If at first mankind doesn’t set foot into space and begin immediately warring with aliens, mankind will eventually begin warring with itself against space colonies. That’s the overall premise delivered by the game Strike Suit Zero, an exuberant, loving mixture of seemingly Colony Wars, Gundam and Macross that you can’t help but love…even though it’s maddeningly infuriating sometimes.
In Strike Suit Zero, a reinstated pilot (you) gets immediately dragged into an interstellar conflict between Earth and a group called the Colonials, and you have to stop the Colonials from destroying Earth’s forces. That’s it. The plot actually isn’t so inspired, with a majority of the dialogue coming from still-image character panels that do little more than provide orders, not meaningful characterization.
The story doesn’t exactly delve into the gray area of why the Colonials are bad and Earth is good, why your character is fighting, etc.: You’re told to go after the bad guy, so you do. If you were expecting something akin to a Philip Dick novel, you may be disappointed, but if you were expecting to be able to fly around and crush everything that moves in the vacuum of space with missiles and laser beams, then there’s something to enjoy.
At the beginning of Strike Suit Zero, you pilot a simple fighter and are given a straightforward tutorial on how to utilize the controls (for purposes of the review, mouse and keyboard were used though Xbox 360 controllers are supported with full button prompts on-screen). You’re given practice for controlling your ship, switching your weapons, acquiring targets and more. A mission later you get the titular spaceship, the Strike Suit, and then stuff gets real.
Destroying enemy ships fills the Flux gauge, which allows you to transform from a fighter ship into a somewhat stationary mecha with the capability of filling the screen with missiles by acquiring multiple targets simultaneously to destroy literally everything you can see, allowing you to take out dozens of enemy fighters simultaneously or it allows you to take out enemy carriers within mere moments.
For some reason, the sensitivity on the Strike Suit is set significantly higher than that of the initial ship that players spend time getting used to for the first two missions of the game, setting sensitivity a little bit lower upon acquiring that ship can make Strike mode much more manageable, as it can make it easier to stay on target instead of accidentally spinning around in circles, spraying rocket-propelled death everywhere but at your intended targets.
Some missions have you use different fighters, such as a bomber with infinite torpedoes that deal large amounts of damage to the larger-class crafts of the enemy forces, or using a special, fast ship that flies around well in nebulae, which is an area where lock-on missile weaponry just won’t work. Upon completing such a mission that requires use of a different ship, you can always repeat the mission with the ship of your choice later for higher ranks. An additional side objective is given in every mission that allows you to unlock permanent upgrades to your ships, many of which are easily obtained by reattempting the mission using the Strike Suit over some of the other ships, which speaks a world about the usefulness of the other ships to begin with: A lot of the fun in this game is had by zipping close to an enemy corvette or carrier, switching to Strike mode, blowing up everything possible and then escaping before the ship’s shield is depleted. Using the other, slower ships sometimes removes the emphasis on frenetic combat this game has, but it is only for a few missions.
Speaking of the missions, there’s 13 in all, each with ranks to obtain up to platinum. It becomes somewhat difficult to not get gold and platinum ranks toward the end of the game due to all the enemies being thrown at you and how amazing your weaponry becomes.
Each mission usually has a distinctive, interesting aesthetic to it that really brings to life the cold, dark vacuum of space, and the Strike Suit itself is absolutely gorgeous, intricately detailed and just easy on the eyes. Many of the other ships, however, don’t look so great, often lacking details that would make them look quite as nice as the Strike Suit. The particle effects from the weaponry look brilliant, and the flash created by destroying enemy ships and carriers gives a strong feeling of accomplishment.
The above isn’t to say the game is without problems, however, as there are a decent number of glitches that can be frustrating at times. The game is fun to play, but as it stands the title is poorly optimized for nVidia GTX 5 series cards and others, causing seemingly random crashes at very inopportune times. While the developer has stated they’re working on a fix, sometimes a lot of finagling with settings is required to even get the game to run properly. Notwithstanding, a crash in the middle of a mission sets the player back a good amount considering the game has no mid-mission saves. Whether it’s to artificially increase difficulty or what, experiencing a crash or quitting in the middle of a mission won’t start the mission back from the most recent checkpoint. The player can only begin the mission anew. This means that at least twenty minutes to a half an hour need to be set aside in order to actually progress in the game: Stopping mid-mission means you must restart from the very beginning.
The objectives for the game, among all of the missions, can essentially be summed up with, ‘Shoot this target, protect this ship by shooting these targets, escort this vehicle.’ Simple objectives such as shooting down torpedoes can become an aggravating task because there are only two methods of targeting: Pick the closest target, and target what your reticule is directly overlapping. This isn’t so much an issue in the beginning of the game as it is toward the middle and end where you need to shoot down torpedoes aiming towards your capital ship. That can become needlessly frustrating when there’s dozens of targets on screen, the torpedoes are of the utmost importance to stop and the only way to find the aforementioned torpedoes is to constantly look around, tapping the R key to select different sparkly red flares in front of you hoping they’re the torpedoes you need to destroy before they hit your capital ship.
Having a, ‘Target objectives only’ key would have been nice, and apparently the developer is working on something such as this, as well, but that doesn’t keep it from making select later missions somewhat annoying in the interim.
Oddly enough, though, even with weird design choices, the allure of playing through the game stayed. The combat is incredibly entertaining and even while the game can have some touches that are in dire need of work, such as scripted events failing to start or the game randomly crashing, it was still an extremely entertaining game and destroying carriers and seeing the flashes was immensely satisfying.
To summarize: Strike Suit Zero is not a game for the faint-hearted or those who don’t like shmups or space shooters. There are spaced-out checkpoints that artificially increase the difficulty, bugs and glitches that occur depending upon your hardware. Not to mention that during especially frantic missions, the lack of being able to target objectives explicitly can cause unnecessary frustration by forcing the player to waste time. The game is, however, extremely entertaining to those who like this style of gameplay, offering fast-paced space combat (try saying that five times fast), rankings, bonus objectives and different ships with which to fly and fight enemy forces. The poor design issues are prevalent, however, and though the game is addicting, the frequent crashes, which can occur at any time (including during the end-mission cinematic that shows enemy forces retreating), are difficult to justify.