The space combat video game genre has earned a very special place in gaming history as being one of the greatest gaming experiences anyone will ever have. Games like Freelancer, Freespace 2, the Star Wars X-Wing/Tie-Fighter series, the Descent trilogy, the Wing Commander series, Independence War 1 and 2 and the X series captures the exhilarating rush of frantic, intense and epic space battles. The player would pilot a deadly space fighter, launch into the depths of outer space and take part in huge-scale space battles between space fighters, gigantic battleships and massive space stations.
Some space combat games go even further and allow you to explore outer space to visit other space sectors, space stations, carry out jobs for cash, trade goods from one side of the galaxy to the other and buy new weapons, equipment or new ships to gain the edge in battle. Many of them contain backstories full of suspense, intrigue, adventure and all-out warfare with memorable characters who have their reasons for taking part in the war and all of this puts you in the centre of it all. Space combat games offer just as much action, adventure and excitement as any other video game genre today.
Most mainstream developers don’t appear to be taking on this genre. Luckily many indie developers are still creating some really great space combat games to keep the genre going. Also developers Egosoft are continuing with the X series with the forthcoming X Rebirth. Others have even used kickstarter programs to fund major space combat projects such as the highly anticipated Star Citizen. It’s great to see developers today that are willing to keep this amazing and overlooked genre alive.
One such developer is Born Ready Games, who hopes to bring the space combat genre back in the spotlight with their kickstarter funded space combat video game Strike Suit Zero. The game offers the chance to engage in intense space battles in a space fighter. In addition, the fighter can transform into a powerful mech to really bring some heavy firepower to the battle, reminiscent of animé such as Macross, Fafner in the Azure, Gundam or Vandread. With Strike Suit Zero, the developers hope to capture the intensity and riveting feeling of the game’s more famous space combat ancestors, while bringing their own fresh ideas to the space combat tradition.
Mankind has reached the void beyond the stars. Colonists have found new worlds to settle and the future of the human race looks brighter than ever. The scientists of both the United Nations of Earth and the colonies have discovered an alien artifact on a distant planet. However, the colonies have expelled the UNE scientists as the truth may be too dangerous to be revealed. In response, the UNE revoke the colonies’ right to self-rule and war breaks out. You are on the frontlines of the war and with your newly acquired Strike Suit you must lead the UNE forces to victory.
Strike Suit Zero plays like a typical space combat game, yet this game has taken a more arcade approach as opposed to a hardcore space flight simulator. You start off in a standard fighter and after a short training session you’re in the fight fairly quickly. You have rockets, missiles, machine guns and plasma cannons at your disposal for shooting down enemy spacecraft. The battles are fast-paced, incredibly chaotic and fights can sometimes be on a very large scale. There’s not much breathing time before the next battle and you’ll need quick and precise reflexes to come out of the battle in one piece.
The enemies actually put up a good fight and can be very brutal and skillful during battle. It never gets old to stay on the tail of an enemy fighter, unload all the machine gun, plasma and missile fire at them and watch them blow up in a ball of burning death. Aside from enemy fighters there are massive enemy frigates and cruisers to content with, equipped with powerful guns that can simultaneously attack friendly fighters and cruisers. You’re able to target specific points of these ships such as their flak cannons and missile launchers which negates their ability to attack and makes them easy pickings for you and friendly units. There’s always that major thrill from charging full-speed at these much larger and very dangerous ships, begin a damaging bombing run and quickly pulling away before the ships blow apart in a massive ball of fire and broken metal.
When you attain a new fighter with the ability to use Strike Mode, the fun really begins. At the press of a button your new fighter is able to transform into a powerful mech, capable of eliminating multiple enemies at once. You can lock on to multiple enemy spacecraft and fire a barrage of missiles which wipe out anything they hit. As you take enemies out, you gain Flux which enables you to use Strike Mode for longer. You’re able to switch back to the space fighter and quickly speed away to the next fight. However, you can’t keep relying on the Strike Suit to get the job done all the time. There is some strategic element from using both the fighter and Strike Mode in battle. It boils down to judgement and timing. Using Strike Mode depends on how much flux you have, how much ammo you have, how many enemies there are and how fast your reflexes are. It’s a total exhilarating and satisfying rush when you dive in the fray as a fighter, destroy enemy interceptors to gain Flux, transform the fighter into the power armour and unleash your missile barrage at the swarm of reinforcements before transforming back and speeding away.
There are 4 types of spacecraft to unlock including bombers, interceptors, fighters and of course the Strike Suit. Aside from obtaining new spacecraft, you’ll also obtain new weapons to attach to the fighter. There’s some very impressive weaponry such as a launcher that can fire multiple missiles at once. Other kinds of upgrades include shields, armour, performance and upgrades to the Strike Suit. To unlock these upgrades, you’ll have to carry out specific tasks within the mission e.g. making sure all the friendly frigates survive enemy attack. Some missions even require you to carry out secondary objectives and completing most of them leads to a different ending effecting the outcome of Earth, which adds some good variety to the missions and incentive to replay previous missions.
The game is rather short with only 13 missions each consisting of a small timescale. For such a large scale conflict, compressing the game down to only 13 missions feels like you’ve skipped though most of the backstory in the game. Yet the game does offer some rewarding replay value. You can go back to previous levels with the Strike Suit and the other spacecraft to complete secondary objectives, acquire new upgrades and unlock a different ending in your next playthrough. There is a section for downloadable content within the game’s menu screen, so perhaps Born Ready Games may have something in mind to add more to their game and keep the player coming back for more frantic battles. Also they did promise to release the toolset they used to create Strike Suit Zero, so we’ll possibly see what the modding community for this game can do as well.
