Strike Suit Zero is a decent game, with a visually pleasing look and some fast combat.
Strike Suit Zero is another successful Kickstarter project that was funded back in November of 2012. The developers used the Kickstarter platform to tap into a field that has somewhat been forgotten on the PC: the space combat genre. We are talking years here, with Freelancer being the last game I can remember playing that I fully enjoyed. Unlike Freelancer, though, Strike Suit Zero is purely about combat, combining two things most people love about sci-fi – spaceships and giant transforming robots.
Players take on the role of Adams, a pilot for the United Nations of Earth (U.N.E), who is under evaluation during the game’s first mission to see if he is capable to fly a spacecraft. During the test, a wave of Colonial fighters comes into contact with the U.N.E fleet, which escalates into a battle to protect the U.N.E vessels from the surprise assault. After the fight, Adams is given the go-ahead to pilot after showing his brilliance in battle, and from there, the story follows Adams as he comes into contact with an A.I machine and her specially designed craft, the Strike Suit. The plot revolves around the U.N.E fleet rushing back to Earth to stop its imminent destruction by the hands of the Colonists. Story-wise, it is pretty average, with most characters filling in the typical army roles that you see in a lot of other entertainment mediums, so you won’t really care about their dialogue and portraits that pop up on-screen throughout Strike Suit Zero’s 13 missions.
This is a game that does not need to depend on a good story, but, instead, on solid space combat mechanics, which for the most part they are and the game is rather fun and easy to pick up and play – something you would normally expect to hear about a space combat game on a console, rather than the PC. This is because past PC space combat games have found the need to use the full potential of a keyboard, which can feel overwhelming for some. To me, the first couple of stages makes Strike Suit Zero feel like Ace Combat in space – you are locking on with missiles, getting behind enemy spacecrafts and blowing them away with your plasma guns, all while boosting at high speed and dodging like a mad man. Using a mouse and keyboard goes down well with the game more so than the 360 controller, as I had some small issues with controlling the Strike Suit when using a pad. If you like that idea of speedy, arcade combat in full 360-degree space, then you will find something to like with Strike Suit Zero.
As soon as you come towards the end of mission three, you are introduced to the Strike Suit, the star of the game and the ultimate destructive killing machine. As standard, the Strike Suit looks like a fancy spaceship with four boosters, but whenever you have some Flux stocked (the energy the Strike Suit uses to transform) you can initiate transformation into a giant robotic mecha that would not look out of place in something like Gundam. It should be noted that famous Japanese mecha designer Junji Okubo designed the crafts for this game. You might have heard of him if you played Platinum Games’ Infinite Space on the DS, and while there are a limited amount of spacecraft designs in the game, what is on display feels right for Strike Suit Zero and its setting.
Using the Strike Suit is buckets of fun and is much different than its spacecraft form. For starters, the mecha form is much slower, feeling more like a turret of destruction rather than the agile representations of mecha often shown in other games and anime. It relies on boost sidestepping to dodge incoming missiles, rather than using the built-in EMP blast that ships have. What it makes up for in its lack of speed is with the bombardment of damage the Strike Suit can produce. The suit comes with two cannons and the ability to lock on and fire up to 40 rockets at a multitude of targets. For anyone who has played Bangai-O, imagine that swarm of rockets but in 3D. That is what it looks like when you blast down ten ships with a wave of missiles. It is very satisfying to do. If you are good enough, you can stay in the mecha form for a decent amount of time, as each kill earned charges up the Flux metre a little. I found it was better to keep switching between the two forms, using the ship form to travel to places faster, then transform and strafe around targets for easy kills, then rinse and repeat.
It is a shame that the game locks you out of the use of the Strike Suit on some of the later missions. I do not have anything against how the other ships feel – all are great to use in dogfights and each can be equipped with any of the optional weapons and missiles during the mission briefing. But the Strike Suit is the game, and to take that away from the player for a couple of missions seems a little counter-intuitive. Missions themselves disappointingly lack variety. There are optional objectives within the missions, but they could pass as a main objective themselves. Sure, the space combat is good, but doing mostly the same thing against the same type of enemies for all but one mission can feel a bit monotonous at times. Adding some new enemy types or throwing in more hazards would spice up the gameplay more. (It does include one where you cannot use aiming systems in the nebula.)
Difficulty can spike up towards the end of the game. Mission 10 took me way over the hour mark to beat (normally a mission takes around 15-25 minutes), because I was frustratingly getting hit and I did not know where from – the game does a bad job at alerting you of this. Checkpoints can sometimes be far apart as well, causing players to replay huge sections of combat again after death. Another problem I have is with the upgrade system – it seems backwards. You have to meet specific targets to unlock an upgrade for one of the categories, which to me seems to favour people who are good at the game and not people who are struggling and need that upgrade to help them push through the challenge. There are medal rankings and leaderboards for each mission, so it could be seen that the upgrades are there for replayability, forcing you to go back to missions, beat the time, get the upgrades and then give yourself a better chance for an improved score. But I personally do not like how that is handled.
If there is one thing that I felt Strike Suit Zero should be noted for, it is the depiction of large-scale battles. The game gives a sense that you are not the only person helping in the fight, as you see other small ships blasting enemies, while huge frigates and battleships shoot laser cannons at other similar-sized behemoths. I even found that sometimes the A.I was finishing off my mission targets. Strike Suit Zero gives off a great sense of scale and I advise people to just hang back for a moment and watch the A.I go at each other in a spectacular show of colours. Space might be black in real-life, but the settings and colours used for the environments, crafts and weaponry make this game a beautiful sight to behold on the eyes.
In short, then, Strike Suit Zero is a decent game, with a visually pleasing look that has some great use of colours, and combat that is thrilling, fast, and easy to pick up thanks to the arcade nature of the handling. If you do not mind working through difficulty spikes and some of the design problems that stop this game from reaching heights of awesomeness, then I do say check it out. Strike Suit Zero also fills the void of a genre that has long been forgotten on thePC, and maybe with the interest in this game, we will see the genre flourish once again in the near future.