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02 September 2014

Strike Suit Zero - Uh, Captain, I think we're going to need more guns...

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Strike Suit Zero is a beautiful and addictive space combat sim. Hopefully, heralding the return of a much missed genre of gaming, but it's not for everyone. Do you have what it takes to pilot the strike suit and save Earth?

The War Begins.

What is Strike Suit Zero?

Strike Suit Zero came from a magical place called Kickstarter, where people and companies post projects in need of funding to help them with the cost of developing and releasing their project out to the world. It is a beast from a time when combat flight sims and space combat were more common than the beast of legends they are today.

Strike Suit Zero is that beast of legend, resurrected from a time where games were genuinely challenging, and learning how to play a game involved more trial and error rather than hand holding. Heavily influenced by games like X-Wing Vs Tie Fighter, Free Space and Wing Commander, Strike Suit Zero certainly has plenty of great sources of inspiration to draw from. Judging from the visual style of the missiles, I would even say that they've been watching a lot of Robotech.

An epic story?

Well that really depends on the person observing it. When looking through other articles reviewing the game, almost everyone of them says that the story is forgettable and been done a million times. That honestly bothers me, especially in this day and age when it's difficult to really say any one story is truly original. I prefer to focus on the delivery and how it adds to gameplay.

Strike Suit Zeros story is a familiar one. Humanity expands quickly into space upon discovering fold technology, basically warp speed. At first they're all on the same team looking for the source of a strange signal. Somewhere along the line the colonies decide that they no longer want to be a part of the Earth government and decide instead be independent. The Earth government says no to this, but the colonies have found the source of the signal and try to use it as a bargaining chip: independence in exchange for an amazing discovery. The deal is accepted and the colonials get their independence, but when Earth makes an important discovery tied to that relic the colonials suddenly want it back, and the war that was going to break out regardless of this artifact's discovery begins.

This war drags on for a long time, eventually settling into a stalemate. Then the colonials get their hands on a new weapon, one that inspires them to push on and assault Earth directly. As a pilot in the United Nations of Earth, the player takes part in the desperate defense of Earth and her remaining fleet in order to try and save the human home world.

Alien tech is always a double edged sword.

That's all I can really say about the story without spoiling anything, besides obviously grabbing the strike suit at some point in the game.

Supposedly the players performance, along with any optional objectives they successfully complete, affects the end results of the game, regardless of which of the multiple endings they chose to go with. Unfortunately, other than deleting my game, I have no real way that I can see of testing this, since I went straight for gold and platinum service medals. There's a serious need for a "New Game +" mode in my opinion to rectify this. Even better if it makes the game harder. Regardless! if this is in fact a feature, it is a nice change to normal story telling methods - using the player's performance as well as their choices to affect just how the story plays out and ends. It's certainly a great idea, especially in a game that can be quite unforgiving at times to the inexperienced pilots out there.

Paying attention to the story also adds this deep sense of urgency, one that simply is not there if players decide to ignore it. Maybe it's just me, but I love that. One moment I'm cruising along, taking out fighters left and right, laughing at them, and suddenly a Corvette attack group folds in and begins launching torpedoes at one of my precious capital ships. You can bet I dropped everything and drained my thrusters in order to intercept those torpedoes, and it was always terrible to watch any one of my ships go critical and be blown apart into nothing more than space debris. By the same token, it was always satisfying to watch the destruction of enemy capital ships, especially the carriers later on. With each hostile capital ship gone my fleet and the Earth was safer. Sometimes the game lulls you into a false sense of security and dumps a couple of heavily armed cruisers in front of your ship and tells you to have fun while your own cruisers are half way through their armor! 

It's the friendly neighborhood colonials looking to pop my tiny fleet. This we cannot allow.

So many pretty lights and explosions.

Did I mention Strike Suit Zero was an absolutely beautiful game? 

The first thing I noticed when playing Strike Suit Zero for the first time were its beautiful sky boxes. Looking off into the distance and seeing the planets, nebulae, worlds ripped in two off in the distance is just a feast for the eyes in the early levels. But after the third mission or so they add another layer of beauty to it. When the player gets their strike suit, swarms of fighters and capital ships begin filling up space. Battles will cover space with tracer fire, missiles flying in every direction and massive beams of energy ripping through space and burning through the hulls of both fighter and capital craft alike. All the while flak fire fills the space in between, hunting hostile fighters and torpedoes. It really felt like being in a movie with everything that was going on around me. It was something I hadn't seen in a space combat sim in the past, but the technology back then had a much harder time providing the visual feast we have access to today. It makes it almost easy to get lost in the spectacle taking place before your eyes until you realize there's a rather large gun, or multiple guns, pointed your way.

If the art style of the ships in Strike Suit Zero looks vaguely familiar, that would be because Junji Okubo was the mastermind behind the mechanical design of Strike Suit Zero's namesake fighter jet as well as ships in the game, and they all look amazing. Infinite Space and Steel Battalion are some of the other titles he's worked on so it's really no surprise that there is so much awesome detail behind all of the craft in this game. I only wish it came with a model viewer so I can ogle every model in game. It is a little difficult to get a good look at them while being shot or chasing them down after all!

It was a dark and stormy night... In space?

Whether you're opening up with your main guns or letting loose a salvo of missiles, every bit of the game sounds awesome. But then they throw Paul Ruskay into the mix and the sound effects are only augmented by the beautiful sound track. Paul Ruskay is the man behind the Homeworld sound track which gave me all sorts of nostalgia when hearing the tracks as I zipped and zoomed through space, even if the sound track was clearly Strike Suit Zero's. If you haven't played the Homeworld series, go get it now, it is the best space RTS game I've ever played. Unfortunately GoG doesn't carry the Homeworld series yet so you're on your own when it comes to finding it. 

