howl /// Thursday April 04 09:08 2013

http://www.strikesuitzero.com

PC - Strike Suit Zero Collectors Edition

A Note from the Author

I have always loved our old school space shooters, even the ones with the god awful FMV in them. We have been so starved for choice for quite some time that I was getting desperate. How desperate? The on-rails space shooting in "Star Wars: The Old Republic" was my favourite part of that game. That's how desperate I had become. So enters Strike Suit Zero to fill the void.

I had originally picked this game up when it was first released, but through various factors it didn't get reviewed till now. It does put me in the interesting position of having played the game both before and after the changes introduced in its patching. Lets continue on.

First Impressions

My very first thought was "Homeworld". From the architecture of the stations to the various floating miscellanea and ships, Homeworld was first and single thought. Even the music added to that feeling. I was a big fan of Homeworld and it got us started with a big blockbuster moment, that set the scene and tone of the game. Unfortunately Strike Suit Zero starts with a whimper, and I never felt the "gravity" of the conflict that I became a part of.

The voice acting is not at all compelling and the little graphics of the people with the voices just don't add to the atmosphere. Homeworld got it right, to compensate for the lack of identifiable characters they turned the ships themselves into the characters with excellent voice acting, and emotive cut-scenes. It was all so simple in the end but worked so very well, you felt something for them. For the characters in Strike Suit Zero, I feel nothing.

The ships design I found to be of an inconsistent quality. A great job was done on the capital ships and large structures, while many of the smaller ones, such as the fighters and corvettes, were rather lacklustre. Even the Strike Suit itself, the star of the game, was rather drab and uninteresting, despite the fact that it transforms into a Mech.

With the collectors edition I also received the soundtrack and an art book  Both were excellent, however the soundtrack is rather short, just shy of 32 minutes and the art book showed some of the lost potential that could have been a part of the game.

Mechanics

I played Strike Suit Zero with a Razer Nostromo and Razer Taipan combo (basically mouse and keyboard) that I use for FPS. I'm pretty sure 8200 dpi is enough? I have not used a joystick for many years and when I did pull my old joystick out of the cupboard the rubber grips on it had not survived storage well. Straight to the bin it went. I have a gamepad (guess which brand), but I didn't even bother trying it. There are lots of buttons to be pushed and I didn't think a controller would cut it. But after playing the final level, I may well of been wrong.

You fly your craft like you would an aircraft, you have pitch, yaw, and rotation with the ability to slow down and speed up, with an afterburner for the extra kick when needed. Speed affects the rate of turning, so skilfully changing your speed on the fly and leading your target will yield quick and easy kills when trying to shoot down enemies.

The only gripe that I have with the controls is that your flight direction is controlled with the targeting reticule and since there is some leeway in the reticles movement before you start turning, you loose some precision in your control of the ship. Normally this isn't an issue, but in one special mission at the end it most certainly is.

Missions

Anyone that has played a space flight combat simulator will be in familiar territory. You play through a set of 13 scripted story based missions. Completing missions will yield a score based report on your performance and you may earning yourself a medal to show off to no one in particular. Achieving the bonus objectives will earn you upgrades to your ships performance and you may earn different choices of equipment for your weapons systems. If you're really good you may complete the missions in its secret allotted time which will affect the storyline, but reading those end of mission reports is such a drab affair that you may not even notice that the outcome of the mission has changed the story at all.

Once a mission has been completed it can be replayed at any time with your earned upgrades which can dramatically affect the game play and success of the mission, turning what was once a challenging unobtainable bonus objective into an readily accessible goal.

A welcome addition since launch, is that mission checkpoints are now saved. If you exit the game you can jump right back into the checkpoint of the mission that you were last in. Good for having a rest if you get frustrated trying to complete a mission.

Ships

The different ships you may fly are: Fighters, general attack craft; Interceptors, fast moving fighters, Bombers, fighters with the ability to launch an infinite supply of torpedoes to take down capital ships and installations; and the "Strike Suit", err Zero.

The Strike Suit starts out as a fighter that switches into a "Mech", "Strike Suit", mode that has unlimited ammo, and enhanced combat and movement abilities that include the very useful ability to strafe. Just think "Gundam" and you're there. The Strike Suit can lock onto multiple targets with "Swarm Missiles" launching up to 40 rounds of them in classic Mech style, which can have a devastating effect on the enemy and easily turn the tide of battle. The Strike Suit also has a cannon style gun, with unlimited ammo, that will rip ships, stations and turrets apart. I didn't use it often as I was too busy locking on with the Swarm Missiles instead.

The Strike Suit mode is powered by a limited resource called "Flux", which is basically space magic (or more precisely the leftover residue of folding space) that you gain by killing enemies and just being awesome (i.e. absorbing it from the vacuum of space). Once it runs out you're back to being a fighter to build up more flux for the next strike. Skilful pilots will chain the killing of enemies together so that the flux doesn't run out allowing for continued Strike Suit operation that can devastate enemy fleets.

All ships have four upgradable performance metrics: flight (handling); armour  shields; energy and all do exactly as you would expect.

The new addition of the cockpit view is really quite unnecessary. The game is easier to play in the 3rd person (that's how it was designed after all) and all the cockpit view does is obscure your sight of the enemy. There are no extra controls in the cockpit, no radar, no lights, no buttons, you can't look out of the back of your ship or to the sides. As soon as you enter Strike Mode you pop out into the 3rd person perspective again then pop right back into the cockpit when it's over.

