilots don’t cover themselves in glory with their daring dogfighting skills. If they’re not getting in your line of fire, they’re bumping in to you and jogging your aim. They do at least call out over the radio when you have an enemy fighter on your tail, although normally that’s already made obvious by your decreasing shield bar, and a fuzzy screen when you’re hit.
And so to the subject of difficulty. It’s hard. Proper, old skool hard. During the preview I didn’t mentioned the difficulty because the accompanying email from the developer stated they were going to tune it for the final release. Well if they did tune it, they didn’t adjust it by much (as far as I can tell), because it still has some brutal difficulty spikes in places, that are not made any easier to take by the lack of regular check-pointing, or a save game option for that matter. Having a hard difficulty level isn’t a bad thing in games, just give the players options to make things easier (should they want to) if they get stuck for any real length of time.
Summing up Strike Suit Zero is a tough prospect then. There's an awful lot to like about it, and the part of my brain that loves it, says it's easily an '8 out of 10' game. But then the other half of my brain, the half that spent so long bashing itself against the difficulty spikes and lack of regular checkpoints steps up, and dishes out a healthy dose of reality. It's too frustrating in places to be a wholly enjoyable game. Yes, I know they're going to patch the checkpoint thing, but I can only review the game as it is now, and as it stands, it's a 7 out of 10 game.
- Visually gorgeous.
- You get to fly a giant robot of death!
- Difficulty spikes.
- Not enough checkpoints.
It's just too darn frustrating in places. Above all else, games should be fun, and Strike Suit Zero has too many moments when it isn't fun to score any higher.
I’ve never really paid any attention to Kickstarter in the past, I’m vaguely aware of what it does, but that’s about it. I’ve certainly never examined any of the games making use of the service, so when I put my hand up in the virtual Game Jar staff room for the Strike Suit Zero preview, I had no idea what to expect. I scurried off to Born Ready’s Kickstarter page to find out what I’d said yes to, and was pleasantly surprised that I’d be playing a space combat game. Naturally I had a read through the pitch, and one paragraph in particular had me licking my lips in anticipation; “Strike Suit Zero is a PC game that offers fast and frantic space-combat, putting you in the middle of massive fleet battles where the fate of Earth relies on your dogfighting skills. You’ll take to the cockpit of a powerful transforming craft known as the Strike Suit, where – at the tap of a button – your craft will transform from a traditional fighter, to a hulking suit of space armour.” Well now, that does indeed sound awesome, but can Born Ready pull it off? I slipped on my space hero suit and prepared to blast off.
After a neat little loading screen that doubles as a computerized personnel file I dropped into the mission select screen. In this preview version of the game, seven mission were unlocked, mostly in chronological order, so I should get a good idea of what the story is about. For each mission I had a selection of three craft to choose from; the Strike Suit, an Apex Fighter, and a Scythe Interceptor. Each craft has different attributes based on their role, the Interceptor is the fastest for example, the Apex has the most armour. The Strike Suit has a more rounded set of attributes, and compensates for its lack of specialisation by being able to transform into it’s Strike form. Not a bad trade-off. There’s an empty fourth ship slot too, which I can only assume is for the bomber mentioned in the Kickstarter pitch.
One thing did occur to me at this point; considering the Strike Suit also transforms into a giant cool-ass flying Mecha robot, I’m not entirely sure why you’d pick the other craft, but it’s nice to see there’s some tactical depth here. Your next step (after viewing you ship stats and installed upgrades) is to choose your weaponry. The Strike Suit has two gun slots and two missile slots, and again there’s a nice selection to choose from. At this point I was starting feel a little overwhelmed by all the choices, so I played safe stuck with the default fitting; Medium Plasma Gun/Light Machine Gun and Fighter Missile MK I/Rocket Pods.
