Strike Suit Zero: New School Presentation, Old School Difficulty
In my Q&A with one of the members of the team behind Strike Suit Zero, I was told the team has “grown up playing the likes of Wing Commander, X-Wing vs Tie Fighter and Colony Wars,” but was sad that there was nothing to “satisfy fans of that genre today”. Having played the game now, I can tell they’ve strived to appeal to fans of the genre while giving us something new, fresh and hopefully fun. Did they succeed in their goal?
In the futuristic universe of Strike Suit Zero, humanity was given the tools to build faster-than-light drives from a mysterious signal. Humanity uses this technology to spread themselves among the stars, and after many years leads to two fractions being dominant among humanity, the Earth-based U.N.E. and the colonials. Eventually, a civil war erupts between the two groups, which is where we find out character, Adams. In the beginning of the game, Adams needs to get training in order that the U.N.E. can “trust him” with another fighter.
This is how the actual game begins, with a first mission that is essentially a well-made tutorial to get the player accustomed to the controls. This tutorial teaches you basic combat through gun and missile usage, as well as simple flight controls. I began playing this game with a mouse because it just kinda seems the preferred method for these kinds of actiony-space combat games these days. This worked well as the mouse/keyboard controls are fairly intuitive. I was, however, initially worried because there are only two targeting buttons in the game, one that targets your next most important enemy and one that targets what’s in front of your ship.
I’ve written about how bad or lacking targeting controls is a pet-peeve of mine, and this was a concern in this game as well. Fortunately, for the most part, the game is smart enough to know which targets are important enough to put at the top of your list…most of the time (more on that in a moment). For example, if you have to target some incoming torpedoes, the computer will make your next target torpedoes! One would think futuristic computer technology would have these kinds of situational capabilities to change target priorities based on your objective, so I was happy to see that they worked along those lines here. The combination of mouse and keyboard controls, for me, worked great until I got a new toy.
Say hello to the Strike Suit, a dual-mode fighter/mecha combo that can be as deadly as she is gorgeous. In fighter mode, the ship flies around similarly to the fighters you’ve been flying up until you receive it, with the same weapon and targeting control. The Strike Suit (mecha) mode, however, is a real piece of work. When you gather enough flux (which you get by destroying enemy targets), you can switch from fighter to Strike Suit mode, allowing you to turn quickly, dash around in space horizontally and vertically and, my favorite, select multiple targets for a barrage missile attack. The Strike Suit is an absolute JOY to use…
However, it wasn’t a joy to use in any way at first. For some reason, the mouse controls became SUPER DUPER sensitive when flying the Strike Suit, and it was tough to keep her focused on a target or even fly in the right direction without using the auto-targeting feature (which I’ll be getting to in a moment) that basically turns you into an awesome turret. After flailing around a bit using the mouse and failing my mission, I decided to try my joystick (since Joysticks were one of the tiers in the Kickstarter, I figured they meant us to use ’em). ;) This turned out to be a great idea, because I honestly had a much better time with the joystick generally in both modes. Your mileage may vary, of course, but this is something you might want to keep in mind (there ARE ways to change the sensitivity of the controls in the options, but it still never felt right to me).
Even with the joystick, it still took a while to get the feeling right when using the Strike Suit. Using the auto-targeting command, your ship will turn like a turret and take down multiple targets quickly. One shouldn’t use that all the time, however, since it can make you vulnerable. It works GREAT when you have to take down a number of targets close by, like interceptors or turrets. Another wonderful feature of the Strike Suit is multiple missile targeting. In fighter mode, holding down the missile fire button allows you to lock on and then fire your missiles at one target (unless you’re using dumbfire rockets). In Strike Suit mode, holding down the fire button allows you to target at least up to five separate targets (that was my max at least) and fire multiple missile volleys at those targets. Once you get the hang of it, it’s a joy to watch.
What this all comes down to is learning essentially two things. First, the right moments to use either the fighter mode — which is faster — and the the Strike Suit mode — which deals more damage but moves slower, though can dash vertically and horizontally to avoid fire and fool missiles. Once you have a better idea of when those moments are, the second thing to learn is the rhythm of switching between the two. Do you wait until you have more flux, for example, so you can be in Strike Suit mode longer, or do you switch now to deal as much damage as possible in a shorter amount of time? Once it begins to click, the results can be magical.
