Hands-On | Strike Suit Zero

Published on January 7th, 2013

Gundam meets X-Wing in Born Ready Game’s debut release.

Hands On | Strike Suit Zero

Strike Suit Zero's visuals are about as vibrant as they come.

Back in October Born Ready Games took to Kickstarter to tell the world that they wanted to bring the space combat genre back to the masses with a new game Strike Suit Zero, bandying around names like Freespace, Wing Commander and even the almighty X-Wing to tempt potential backers to dig into their pockets.

After spending a few days with Strike Suit Zero we’ve come to the conclusion that this isn’t quite the grand space-sim revival which the studio from Guildford alluded to. That isn’t to say that it’s a bad game, actually far from it – only it would be much more accurate to compare the release to a game like Square Enix’s criminally underrated Project Sylpheed, with all the animé tropes that entails.

The plot involves two opposing components of humanity; the Earth dwelling collective known as the Earth Tactical Alliance and the colonists who have ascended to the stars to form their own societies. Inevitably enough these two come to blows due to the Earthlings continued intervention in colonist affairs, and soon all out war breaks out. The premise is something Gundam fans will be especially familiar with, but it doesn’t feel like a blatant rip-off with enough twists thrown in like human/AI hybrids, war-crazed admirals and a reliable wingman to make everything seem, well not quite new, but different enough to be entertaining. Aside from the occasional slow moving static scenery cutscenes, the story is mostly communicated via dialogue and in-engine action such as a ships getting blown to pieces or more sedately just touring around a giant capital ship. Despite that limitation the plot is delivered in an affective way and the voice acting deserves particular recognition for proving believable, even when some of the campaign’s more Battlestar Galatica-esque hijinks kick in.

Hands On | Strike Suit Zero

The titular spacecraft has been designed by Junji Okubo, who has designed mechs for Appleseed EX, Machina, and Steel Battalion.

If you’re looking for a entertaining and rewarding sci-fi yarn then Strike Suit Zero absolutely has that, with players tasked specifically with stopping the colonists from destroying the Earth with a mysterious new weapon. The preview build we indulged in featured nine missions in total – the final build will have more – each of which lasted around twenty-minutes or so. In sheer running time along, that sort of length does indeed hark back to space sims of old, but in truth the gameplay is a bit too simplistic to fall into that niche.

Take for instance the staple of this genre, the hyper-fancy cockpit view with all its blinking lights and toggles; Strike Suit Zero doesn’t have one. How about the ability to fiddle with shields or power distribution? Nope this indie release doesn’t have those gameplay elements either, instead combat seems rather streamlined, as all you really need to worry about is flying up close to enemies, getting off your shots and making sure they don’t take down your recharging shields or hull rating too much.

However Born Ready Games have thrown something new and exciting into the mix and that’s the titular space vehicle, which can instantly transform from a regular plane-like fighter to a fast moving bi-pedal mech. There isn’t an option to be in ‘Suit Mode’ all the time, as it runs on a different form of energy which only accumulates when you take damage or deal it out, but to balance this time-sensitive mode out the gun and missile weaponry available when in suit form can take out an enemy far quicker than that of the standard mode fighter. It’s hard to communicate just how rewarding it feels to swoop in close on an small ship or cruiser, transform, unleash all your weapons and power out of harm again just as the target explodes in a fiery dust cloud behind you, but we think you get the idea.

Hands On | Strike Suit Zero

When transformed, players can move their ship in a strafe manner but they aren't very manevurable in this state.

Obviously flying in close does represent its own sense of danger with your ship’s shields able to quashed in mere moments on the higher difficulty levels, and when you’re in suit mode you have less mobility despite the addition of a strafing move. Still, this risk versus reward kind of design gives you enough tactical variation to make the repetitive slaughter, typical of all space sims, seem enjoyable.

The mission structure also adds more variation with the story branching in accordance with which objectives are met in certain missions, and there’s also the option to upgrade your ship in several key areas, switch to another model, and tinker with weapon load-outs before you fly out into the dark and starry wilderness.

Hands On | Strike Suit Zero

Capital ships throw various laser volleys, missiles, gunfire and torpedo barrages at each other, and during certain missions you'll have to either disable enemy ship weaponry or shoot their ordnance before it heads to its target.

At its core Strike Suit Zero’s combat gameplay isn’t as tight as the finest entries in the space-sim genre, and that’s due to Born Ready Games placing the player’s vessel as substantially more powerful than any foe they’ll meet on the battlefield. As a result you never feel vulnerable during dogfights, it’s only when you face the capital ships that you feel a real sense of danger. This is a thematic choice more than anything else, as it isn’t your skill alone which separates you from your peers, instead its more the ability of your hardware; this is the Star Wars versus Gundam principle in action. Skywalker wasn’t the chosen one at the end of Star Wars, he just had better abilities with an X-Wing than his peers, whereas if you’re talking about Gundam, the ability of any given pilot is just as important as the sweet-looking suit in which they’re cocooned.

During missions you’re still flying as part of a wider taskforce with wingmen, capital ships and other AI allies taking out enemies, but the power of the weapon at your finger tips makes your impact on the battlefield far greater than that of your allies, and if we’re honest that’s where the balance of power should be in space-sims.

Hands On | Strike Suit Zero

Players can choose different ship classes and weapon loadouts before they tackle a mission.

Atmospherically Strike Suit Zero nails the sci-fi space tone with plenty of melodrama and a plinky-plonky electronica soundtrack which properly sells the setting. Visually the game looks top notch as well with lots of pretty nebulae skyboxes and ships which look as though they’ve just warped in from some Syd Mead concept art.

Overall it’s hard not to like Born Ready’s accessible take on the space combat genre. Undoubtedly it’s definitely best played with a controller thanks to controls suiting two thumbsticks rather than the traditional joystick and this concession means it is lacking some complexity, but that doesn’t mean Strike Suit Zero can’t stand proudly aside this sub-genre’s more illustrious company. Yes it may be more Project Sylpheed than Tie Fighter, but that’s absolutely fine with us.

Strike Suit Zero will be released exclusively for PC on January 24th.

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    Comments

    1. Posted by Hydralysk on January 7th, 2013, 20:12 [Reply]

      One of the things you mentioned was that the player should have the greatest impact on the battlefield, I somewhat disagree with that. From what SS0 looks like, it’s indeed a boon, but some of the best moments in my experience with more traditional space sims were the missions where you are just a single fighter caught up in a much larger battle.

      If the narrative/mission scripting is strong enough, I’m perfectly happy to set aside major control over the events.

      That said, I do look forward to playing this game as any chance is jump into a cockpit and tear space up sounds good in my books.

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