With craft and weaponry choices made, I dived into the game. You play as Adams, a space pilot assigned to an orbital defence platform, and undergoing a flight assessment to judge your fitness to return to duty. As is usual in most games, the first mission is also the game’s tutorial, and after short cut scene explaining how Humanity has conquered the stars, you take control of your vessel for the first time. Your first objective is to fly towards and inspect a deep space freighter before it departs. Whilst still in Pursuit mode, the game takes you through the basic key-binds; W increases your speed, S slows you down, and A and D barrel roll you left and right. With the inspection done you move on to the shooting range for some target practice, and to go over the weapon controls.
The mouse cursor becomes a targeting reticule, with the Left Click firing your guns, and the Right Click firing missiles. Moving the mouse cursor also controls the direction of flight; move the cursor up and you fly up, move it right and you fly right. It’s really quite intuitive, and I got to grips with them fairly quickly. With the basics covered, it’s time to head back to base, but not before some enemy fighters turn up to make your first day back on the job a lot more interesting. After rescuing the freighter you just said goodbye to, and defending your Orbital Defence Platform, you’re passed fit for duty and reassigned to the Earth Fleet.
With the story established the game sets about making sure that you know that when it promised “massive fleet battles where the fate of Earth relies on your dogfighting skills”, it really meant it. You’re soon thrown into battles with larger enemy fleets that have a more advanced tactical composition than the ones found in the opening couple of missions. By the time the game has taken you through how to fly the suit in Strike mode, the combat has been dialled up to eleven, enemy missiles are coming in, flak cannons are firing at you, and the fighters are everywhere. The space combat is glorious, it really is. If you ever watched the space battle scene in Return of the Jedi, and said to yourself “I wanna play that game!”, look no further, Born Ready have got you covered.
The real star of the show though is the Strike Suit itself. As a fighter in pursuit mode it’s an agile ship capable of keeping up with the faster enemy craft, but it’s not what makes it cool. In Mecha or Strike Mode it’s an awesome robot of death that dodges around in every direction whilst melting anyone that dares to cross it’s path. Born Ready have been careful about doling out the good stuff though, a depleting energy called Flux ensures that you can’t just switch to Strike Mode and sweep all before you. Skilful piloting requires knowing when to switch between modes for best effect.
How does it look graphically? I believe my first words were “Oh my God, it’s a pretty game.” I love space games anyway, but Born Ready have added a sweet anime twist to the already high quality visuals, and it really puts it over the edge in my opinion. Every now and again, when you glance up from the frenetic space combat, you get a little hint of what it would be like to actually play your favourite space anime film. I loved it’s looks.
The good looks didn’t stop with the chosen art style either, Strike Suit Zero had a buttery smooth framerate on my machine which really added to the sense of speed. Part of me did feel slightly guilty at using the first person camera view so much, doing so means not being able to see the Strike Suit while it’s in Pursuit Mode, but I felt more immersed in the action when I did, and part of me even wished I could do the same with the Mecha mode. When this game gets in to it’s stride and starts throwing space debris, engine trails, and enemy fighters at you, it really feels spectacular in first person, and I’d quite like to see Born Ready do a little more with it by maybe adding a glass canopy look, so it really feels like you’re inside the Strike Suit.
As my time with Strike Suit Zero came to an end, I couldn’t help but feel that I wanted more time with the game. I wanted to fully test out the other ships, work out what my favourite weapon fittings were, find all the game’s little secrets. Alas, time was against me, and I had to stop playing and start writing. I really liked Strike Suit Zero, I was pleased to see that the game wasn’t all about lush visuals, and that it had some tactical depth to it. If I were to change anything? I think the tutorial could use a little refinement, as I said earlier, I think there’s a little too much choice in ship and weaponry right from the get go. Also, I personally would have liked to be able to move the HUD to the bottom of the screen. I just find things like that easier to keep an eye on when down the bottom. Apart from that though, I thoroughly enjoyed it. From now on I’ll be keeping an eye on this game, and if you like space combat shooters, you should too.
We got the opportunity to sit down and chat with Chris Redden from Born Ready while playing their new game, Strike Suit Zero. After a bit of reminiscing about Xwing vs. Tie and Freespace 2 we got down to the VERY important business of video games.
