Born Ready Games’ Strike Suit Zero carries on the proud tradition of the PC starfighter/shooter genre—a genre probably best represented and remembered by Chris Robert’s Wing Commander (1990-2007) games. So does this modern entry bring life into a dormant genre?
In the distant future, a mysterious signal from space gives the people of Earth the key to interstellar travel and boldly go where no one has gone before—which they do en masse. Unfortunately, the exodus to the stars ultimately fragments the human race as space-bound colonists seek their independence from Earth. Suffice to say Earth isn’t happy about that, a war of galactic proportions ensues, and ships explode—a lot. You take the role of Commander Adams, a colonial fighter pilot for Earth’s forces recently re-commissioned as a pilot.
Shooting down cynicism
As a budget-friendly ($20 or less) indie title fairly fresh of the Kick Starter campaign that helped fund it, I’ll admit that my cynical self didn’t expect much from Strike Suit Zero, even if my eagerness to play a genre that has been fairly dormant on the PC softened my cynicism. I’ve been burned by more than a few “Euro trash” budget games that promise big and deliver little. Such games are often well-intended but forced to compromise too much to meet a tight budget.
Gameplay is still king of course, but voice acting and writing quality are often good ‘early indicators’ for the overall quality of a game because they are the first things to get slashed under tight budgets. This usually results cliché’ writing hastily scribbled down and then read by someone’s brother—who is probably paid with beer and may have taken an advance on said payment when he reads. But after a fairly brief but reasonably effective tutorial,Strike Suit Zero ultimately drops you into a fast-paced and generally well-executed space fighter game.
Balancing Compromises There are certainly some compromises to be made in smaller games, but Strike Suit Zero as a whole balances them very well. There’s no cockpit in the FPS (first person shooter) view. There are no tactical options for you to issue commands to your allies. There’s also no multiplayer. My two biggest issues—and they are actually pretty minor in the grand scheme of things—are as follows:
- Strange controller default: The game mysteriously defaulted to “keyboard+game controller” for its control option. Thankfully this is easily fixed in the control options menu by changing to the mouse+keyboard option (which should have been the default), but it’s a silly oversight that results in an unpleasant surprise when the game begins and you can’t control your ship.
- A stingy checkpoint save game system. Strike Suit Zero only saves your total progress when you complete an entire mission. Given that an entire mission is comprised of 3-6 sub-missions, completing it can take as long as an hour to fully complete successfully. Each of the sub-missions is a checkpoint, but if you quit the game before completing the entire mission you’ll have to start it all over again from the beginning the next time you play.
Balanced and beautiful But overall Strike Suit Zero ultimately balances its shortcomings well and delivers an excellent space-shooter experience. The graphics are beautiful, even if the ship designs are arguably a little on the ho-hum side. The game also delivers a nice soundtrack Bear McCreary would be proud of, courtesy of Homeworld’s composer Paul Ruskay and Japanese singer/songwriter Akiko Yoshida (Kokia).
The fighter action is fast and silky smooth. Missile barrages spiral and whiz to their targets much as you’d expect from any mecha-inspired ship design. Plasma cannons blaze away against the radio chatter of your wing mates. Enemy ships spiral out of control and detonate in satisfying explosions. Capital ships blow up reeeal goood.
You’re tasked with various objectives to keep things interesting and vary the pace. In some missions you must shoot down torpedoes targeting allied capital ships while fending off waves of enemy fighters. You’ll strafe frigates and cruisers to take out their turrets and defenses. You’ll also strafe supply platforms (like a 3D version of arcade classic Zaxxon), and with the Strike Suit’s added firepower (and a lot of missiles) you can take out capital ships.
Dust off that Thrustmaster
Old school Wing Commander fans may remember the days we played these games with F-16 flight sticks or similarly specialized controllers. But don’t worry—Strike Suit Zero plays well with a keyboard and mouse (and Razer’s Orbweaver, which I’m currently reviewing).
Played with a keyboard and mouse, Strike Suit Zero controls much like any FPS or action game. W-A-S-D keys control movement and the mouse controls your point of view and both primary weapons. The Shift key activates thrusters that boost your speed but need to recharge once they’ve run dry. The CTRL key fires off your missile counter measures—something you’ll do a lot of in combat.
Your default ship only lasts through the first few missions, and eventually you acquire the game’s titular Strike Suit Zero. The Strike Suit is a special fighter that can temporarily transform into a mech-like weapons platform with greatly increased firepower but also greatly reduced movement capabilities.
In addition, as you play through the game’s 13 missions you’ll acquire new weapons and ship upgrades you can use to customize your fighter (to a limited degree). In order to transform into the Strike Suit, you must kill enemy ships to gather energy called Flux. Gather enough Flux and you can change into the Strike Suit with a press of the spacebar.The Strike Suit is basically a ‘power up’ mode that moves slowly but packs a lot of added firepower and some special abilities–one of which is the ability to lock missiles onto multiple targets at the same time, which you’ll learn to like pretty quickly.
Learning how to use the Strike Suit is a little tricky at first (you’ll probably die plenty of times in the process), but once you get used to it you’ll find yourself fluidly switching between fast-paced dogfighting and laying some smack down in Strike Suit mode.
Overall: 4/5 stars Strike Suit Zero wraps its action-packed and enjoyable starfighter game into an elegantly crafted package. It’s a gem of a game at a wallet-friendly price. If you’re a fan of the genre it’s well worth your time and money. On a side note, Born Ready Games has said they plan to add support to the game for the Oculus Rift virtual reality headset later in the year, in addition to Mac and Linux versions. More PC gaming articles at Examiner.com