Strike Suit Zero
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Are you zany for Zone of the Enders? Freakish over Freespace 2? Are you starry eyed for Star Wars: Rogue Squadron? Then your next game has landed on Steam: Strike Suit Zero. SSZ borrows heavily – very heavily – from any number of mecha and space combat games, and rolls them into a tight, if imperfect, package.

STORY

You play as a United Nations of Earth space fighter whose squadron is tasked with wiping out a colonial rebel uprising deep in newly explored corners of the universe. And that’s about it. Strike Suit Zero is a textbook example of a developer hanging a sagging skin of a story onto a game purely to give the gameplay a modicum of context. That is not always a bad thing, by the way; not every game needs to be Assassin’s Creed III. Just do not expect Philip K. Dick levels of sci-fi intrigue from SSZ’s story.

GAMEPLAY

So, if Strike Suit Zero’s story is bland, the gameplay needs to step up and take center stage. It does, for the most part. You pilot a choice of four ships, the most intriguing being the transforming Strike Suit you acquire in the game’s third (of 13) levels. Before each mission you choose the ship you want to use (as long as it is available), and kit it out with your preferred array of cannons and missiles. There are energy cannons with unlimited ammo, but require frequent recharging. You can also equip machine guns with finite ammo, but a rapid rate of fire that chews through enemy shields. The game also allows you to equip unguided rockets, lock-on missiles, swarm missiles, bombs, and more. The fighters are equipped with EMP blasts to thwart incoming enemy missiles. The ships have two “health” meters: shields and armor. Your shields will regenerate with time, but your armor will not.

When transformed into Strike Suit mode, cannons and missiles fire more rapidly, and you dash to avoid missiles. However, you cannot stay in Strike Suit mode indefinitely. Before you can transform, you first must fill your flux meter by destroying enemies. Once you transform, the flux meter slowly ticks down; once it empties, you revert to fighter mode. You can prolong your time in Strike Suit mode by destroying more enemies. It is a good method of balancing the gameplay and preventing the player from becoming too powerful.

The game controls well enough with an Xbox 360 controller, but it took longer than usual for me to get accustomed to the way the game handles. Some of the controls run against the grain of what I have become accustomed to in arcade flight shooters. For example, the left trigger accelerates your ship, while that trigger normally decelerates in other similar games. The pitch and yaw controls (left and right sticks) also feel just a bit off – not broken, mind you, just not completely natural. Further, controlling the Strike Suit early in the game can be an exercise in frustration, as the ship darts around to such a hyperactive degree that it becomes a challenge in itself to aim at an enemy ship. Again, these issues are not deal breakers, they simply take more time to get comfortable with than what I am used to.

My biggest complaint about the game is its lack of variety. Destroy x-number of fighters. Defend the command ship until reinforcements arrive. You will be doing these tasks a lot, and some levels seem go on too long. What makes the repetition stand out a bit more is a lack of variety in environments. Levels all seem pretty much the same, albeit with different color schemes and/or planets in the background. I would have preferred fewer, but more aesthetically varied levels.

GRAPHICS

Given the relatively steep recommended system specs (quad-core CPU, GTX 560… the same as Battlefield 3, by the way) I expected the game to dazzle instead of disappoint. It appears as if the most design work went into creating the Strike Suit model than anything else in the game. Ship models appear to have very low polygon counts and the bigger the model, the worse it looks (capital ships, space stations, etc.). Particle effects are workman-like, at best. Some ships have more detail work than others do, but for the most part, textures are flat and uninteresting. Backgrounds look like big paintings, and do not do a good job of making the player feel as if he is battling against the infinite void of space.

On bright side, the game is as stable as can be and runs smooth as silk.

AUDIO

One of the biggest selling points of the game indie developer Born Ready Games touted was the soundtrack, created by Homeworld composer Paul Ruskay. The techno beat music is assuredly better than the average indie game, but there is nothing particularly memorable about it.

Voice acting is self-conscious; the voice actors perform as if they are reading directly off a page. General sound effects are adequate, but ultimately do not make much of an impression.

BUGS/GLITCHES

I did not find a single glitch. This is a very stable release.

FINAL THOUGHTS

There is nothing impressive about Strike Suit Zero. On the other hand, there is nothing particularly damning about it, either. It is the very definition of “average.” While the story is window dressing, the gameplay is sure to appeal to fans of the mecha and space combat genres (once you get used to the finicky controls). The game’s beefy recommended system specs betray the quality of its graphics, and the entire affair quickly becomes repetitive. Despite its flaws, the budget price ultimately saves the day. For only $20, it is worth checking out if you are a fan of the genre.

STORY: C

Yup... it’s there.

GAMEPLAY: C

The controls take some getting used to, and the missions become repetitive, however, there is enough there to keep fans of the genre interested.

GRAPHICS: C

The visuals do not live up to the promise of the recommended system specs, but they service the game well enough.

AUDIO: C

Meh. Voice acting is second rate, and the music and sound effects are good but unmemorable.

FINAL SCORE: C  

Mr. Mecha Merrily Massacres Mutinous Maraurders