Strike Suit Zero – PC
Publisher: Born Ready Games
Developer: Born Ready Games
Release Date: Jan 23, 2013
Genre: Action, Simulation
Reviewed by Mark Smith

Review Score: 3.5 of 5

My love of the space shooter knows no limits, especially when it comes to the Wing Commander franchise. That franchise alone spurred me to spend $700 for a Roland MT-32 sound card in 1989 just so I could enjoy the MIDI soundtrack for the original Wing Commander, and in 1994 I spent another $700 to purchase a Panasonic 3DO just to play Super Wing Commander. And when you factor in the special 3DO flight stick and the Thrustmaster HOTAS hardware for the PC, space sim shooters have cost me well over $2000 over the past two decades.

Wing Commander may be the nucleus of my addiction but there were other games as well; Colony Wars for the PlayStation, Rogue Squadron for the GameCube, and of course, the phenomenal X-Wing vs. Tie Fighter franchise for the PC, but there has been an inexplicable absence of space shooters in the gaming world for quite some time. It’s not like the genre is without its fans. Just look at how well Chris Roberts’ Kickstarter-funded Star Citizen game was received. And then you have Born Ready Games and their homage to the space sim shooter, Strike Suit Zero.

On paper, in screenshots, and even in the first few levels of actually playing this new game I can’t deny the surge of nostalgic glee that washed over me as I climbed into the cockpit of my futuristic space fighter and started steering my way through gorgeous backdrops that looks like Hubble Telescope photography of a distant galaxy. But only an hour or so and a few levels in, Space Suit Zero takes a dangerous turn into a steep difficulty spike, and with checkpoints that are light-years apart, my overall enjoyment of the game was vented into the vacuum of space.

The setup for Space Suit Zero is somewhat original in that you aren’t going up against an invading alien race but rather taking part in a more civil style of space war. It seems that Earth has colonized a distant part of space and those colonists have discovered powerful alien tech that has given them the means (although no discernible reason) to wipeout the Earth. You are Earth’s last hope; a rogue pilot who must prove himself in some initial tutorial testing missions before taking command of the prototype Strike Suit.

Strike Suit Zero follows the space sim shooter blueprint to perfection. All of the staples are present from the waves of smaller enemy fighters to the larger capital ships and space stations with defensive turrets that must be chipped away at before that final glorious fireball. Fans of the genre will quickly identify familiar weapons like plasma guns to take out shields and physical bullets to inflict damage on armor, while missiles provide fire-and-forget guidance technology and dumb fire rockets offer greater damage if you can nail the line of sight angle before firing.

A big part of the game’s hook is the actual Strike Suit, a transformable ship that can go from a fast and powerful Pursuit Mode to a slower, but more maneuverable combat machine in Strike Mode. During combat and over time you will accumulate “flux”, and when you have enough you can activate the transformation. You decide when and where to switch based on your own tactics and strategy, but keep in mind that once you switch to Strike mode the flux starts to drain and when the “timer” expires you are back to Pursuit mode where the process begins again. The parallels to the Transformers universe are not lost on me, and many times I felt like a Decepticon racing to a strategic point in vehicle mode then transforming into my more powerful robot form to unload my weapons before changing back to escape any enemies who escaped my momentary wrath.

Something else you have control over is the ultimate ending to the game; not so much in a branching narrative, but at least to the degree that your choices will subtly alter the final state of Earth before the final credits roll. Cutscenes are minimal; mostly in-game voiceovers that accompany external fly-by camera shot, and mission briefing screens where you can also tweak your ship. It’s not literature but the story will keep you engaged enough to hopefully overcome the steep difficulty spikes.

While optimized for mouse and keyboard the game is much more enjoyable with a flight stick or even a gamepad such as the Xbox 360 controller. There are numerous controls but not so many that they can’t be mapped to either device. Strike Suit Zero also supports triple-wide monitors for those who really want to immerse themselves in these gorgeous space backgrounds. While I do enjoy the choice between a chase camera and a nose camera, I found the lack of any cockpit view an almost unforgiveable oversight. One thing I did enjoy was the fantastic ship models created by none other than renowned Mechanical Design engineer Junji Okubo (Appleseed: Ex Machina, Steel Battalion.) These designs alone had me flying in the chase view more often than usual.

Accenting the visuals is a stirring soundtrack by award-winning composer Paul Ruskay (Homeworld) including a collaboration with Japanese singer/songwriter Kokia (Tales of Innocence, Gunslinger Girl: II Teatrino). This majestic score is expertly mixed in with surprisingly descent voice acting for the com chatter and some futuristic sound effects to punch up the combat – even though we all know there is no sound in space.

Strike Suit Zero is a good game interspersed with bad ideas. There are long sequences of little or no action where you might be flying through a series of distant checkpoints on some routine patrol, and these can take minutes before anything “fun” happens. The serious crime is the checkpoint system that returns you to the beginning of the boring stuff rather than the start of the action, so if (or rather when) you die in combat, you get to experience the solitary confines of your ship in the vastness of space all over again…well that and any and all com chatter you may have already heard before you died. This problem could easily be fixed with more intuitively placed checkpoints or a simple “Skip ahead” button. It’s not like these non-action parts are masking any load times.

To add insult to injury, Strike Suit Zero also offers a scoring system that will rank your performance in each mission. While I enjoyed the Kilrathi Kill Leaderboard in Wing Commander I am not a fan of some arbitrary scoring system that is forcibly worked into my space opera, especially when the game seems hell bent on killing you often and penalizing your score for each death. While I could care less about chasing the leaderboards, your mission scores do affect your ability to upgrade your ships, which can only make the game that much harder in later levels if you are dying a lot in the earlier ones.

Strike Suit Zero could be considered a work in progress, as the developers are still working on patches to address the difficulty and pacing issues and even adding VR tracking with the Oculus Rift. Hopefully they can work in a cockpit view into a future update as I really want to see what the inside of my ship looks like. Yet even with its flaws, Strike Suit Zero is still a valiant effort, especially for a crowd funded game, loaded with good intentions that hits the mark on visual and sound design. With a few nips and tucks Strike Suit Zero could be the game to usher in a whole new era of space sim shooters, and for only $20 on Steam you can find out for yourself.