Strike Suit Zero has a lot going for it. It’s fun, it’s rewarding and there seems to be future plans to extend this game even more. Alas the game also has some flaws which really stand out in a bad way and prevent the game from being an absolute marvel in the space combat genre.
First person view appears to be lacking a cockpit, thus the game doesn’t really simulate the feel of sitting in a cockpit of an advanced space fighter. The range of the plasma cannon and the machine gun seems unfairly short and you need to be rather close to the enemy for these weapons to be effective. There also seems to be a problem with the graphics settings as it’s not possible to turn anti-aliasing on high or off.
Space combat games use radars to pinpoint enemy positions and this game is in dire need of one because the waypoint indicators are just not enough for battles this chaotic. There isn’t a chance to reload your weapon systems during a fight and if you run out of ammunition for the munition based weapons, you’ll have to stick with the plasma cannon until the mission is over. There should have been some sort of method for reloading your weapons and repairing your armour like there is in Freespace 2 or Sol Exodus. There’s not a very wide variety of enemies to fight and you’ll be coming across the same kinds of enemies frequently during the story mode. The game could have also benefited from multiplayer considering how the battles are. Battles this intense would have been fun to share with friends via co-op, team battle or even free-for-alls.
Strike Mode is a lot of fun to use, but it can also be frustrating and it does take time getting used to. You feel very immobile even though you can move and you turn much too fast even if you turn down the sensitivity which makes precision and aiming rather difficult. When your standing skill preparing your attack you’re a sitting duck as you’re about to fire your missile barrage or your cannons. All the enemies will go after you instantly and unless you’re quick enough you will take major damage before turning back into the fighter if you haven’t already been taken out.
Strike Mode itself is an exciting addition to the space combat formula, but perhaps the developers should have been slightly more experimental with this new gaming mechanic. Maybe the game could have had you flying inside starships or enemy space stations and using the Strike Suits to destroy these structures from within. Melee combat would have been an amazing addition to this game. Tearing frigates and cruisers apart with brute strength could have been so exciting and maybe the game could had you going up against enemies in their own Strike Suits, which have you engaging in melee combat with them and maybe even throw in some bosses in powerful Strike Suits suchlike Zone of the Enders.
The narrative isn’t very enticing and original. For such a large scale conflict and with the Strike Suit being the major focal point of the game, the whole story arc feels rather condensed. Most of the story is told through in-game scenes and radio chatter but there’s never a real sense that you’re involved a major conflict between two superpowers. The lore behind the story is not very deep and there isn’t much care given to everything leading up to the war. Characters are rather one-dimensional and their voice acting is rather flat, so there’s no real sense of attachment to the characters you fight alongside with. The story is just an overall excuse to fly off into space and start shooting at things.
The visuals can look marvellous and hold up very nicely considering what’s happening on screen. The space backgrounds are bright, vivid, detailed and very picturesque. There are some nice special effects such as brightly coloured engine trails, bright weapon projectiles and powerful explosions. Watching brightly coloured laser blasts, missiles, coloured and vivid engine trails and machine gun fire cross each other is a sight to behold. All the ships in the game look sleek and majestic, especially the larger ships. The Ships and the Strike Suit have been designed by artist Jujin Okubo, who has also worked on project including Appleseed: Ex Machina and Viper’s Creed. However while the design of the ships look really stylish, they lack detail and as mentioned before, they lack variation and you really don’t get to see many different kinds ships during play. Seeing the same kind of ship over and over again gets old rather quickly. The space stations also look rather bland and don’t have a wondrous, majestic presence about them when you fly close to one as in other space combat games.
Sound production is great and one of the best things about this game. Missiles when launched emit sounds of power and force and the engines roar as you slam your afterburners on. The rapid and impactful machine gun and plasma fire can be heard smashing into enemy ships and explosions resonate all around you. What let’s the sound production down however is the flat voice acting. The characters in the game don’t sound as if they’re bothered about fighting and that rather breaks the immersion of the battles.
The music is simply fantastic. The soundtrack is composed by Paul Ruskay who also composed the music of the sublime RTS game Homeworld. It really sets the mood of complete anarchy in a futuristic scifi war and elicits from the player a sense of inspiration to fight and desperation to survive when you’re heavily outnumbered and fighters are flying in all directions destroying each other. The main theme song is a collaboration effort from both Paul Ruskay and Japanese songwriter Kokia. The theme song serves as a powerful and effective indication that when you acquire the Strike Suit, you’re in for something special.
Strike Suit Zero is a great effort from Born Ready Games to provide players with frantic, chaotic, entertaining and exciting space combat. There is a ton of fun to be had with this game. The action is fast-paced and exhilarating, there’s rewards to be had if you play well and the Strike Suit feels refreshing to use in a genre that normally follows tradition. This game gets so much right, but the game is rather flawed as well. Perhaps the developers should have ironed out what was missing and pushed some of their great ideas even further to really bring more refreshing and unique mechanics to the space combat formula. This is not the space combat game that will bring the genre back to the forefront. Nevertheless, Born Ready Games have done very well to give players a fun, fast-paced and action-packed space shooter that will keep their adrenaline pumping and their heart pounding every time they enter battle. If you’re a fan of space combat video games or just someone looking for a crazy, delirious and action-packed experience, then Strike Suit Zero is definitely worth checking out.
This review was based on a retail download copy of the game for the PC provided by Born Ready Games.