This in-development space shooter takes its cues from some very interesting places and puts them into a smooth shooting experience. The story goes a little something like this: the colonies of Earth are at war after having discovered alien technology that allows them to build a very powerful weapon, which would give anyone the edge in a war situation. After an attack on one of Earth’s research bases, you and some survivors discover the Strike Suit Zero and put it to work. There are multiple endings and you won’t be able to get the best one first time but you might after some practice. To get the best ending you have to complete a mission perfectly with all of its secondary objectives and challenges.
Gameplay wise, the mech functions as a special ability mode. It starts off as a fairly standard fighter, but when you rack up enough kills and energy you can transform into the super-powered humanoid battle suit. It has a fast firing laser machine gun and can lock on and fire multiple rockets at once, which is very satisfying when getting rid of swarms of enemies. Swing round your aiming reticule and see the little circles track the fighters. then let go of the button and a stream of explosives are loose to get rid of a clump of foes quickly. Become good enough and you will be able to spend most of the level in mech mode and get through the level faster. There is also an interceptor, a heavy fighter and a bomber that you can switch to in between levels, depending on the kind of force you will be facing – each craft has its own strategies and loadouts.
When I asked him about the lull of space shooters before he started working on the game, Redden said, “We started this two years ago and came to the conclusion that no one had made a space game in ages. So we said we think they’re really great, let’s make a space game! As for the lull, it was kind of a twofold thing. Space shooters weren’t really going anywhere visually and first-person and third-person games were becoming more groundbreaking at the time. This was being driven by consoles, and space shooters were very much a PC thing.
The fans haven’t gone away, and the popularity hasn’t either, it’s just that the market got bigger in other areas. When you’re competing for shelf space, how can you get your space game that has 200,000 fans next to something like Call of Duty which has 5 million fans? But I think there is potential for more fans, and now with digital distribution you’re not really competing with games like that any more.”
Over the course of the game there will be weapon upgrades to collect from challenges, for permanent improvements and other weapon types. There are both ammo and energy style weapons that can be switched through at the customisation screen for different ways of playing.
One of the best aethetics of the art style is that instead of having a black background with some dots on it, this game has colourful space. Streaks of red and blue nebulae fill out what would otherwise be a drab and empty backdrop. You won’t spend that much time looking at it, but it really helps bring more personality to the game. Redden said that they wanted the kind of ambience that Homeworld had and to this end they also have Paul Ruskay working on the soundtrack. Visually, Redden said they were inspired mostly by things like the new Battlestar Galactica and Star Wars. The Mecha parts were inspired by bits from the anime series Macross (or Robotech in the US). Their ship and Mech designer, Junji Okubo, also worked on Steel Battalion and Gundam and has really put a lot of his industrial and realistic style into this game. He went on to say “he has a really anime style, but he makes them really functional, which I think allows us to blend a bit of anime into the western pallet.”
Aside from the campaign they have also included small missions to show a bit of background about the war, such as how it started. Many of these will be released post-launch, along with other shorter campaigns from other perspectives. Strike Suit Zero looks to be a game that fills the niche I’ve been looking to fill since Rogue Squadron on the Gamecube and I’m really intrigued to see how it develops closer to launch.Strike Suit Zero Review,
Development studio Born Ready Games is thrilled to announce that Strike Suit Zero will be available to pick up today after 6pm GMT on Steam, Green Man Gaming and GamersGate – for £14.99. Additionally, the developer has now officially confirmed that there will be Mac and Linux versions of the game later this year.
Strike Suit Zero promises to delight fans, due largely to the fantastic talent on board its development team. Featuring jaw-droppingly detailed mecha and spaceship designs by renowned mecha designer Junji Okubo (Steel Battalion, Appleseed), and a wonderfully atmospheric score created by Paul Ruskay (Homeworld) and Kokia (Tales of Innocence), critics have already been hugely impressed with the aesthetics and gameplay on offer in Strike Suit Zero.Strike Suit Zero Review,