Publisher: Born Ready Games
Developer: Born Ready Games
Growing up as a Star Wars fan that also enjoyed a lot of video games, it was pretty natural that I gravitated towards games like TIE Fighter and X-Wing vs. TIE Fighter on the PC. And for the sake of this review, you can toss Wing Commander in there for the Mark Hamill involvement, but to a lesser degree. These games were my first introduction to any sort of space faring dogfighting action title, and to this day are pretty much the pinnacle in that short lived genre. This title, Strike Suit Zero, looks to bring back the heyday of space combat to modern PC gamers, and for the most part does a decent job of it.
It’s not a flawless experience by any means. Strike Suit Zero has a number of issues that we’ll go over in a minute, but all in all it does manage to evoke the style of the classic PC titles it’s trying to aim for. First and foremost, for me at least, are the controls. The game supports mouse and keyboard, joystick, and gamepad configurations, all easy enough to pick up and play. I preferred mouse and keyboard, I think it offers up the most precision when it comes to your run of the mill dogfights, but any of the aforementioned methods seem to work well.
What really helps is the overall simplicity of the controls. I know there’s a group of players out there that would love to see every damn key on the keyboard used when it comes to any game that involves flying, but that’s certainly not the case with Strike Suit Zero. Aiming and shooting down opposing fighters is as easy as moving your mouse left to right, or up and down, and tapping the left mouse button for regular fire, while holding down or pressing the right button for missiles. You can swap between weapons on both sides of the fence with a letter key assignment, speed up, slow down, and initiate rolls with keys that bind to your typical WASD configuration found in most shooters. That’s about it going in, and makes this a very easy experience to pick up and play regardless of your experience.
But Strike Suit Zero isn’t an easy game, which is both a boon and a curse to the game. I love that the actual ship to ship combat is both strategic and downright difficult. When you try to go against enemy fighters you’ll have a hell of a time keeping up. They’ll bob, weave, and circle around you often, making it hard to keep a bead on them for anything more than a handful of seconds. They’re not exceptionally smart in this regard, in that they won’t often take advantage of your mistakes by punishing you with fire from behind, but they’ll at least move out of the way if you’re shooting at them.
And when you try to tackle the larger frigates, essentially capital ships filled with flak cannons and missile launchers, you’ll experience a quick death if you don’t strike quickly and then move back. It’s both satisfying and fun to strip a larger starship of its offensive capabilities before going in for the kill, and those larger ships manage to put up a hell of a fight. This can feel a bit tedious for some folks, but I honestly enjoyed running in, figuring out a suitable approach, and backing down when my shields started to drop in order to repeat another strafing run. This feels like what space combat should be in a video game, and Strike Suit Zero really nails that.
Another fun aspect, and probably a selling point for most folks, is the actual Strike Suit that you’ll lay hands on starting with the third mission. At this point you’ll gain control of a vessel that can change from a typical fighter into a mecha of sorts, which allows you to unleash hell through a near endless missile barrage, and also offers the benefit of an auto lock on to nearby targets. The only real problem with the Strike Suit is its mobility, making it an easy target for the larger targets it’s clearly meant to be effective against. This leaves you with a feeling that you’re not quite as invincible as the game wants you to be, lessening the overall empowerment of a transformation. Combine that with a built in timer that dictates use based on a Flux meter that depletes over time, and you’re left feeling like the Strike Suit portion of the game, clearly meant to be a big deal, isn’t as cool as it could be.
Other detractors come from the mission design, which is often stale. There’s a multitude of escort style missions, which I know are atypical for this particular genre but are no less annoying now than they were 20 years ago. Especially since friendly ships can’t seem to put up much of an offense, at least not as much as they are a target, to enemy fire. This leaves you with little more choice than to babysit friendly frigates and hope beyond hope that this will be the attempt that you’ll get lucky and whittle away at your targets hull faster than they can yours.
This also ties back into an annoyingly archaic checkpoint system that will see you repeating numerous sequences and objectives previously completed. I don’t mind harsh death penalties in game, but if I have to replay all the slow, easy parts before getting obliterated in the final, more difficult sequences over and over again, it starts to make me feel like the experience is extremely unbalanced. Spreading that difficulty evenly across all sections and implementing a more standard, modern checkpoint system would benefit Strike Suit Zero greatly.
Finally, from a presentation angle Strike Suit Zero is a mixed bag. The backdrop of still space vistas is often breathtaking, and does a pretty good job of distracting the player from some of the lower res textures that make up some boring ship and tech design. It’s not the best looking game you’ll play this year or last, but it’s certainly not awful for the price. However, the soundtrack is the clear winner here, composed by Paul Ruskay of Homeworld fame. Seriously, it’s good enough to warrant purchase of the game by its lonesome.
I personally love the thought of someone wanting to revisit the concept of classic space flight combat, and I think Strike Suit Zero can really deliver on that at different points throughout the 13 mission campaign. It’s rough around the edges, and downright frustrating at time, but for the low asking price and general accessibility of the controls, it’s worth checking out. It won’t blow your favorites in the genre out of the water, but it’ll satisfy an itch you might not have realized existed.