The Strike Suit cockpit is pretty much a mask placed over the HUD and should serve as a lesson as to why game developers should stick to their vision of the game and not pander to the vocal minority. Either do it right, or not at all.

Guns

You will start with two different types of guns to outfit your ship. An unlimited use plasma gun, that consumes ship energy, and a machine gun that has a cone of fire and a limited supply of ammunition.

Each gun comes in the small medium and large variety increasing its damage, energy usage and decreasing capacity accordingly. As you progress through the missions you will get to unlock additional types to add to your arsenal, making your choices more meaningful.

As you target other craft, there will be a leading indicator on the screen indicating where you should be firing your gun to hit the target based upon your relative velocities.

Missiles

Missiles come in various varieties ranging from dumb firing rockets that have no guidance, to fire and forget missiles that need no target lock, to conventional locking missiles that let you surgically strike at a target. My favourite were the Swarm Missiles, fast locking missiles that can lock multiple times onto a single target in a similar style to the Strike Suit.

Again you will unlock additional types as you progress increasing your choices between damage and capacity and effort in getting a missile lock.

Each ship type has a different capacity for rockets and missiles so choose you ordinance well so that you don't run out. Be careful! Nebulas will stop the operation of missiles, despite the fact that every other piece of instrumentation that you have works perfectly fine in such a zone.

The Long Haul

Now to the crux of this review. Strike Suit Zero is a game that gets better over time, or more precisely better as you unlock upgrades to make missions easier. Why is easier better? Because the missions have many annoying things in them. Your enjoyment of the game will be greatly affected by what you consider to be "fun".

The missions that I hated in space combat flight simulators of yore, were the babysitting missions, where you have slow freighters or capital ships that would blunder into ambushes and need rescuing before they imploded. I did not find those missions fun at all.

In Strike Suit Zero you have to do a lot of babysitting. A LOT! You have to protect bombers as they strike down capital ships or stations, you have to protect your capital ships by taking out the beam turrets of enemy capital ships, you have to protect boarding parties, you have to shoot down torpedoes, while destroying the beam turrets of the cruiser shooting at your capital ships. Etcetera, etcetera. There are so many overt, and covert mission timers that can cause so many different failure scenarios that completing missions can become very frustrating. You basically have to do everything yourself while your so called wingmen fly around being ineffective. Sure, you're meant to be the hero, but at least let the NPC's be more supportive to help you defend critical assets.

There are missions that I did find genuinely fun, the hunt and destroy missions that were fast, to the point, exciting, rewarding and that didn't have a whole bunch of ways to fail the mission. That's what I wanted from the majority of this game. Unfortunately those times were far and few between.

Speaking of frustration there are few endings to games that I've seen that are worse than what I experienced in the final mission of Strike Suit Zero. When I first encountered the final mission I asked myself why? Why did Strike Suit Zero get so many positive reviews? Did the other reviewers not play the whole game? Shouldn't they warn people about how bad the end of this game is? Did they actually find it fun?

The final mission made me angry, because it was so appallingly bad.

SPOILERS!

The last mission, involves precision flying down a long, long tunnel in the quickest time possible, shooting out the occasional door along the way, in order to get to the core of an "artefact" ship and rescue Earth. Along the way you will be subjected to a monologue that explains everything you have been doing throughout the whole game. In short, it's boring as all hell. What is meant to be an exciting conclusion to a game is nothing but 10 minutes of mind numbing boredom.

Should you happen to fail this mission, because you either run out of time or scrape off too much paint from your Strike Suit, you will get to do the whole thing again. There are no checkpoints. Once you  finally complete the mission, you are confronted with yet another hidden timer that you didn't know existed and find out that even though you completed all the objectives Earth still gets destroyed. Everything you did was just a waste of time because you didn't do it well enough.

"Kessel Run" missions are nothing new. "Halo: Combat Evolved" did it, "Mass Effect" did it. What they did though was to make those missions fun and exciting. Things blew up, secret passages were there to be found, enemies were in the way to swerved into and killed as they hopelessly tried to run away. They were just plain fun!

Contrast that will flying down a boring tunnel, with a boring monologue that you have to endure, for 10 minutes just to fail, again and again. I almost threw all my toys out of the basket in disgust.

END SPOILERS!

Final Opinion

As I replayed certain parts of the game for this review, I discovered that the missions that I had found frustrating and annoying had became more fun to play with my different ships, upgrades and weapon systems. The mission timers were not such a struggle and the medals were just appearing on the scoreboard due to my new found greatness.

I don't mind games being hard, I just hate it when they are frustrating. I think games should be fun, and many of the missions in this game I did not find fun at all. Some were, most were not. Perhaps you, my reader, will find more enjoyment in them than I did.

I wanted to like Strike Suit Zero a lot more. It just doesn't have the gravitas of its predecessors. When I think about "Freespace 2" what I remember are those massive capital ships that would rock the seat of your pants and explode your eyeballs when they fired their main weapons. How they would radio you to get the hell out of the way because "Shit was about to get real". That is what I find to be missing from Strike Suit Zero, there are ships, peoples and places and I just couldn't bring myself to care about any of them.

Edited // Sunday May 05 16:41 2013 // Updated title image. ///