When I think back to the mid-1990s, it isn’t long before I start to revel in the memories of classic space dog-fighting games like Colony Wars, X-Wing vs. TIE Fighter, Rogue Squadron, and Wing Commander. Admittedly, I was excited about the possibility of reliving some of those fond memories when I saw Strike Suit Zero appear on Kickstarter. SSZ does the best it can do to recreate bits and pieces of the aforementioned titles but never quite replicates the particular style of any of them. But it definitely manages to create its own unique feel of space combat, which is not only a blast to play but appealing to look at.
Strike Suit Zero’s graphics won’t be winning any beauty contests, and the ship designs are some of the most generic I have seen. The overall visual tone is minimalist, with very few details or markings on the ships themselves save for the cockpits. The strike suit itself does have quite a bit of detail, and being that it is the ship you will spend most of your time in, that is a plus. Space, well, looks like space for the most part, though some missions have space stations, capital ships, and the occasional planet in the background to mix it up a bit. SSZ is not overly ambitious when it comes to the graphics department, but this gives the game a certain B-grade charm. What SSZ does do graphically is very enjoyable: clusters of missiles kareen in all directions in the heat of battle, plasma splashes convincingly against enemy hulls, and the explosions can range from meh to breathtaking. All in all, SSZ gets the point across to your eye holes well enough – just don’t expect AAA polish.
The music in SSZ is a mix of new agey BSG sound-alikes and your more traditional heaving classical scores. The BGM is fine, but it never takes center stage and is of little concern. The sound effects pretty much take over when combat begins, drowning out the BGM, but I hardly had time to notice with the myriad of plasma and missiles exploding all over the place. In most missions there are so many explosions, plasma fire, missile indicators, and engine roars that you will forget that there even is any BGM at all. The quality of the sound effects is sort of a mixed bag. Some sounds are crisp and nuanced, yet others, like the machine gun effects, sound like every other generic machine gun sound out there. I am not knocking SSZ for this. Just be aware that the quality of what is coming through the speakers sounds great but is only marginally original.
From the jump I realized SSZ definitely has more in common with Colony Wars than some of the more in-depth space sims of the past, which isn’t a bad thing. The developers at Born Ready really nailed the sense of speed and frantic atmosphere of space combat. The game shines when your ship is psychotically evading missiles while trashing enemies with your plasma guns or speeding headlong toward a massive capital ship as flak shells erupt in brilliant mosaics of death all around you. In the early missions, combat feels much more like a generic space combat game with standard objectives and maybe a bit too many small squad encounters. It is only when the strike suit is unlocked that the game carves its own place in space and time. The game transforms (no pun intended) into a 3-D bullet hell shooter, and I found it to be savagely entertaining. The thinking man’s space sim this is not.
I found the targeting system to be a bit temperamental, but once the limitations are clear, it works well enough. The overall feel of the controls in general is pretty solid on the 360 Gamepad. Very few times in Strike Suit Zero did I feel that I was not in complete control of my ship, and sadly one of those times was in the anti-climactic final mission. The later missions, in which it becomes necessary to take full advantage of the strike suit’s transforming capabilities, are where the game makes its unique mark on the genre. These missions do a great job of making use of the clever mix of space fighter gameplay and bullet hell shooting. If you can trudge through the early missions, Strike Suit Zero has a lot to offer to fans of the genre and new players alike.
Game time comes in at about 14 hours, and I did replay a couple of missions to make sure I unlocked all of the ship upgrades. The medal score system provides an opportunity for replay value, as does the ability to use any of the games four playable ships in any mission you want after the initial run is completed. There is no multiplayer – or any other modes for that matter – but what Strike Suit Zero does have easily justifies its $20 price tag. In addition, the good folks at Born Ready have plans for future content in the form of DLC and updates. Since my initial playthrough at release, the developers have added a cockpit view, improved the lighting engine, added some much needed details to the ships, and fixed various bugs and glitches. This is a great start to expanding an already enjoyable experience.
Although Strike Suit Zero has a lot going for it, some aspects are glaringly underwhelming, and I would not be doing my job if I did not mention them. The story is told through a couple of motion comic sequences, and the bulk of the plot is carried out over comms chatter during the missions. I also didn’t care for how long it takes to unlock the strike suit, which is when the game finally lets you in on its premise. If only the early missions of the game had the sense of scale and fun that the later half exhibits, I could have easily increased the game’s overall score. Some may disagree, but I personally felt that there were way too many protect-this-ship objectives. There were some real missed opportunities to let the player go wild and just generally feel like a badass by destroying enemy ships en masse. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of these free-wheeling opportunities, but I definitely groaned in the last third of the game when I heard incoming torpedoes over the comms. Overall, Strike Suit Zero is a well-made and highly enjoyable B-grade experience. What it lacks in polish it sometimes makes up for in charm.
- Developer: Born Ready Games
- Publisher: Born Ready Games
- Platforms: PC
- Release: 1-23-2013
- Time Stamp: 2-10-2013