Highway to the danger zone... In space!

So how does the game actually play? 

Not going to lie, I was a wee bit worried at first. After seeing the amazing trailers for Strike Suit Zero, when I actually got my hands on it the first few missions were slow in comparison. But these are essentially the practice levels of the game. If you've not played a space combat sim in the past or it's been far too long, like it has been for me, these do a nice job of introducing you to the way the game handles and some of the basic concepts behind it. That being said, the second mission quickly introduces the player to larger enemy types than fighters. Corvettes start to appear along with the smallest class of capital ship, a frigate. This is when the game kindly lets the player know that they are not the biggest or angriest fish in the sea of stars.

Just a nice, calm relaxing patrol.

That is, at least, until the player gets his hand on the games name sake, the Strike Suit.

Half way through the game's third mission players get their hands on this beast of a fighter jet which has the awesome twist of transforming into a battle suit. Being a huge fan of Robotech, it made me all kinds of giddy to have something like this. Unlike Robotech, however, the Strike Suit mode feels rather sluggish in comparison to it's incredibly fast fighter jet mode, or pursuit mode. The Strike Suit more than makes up for it with its weapon systems and ability to turn on a dime. Have a pesky swarm of fighters to take out? Transform and paint them all with up to forty missiles, or fly into the middle of their blob and take them out with the Strike Suits cannons! The same can be done when dealing with capital ships to a degree. Provided you have a clear line of sight to your targets, you can paint the multiple turrets on a large vessel and take them out with a beautiful rain of missiles that is always a delight to behold.

I might be fan-boying here; but are the MTAM Circus missiles a shout out to Ichiro Itano's signature flourish the Itano Circus?

Much like dakka, you can never have enough missiles.

Even with the Strike Suit, however, the game is no less forgiving. If anything, after getting your hands on the Strike Suit the game ramps up the difficulty with every level. Players must learn how to fly properly, and find out what their ship and armaments can and cannot handle in order to make the most of each mission. Personally I'm a fan of the swarm missiles in both utility and style.

But the pilot's own life isn't the only important thing in the game. Strike Suit Zero does a wonderful job of empowering the player while at the same time making them feel like they are part of something much larger than themselves. Sure, you could be an ace pilot with or without the Strike Suit, but even an ace pilot won't get too far without fleet support. After all, shooting a capital ship, even with the Strike Suits weapon systems, is like trying to take out a giant by stabbing them repeatedly with a knife. It'll bring them down eventually but not at a reasonable pace. Better protect your bombers and capital ships.

Ah the chaotic and deadly beauty of war.

My favorite thing about Strike Suit Zero was the learning curve. Where most games these days tell you exactly what you need and how to do it, this game just says "Go do it." and leaves it up to the player to figure out whatever works best for them. As a newbie pilot unaware of your surroundings you are going to intercept torpedoes for your capital ships, just not in the proper way, and even a Strike Suit with all of its power cannot handle a direct hit from a torpedo, nor stay for very long in the path of a cruisers massive beam cannons. Even the basic colonial fighter pilots will cut down a bad pilot in no time. I still giggle when I look back at those terribly silly mistakes I made when I was still getting my bearings.

More importantly, there were special conditions in every one of the game's thirteen missions, which provided a subsystems upgrade for all of the craft players have access to. These are not necessary to beat the game, but dear lord do they help even the odds in some of the fights.

To top it all off, each mission unlocks a different weapon that players can equip onto their fighter craft. Once a mission is done, a player can go back and replay missions on any of the four fighters available in the game. This is great, because sometimes I wondered what it would be like to handle a mission as a fighter, bomber or interceptor. Other times I wanted to take apart a particularly frustrating mission with my Strike Suit's missile swarms!

There are however, two missions in the game that require a specific craft and can't really be done with anything else, but at least the reasoning behind this choice makes sense. My least favorite was the bomber mission, but that was because of its bonus objective for an armor upgrade: kill ten fighters with the bomber's weapons. It's a bit like taking a ballet dancer and weighing them down with a couple of hundred pounds worth of extra weight on every limb when comparing the handling of the Strike Suit to the bomber. But the beauty of the game is that while it does beat the player up, it never feels unfair. It's just a matter of figuring out what works and what doesn't in each situation and most importantly, what works best for the player. So what if you have to restart it a few dozen times? It only makes it that much more satisfying when everything clicks and you finally clear a mission  that you were struggling with in the past successfully, and even better when you come back to it later with your fully decked out fighter of choice and laugh at how bad of a pilot you were when you first tried it.

Yeah. We're sinking your battleship.

Is it worth your money?

Well Strike Suit Zero isn't for everyone, but if you're looking for a challenge or a title that is out of the ordinary than Strike Suit Zero certainly deserves your money. Being an indie game, it doesn't cost a lot either. Just $20 USD on STEAM, $30 if you want the Collector's Edition, which includes the art book and soundtrack of the game, and I do recommend getting your hands on the soundtrack if you enjoyed Homeworlds or the music you hear in the trailer for Strike Suit Zero:


I genuinely do hope that Strike Suit Zero is just the first of many high quality space combat sims to hit the market and that it represents just a taste of what can be done with the genre. I would love to see more of these games, even sequels of Strike Suit Zero with more features. Modes like drop-in-drop-out multiplayer, co-op or PvP would be nice, as well as instant action missions that are randomly generated based on the parameters a player has set, and even a replay viewer so players can see how awesome, or terrible they were in their sorties. I can dream can't I? 

What do you think of Strike Suit Zero? Or the space combat genre in general! Let us know your thoughts below!

Last modified on Wednesday, 20 November 2013 18:04

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