There’s just a certain inimitable sense of glory that comes with being a crack pilot, outnumbered and outgunned against swarms of enemy fighters. With each and every volley of ammunition comes a stout attempt at prolonged survival, and with each and every successful attack comes a wry smile as your odds of success rise in painstakingly small increments.
In Strike Suit Zero: Director’s Cut, the unrelenting battle for dominion over the skies never falters, and even as the objectives change, you’re goal forever stays the same; endure. You’re always one volley of plasma away from melting away into nothingness, one airborne collision away from fading away into the black loam of space a broken, metallic husk. It’s this addictive, frenetic pacing that has become a staple of the genre, but although this may be a game to delight fans of similar titles, as an entry-level introduction to the world of airborne combat simulators, Strike Suit Zero: Director’s Cut may be a step too far.
Before you’re cast off into space an unshackled, trigger-happy menace, the Strike Suit Zero experience begins with a rather necessary tutorial. In the tutorial you’re introduced to your character, Adams, a pilot in the Earth military tasked with defending humanity from the attack of its former denizens, the colonists. Now intent on destroying the planet that they once called home, the colonials represent the biggest threat that humanity has ever faced, so together with your fellow wingmen, you’ll strive to do everything possible to help quell the looming invasion of Earth.
There are two campaigns in the game for you to choose from that subsequently lead to hours and hours caught in the clutch of Strike Suit’s dazzling neon warfare. The first is the traditional Strike Suit Zero campaign which details the journey of Adam’s and Reynold’s as they battle colonials in the wake of the ‘Akira incident’, which sets the precedent for the games events. The second campaign, which is exclusive to the director’s cut, is ‘Heroes of the Fleet’, a prequel of sorts that allows you to fight in simulations of five definitive battles that occurred prior to the events of the main game. I made the mistake of jumping straight into ‘Heroes of the Fleet’, so I can tell you from experience that the difficulty spike between both campaigns is borderline ridiculous, with ‘Heroes of the Fleet’ being tantamount to impossible unless you’ve become immediately attuned to the games mechanics.
Each of the two campaigns is broken up into a series of chapters that, although segmented, periodically unravel more of the Strike Zero story through missions across swathes of diverse cosmic locations. What is lacking in diversity though is the mission structure, which never really tends to evolve from ‘go here, do that’. The developers have done well to rectify this in part by plying a different pretence to each familiar objective, however the similarity in the mission structure becomes all too apparent the further that you advance through the game.
From a design standpoint, Born Ready Studios know exactly what they’re trying to achieve with Strike Suit Zero, and they execute it flawlessly. The lucid cyan highlights, rigid structure and polygonal logotypes of the HUD evoke broad connotations of a pure, digitized future, whilst also borrowing from the atypical futuristic vision that we’ve seen everywhere from Starship Troopers to Colony Wars. And this design ethos extends to the craft of the game too, as streamlined hulls and delicately positioned rocket propulsion systems are met with all manner of dynamic colouring and striking armaments to provide a truly befitting range of spacecraft, both offensive and pedestrian.
When you’re in the midst of fighting for your life though, the aesthetics don’t seem to matter all that much. In Strike Suit Zero, the thrill is in the fight, and across all corners of space you’ll be doing a heck of a lot of fighting, so you better be prepared for the impending onslaught. There are a number of craft for you to choose from throughout the game, but the one that you’ll find yourself returning to more than most is the strike suit itself. Attained in the second chapter of the original campaign, the strike suit is perhaps the best-rounded of all available craft, whilst its ability to change from traditional spacecraft to airborne mechazoid at the push of a button can come in very handy.
The craft in Strike Suit Zero do all handle a little differently, with a heavier-armoured choice feeling more cumbersome to navigate than its much lighter, nimbler cousins. You won’t find yourself needing to alter your play-style between each different spacecraft too much though, as the games controls don’t tend to vary on a ship-to-ship basis. Through a combination of braking, turning, boosting, rolling and using an afterburner, you’re very easily able to deftly weave your ship amidst incoming enemy fire, however there will be times that it just isn’t possible to survive a fire-fight, even on the easier difficulty levels. Incoming missiles are avoided through well-timed EMP blasts, but again these never tend to feel definitive ways of avoiding being struck. This leaves the defensive side of combat feeling rather unkempt and based on sheer luck, but conversely, the offensive side of combat feels anything but.
As you progress through the game you’ll gradually earn more armaments that improve your offensive resolve, with these being either rockets or plasma weapons. For close-range dogfights, you have heat-seekers, fire-and-forget rockets and swarm rockets to choose from amongst others, whilst you’re also given different plasma attacks to choose from such as a heavy, slower cannon or a lighter, faster one. Being afforded two different plasma weapons and two different types of rockets at any one time, you’ll rarely find yourself running low on fire power, however for as useful as these conventional methods of attack are, once again the strike suit itself blows them all out of the water. The strike suit party trick is one that can turn the tide of a battle in an instant. After deploying and setting your sights on multiple targets, it releases a dense cloud of rockets that fly off in every direction in search of targets, allowing you to pick off multiple foes in one, piercingly bright eruption of violet.
As deadly as they are beautifully luminous, the colourful contrails of your attacks are a sight to behold, but it’s the musical score of Strike Suit Zero that really accentuates your journey through space. As soft electronic tones are met with echoing verbal sighs, the void in front of you just seems that little bit more daunting, and the flaming wreckage of an enemy warship just seems that little bit more surreal.
Strike Suit Zero is a great concept with an original premise that is buffeted by some rather menial problems. As I mentioned prior, the difficulty spikes that crop up in both campaigns can dilute some of your enjoyment rather quickly, whilst a short and rather predictable set of mission objectives generally don’t bring anything new to the table, either.
Of course, there are also some more straightforward things that Born Ready Studios would do well to retouch such as mission checkpoints and texture clarity, but despite all of this the core of Strike Suit Zero remains glowing with promise. This is another Kickstarter success that, although with a fair few things to refine, has everything in its locker to improve unreservedly. If you can bank on one thing, it’s that the essence of Strike Suit’s space-flight combat is solid enough to warrant multiple approaches, and addictive enough to ensure that you won’t be leaving the black vacuum of space anytime soon.