However the game, I don’t feel, gives you enough time to really find this rhythm. The game has thirteen missions, and you receive the Strike Suit in the third mission. This is all well and good until, at least for me, I hit the fifth mission, wherein I had to retry maybe a dozen times before I completed it. Remember the Medical Frigate mission in the original X-Wing (if you’re old enough), the one that so many folks complained about that in later iterations of the game they mentioned making that ONE mission easier in the marketing bullets for the game? Yeah, it kinda felt like that. At first it made me really mad. I felt like the game was being difficult just to be difficult, rather than providing a fun, yet still serious challenge.
Then I remembered the games mentioned in the interview. Those classic games could at times be OUTLANDISHLY difficult, yet we pressed on because wanted to see more, because we wanted to learn how to get better at the game. While Strike Suit Zero doesn’t have different difficulty levels (at least that I could find), I don’t believe classic games like Wing Commander or X-Wing did either, and if they did, I never touched ’em, keeping the games always at one difficulty level. I am really, sincerely hoping that this old school style of challenge was the intention of the developers of Strike Suit Zero as well, because once I came to that realization, I felt much more favorably toward the game, and a renewed desire to try again (after a short break, however, so I didn’t get TOO frustrated). ;)
The biggest complaint I have about the game besides the initial difficulty spike, sincerely, is the targeting functionality. Remember how above I said I liked it at first? Well I did…until I noticed it was dependent on distance. Say, for example, your primary objective is to protect some bombers. Great, I figured that the targeting thingamajig would target whatever was the biggest threat to them at the moment, as it did with the torpedoes earlier. I found out the hard way that this wasn’t the case. While their biggest threat to the bombers at the moment might be the interceptors that are harassing them, your targeting computer might target a nearby flak cannon. Now, while the flak cannon would certainly be a danger to the bombers were they to get close enough, the interceptors that are whittling them down one by one make that possibly less and less likely. This led to some frustrating trial and error, which I don’t think is fair to the player. Changing the system so that it targeted the biggest threat to your objectives despite the distance would be much better, I feel.
Overall, despite these frustrations. gameplay is challenging and also VERY exciting and fast-paced. The combat is VERY visceral, with a meaty feeling to the guns and missiles along with extremely satisfying explosions. Each gun and missile feels different (my favorite being the Strike Suit’s cannons, GOD I love those), and the loadout you choose can make significant a difference in the gameplay itself. Again, even with the above frustrations, I never wanted to give up entirely because the gameplay is just so much dang fun. While the campaign only has thirteen missions, Steam achievements (if you have the Steam version) and the ability to replay the missions to get a better score or achieve more secondary objectives for new bonuses will keep me coming back once I’m done with the campaign.
Presentation-wise, this game is utterly fantastic. On my modest machine, the game handled dozens of objects on-screen at once with no-slow down what-so-ever, and it all looked just gorgeous. Watching a battle scene with fighters flying, missiles missiling and beams beaming was really a treat, even if I couldn’t stay still for too long. ;) My favorite bit here, however, was the music. It was reminiscent of the soundtracks of the recent Battlestar Galactica series, which is not a bad thing in the slightest. It fit the mood, look and feel of the game perfectly, and I just hope they release a separate soundtrack of it for folks who didn’t get it through Kickstarter, because I WANTS it. ;)
In conclusion, even with the frustrations, I’ve had a delightful time with Strike Suit Zero. Because of the fun, visceral combat, gorgeous graphics and fantastic music (the story ain’t bad either), I’ll be returning to this repeatedly for fun bouts of space combat. I’ll also return to get better at the game since I feel it’s positively DARING me to improve (though this could totally be seen as a frustrating difficulty wall, as I saw it for a while). I can easily recommend this one to space combat fans, as long as they’re aware of the difficulty going in and set their expectations accordingly. Going into this one blind, like I did, might be frustrating. However, if you expect the game to challenge you, you’ll hopefully click with it far faster than I did, because it deserves your time and attention.
I hope you enjoyed this review, and thank you for reading it. :) Now, please enjoy the gallery of the screenshots I took for this review. :) Have a great day!