Born Ready Games' space shooter Strike Suit Zero launches off the back of a successful Kickstarter appeal. SSZ was one of those games that needed a little push over the finishing line, with raised funds going towards adding spit and polish to proceedings. The question is, will backers be happy with the game that they've already paid for?
The answer to the aforementioned question is probably yes. Strike Suit Zero is fast and frantic, and at its best it's a hugely enjoyable space shooter.
The premise is simple: future Earth and the Colonies have fallen out over an alien artifact, one discovered in the far reaches of the galaxy. Needless to say it's immensely powerful, and after a little tussle, it falls into the hands of the Colonials who use it to wipe out nearly all of Earth's military might. All that is left standing between the Colonies and the destruction of the third rock from the Sun is a ragtag collection of pilots and starships, including our player character, Adams.
You start off in a regular craft, learning the basics. Once you've settled in, and you're feeling comfortable in the cockpit of your fighter, movement begins to feel natural. The controls of your ship are responsive and that allows combat to be fast and furious. Sliding your spacecraft around in different directions quickly becomes second nature. You move around with your right hand, and roll with the left. A speed boost lets you get in and out of scrapes with relative ease, and when all three are combined together, you have a variety of different tactical options when approaching (or exiting) a fight.
Locking onto an opponent (you have options here depending on what is pressed - either your closest enemy or the targeted opponent will be marked) initiates a chase sequence, where a lot of bobbing and weaving commences as you try to land enough simultaneous shots to first strip away the shields, then destroy the armoured plating on the ships hull. Once both bars are whittled away (shields replenish, armour does not) the target is destroyed and a new opponent can be selected (sometimes they choose themselves by initiating an attack of their own).
There is a selection of weapons to utilise in the battlefields of space. Your bread and butter comes in the form of a plasma cannon, which can be set to either poke away relentlessly at enemy craft, or can be stored up into more powerful - but much shorter - bursts. This basic weapon is accompanied by a variety of rockets and missiles. Some pack guidance systems, other don't, but either way these are the most effective tools you have, and they need to preserved for the sterner challenges that present themselves from time to time.
The campaign is fairly straight forward. The titular Strike Suit doesn't even make an appearance until halfway through the third level, and is benched for a couple of the missions that follow thereafter. All told there are four craft, although during the first play through your wings are chosen for you before each mission. The Strike Suit differs from the other craft, because during combat it can change from being a traditional fighter to a missile spewing space mech.
Transforming into the Strike Suit provides a lovely juxtaposition to the more traditional fighter's movement. The control scheme shifts, and different weapon options become available. The first is a powerful, but short-ranged cannon. The second is the Strike Suit's main strength. Taking down enemies when in the traditional ship mode fills the Flux Meter, and when that's past a certain point the Strike Suit can transform, dispatching waves of homing missiles whilst assuming this mech-like alter ego. Individually they're not the most potent weapon in the game, but save up enough Flux, and lock enough missiles to one target (you can tag several different targets if you wish), and the results can be devastating.
You can improve your craft as you go, earning upgrades by ticking off specific objectives in missions. The objectives themselves are pretty challenging, so there's some replay value there, if you really have to pimp out your ride. Just don't expect a huge variety of customisation options, just more power.
There's a decent amount of variety in the missions, all things considered. Challenges range from simple escort missions, to bombing runs, to straight-up dogfighting and pitched battles, fought against some wonderful planetary backdrops (there's plenty of scenery to help you get your bearings in battle). As previously mentioned, the Strike Suit gets benched from time to time, allowing you to play around in other craft, experiencing new challenges as you go (once a mission has been completed, you can revisit it with a different craft should you so desire).
When it comes to challenge, Strike Suit Zero doesn't disappoint. There are 13 missions in all, with each likely to take upwards of 30 minutes to complete. Some are dispatched with relative ease, but there are some significant difficulty spikes, and this can be a problem. It's an issue, not because we like shirking away from a challenge, but because from time to time ridiculously placed checkpoints mean you'll end up playing some very tricky sections again...and again...and again.
Sometimes you have to float around whilst waiting for the next cutscene to kick in, then you've got to fly to a marker, once again waiting, this time for the action to start. When you've got to go through these incredibly boring sections multiple times, it can really irk. It sours positive thoughts, especially when your last run saw you narrowly missing out on completing your objective. There's no save feature either, so you've got to complete a level in one sitting, otherwise your progress on that particular mission is lost. Given the size of some of the levels, this can also annoy.
The visuals are, at times, spectacular. Across the backdrop of space, colourful explosions sparkle in the distance like a perpetual fireworks display. Ships whizz in and out of sight, leaving graceful trails of light behind them. The smaller ships are detailed enough, but the larger craft are daunting in terms of both size and firepower. Massive beam turrets send huge streams of light across the battlefield, dissecting any ships unlucky enough to stray into its path. The game can be played in either first or third person. Third-person was the more natural fit, given that the cockpit view has yet to be added (due for a future update).
The visuals are complimented by a suitably themed soundtrack. Futuristic beats are underpinned by plodding ethereal vocals. The sound of explosions and weapons firing drowns it out for the most part, which was fine by me. Not really to my tastes, but it didn't feel like an unnatural fit.
There were some frame rate issues on the build that I played, but we're promised these issues will be ironed out for release. There were a few bugs and glitches in there too, but once again we're promised that they'll be fixed. Another imminent fix is coming regarding balancing/difficulty (the build we played had no difficulty options at all).
Frustrations aside, Strike Suit Zero is decent game. Fans of the genre will surely find many hours of entertainment in blasting the hell out of oversized starships. The challenge is significant and - for the most part - rewarding. The distance between some checkpoints made certain levels needlessly frustrating, and it pushed the level of challenge just over the edge of acceptable. More casual gamers will likely just walk away when the going gets too tough, and the harsh checkpointing will only compound this problem. Those who persist through the occasional war of attrition will be rewarded with a tense and exciting space shooter.