Strike Suit Zero review: white-knuckling in space

Space-combat simulation is a much-beloved genre that, for reasons not entirely fathomable, has been pretty much neglected by developers since the days of the Wing Commander, X-Wing vs. Tie-Fighter, and Freespace series reigned supreme. Strike Suit Zero is developer Born Ready Games' answer to the space-sim drought, and while it's clear that the genre-kings of yore have greatly inspired the title, the game has also got a few new tricks up its sleeve. focalbox Strike Suit Zero revolves around "fight to save the Earth" scenario, set in the year 2299. Players take up arms on the side of the U.N.E. (United Nations of Earth), and while the opening mission is relatively relaxed as you learn the ropes, things ramp up to warp speed pretty quickly after that. Along the way, players will pilot a handful of different craft--including a couple of fighters and a bomber--but the real star of the show is the titular Strike Suit, a ship that can transform into a Mech at the touch of a button. Awesome, right? The contributions of Mecha designer Junji Okubo (Steel Battalion, Infinite Space), and award-winning composer Paul Ruskay (Homeworld) were immediately evident as I played, and both really bolster the game's mostly excellent presentation. Over the course of Strike Suit Zero's 13-mission campaign, there's plenty of variety. No two missions have the same look, which helps keep things interesting. Whether orbiting a massive planet, flying through a nebula, or bombing an enemy shipyard, things stayed visually fresh. On that note, the game also strings objectives together in clever and compelling ways. The dogfighting is a white-knuckle blend of chaotic and intense. Most of the time, Strike Suit Zero's formula clicks perfectly. Ships require some skill to pilot (a controller is highly recommended), but handle appropriately. Massive dogfights between multiple squadrons, including bigger Corvette-class ships and even larger capital ships and space stations, are vast in scale, and dizzying amounts of spacecraft dance an almost overwhelming ballet of death. The enemies themselves can be tricky to shoot down, thanks to some more than competent enemy-AI, and they'd often gang up on me, forcing me to take a hit-and-run approach. The Strike Suit adds another unique dimension to battles. Once I had built up enough "Flux"--expedited by destroying targets--the press of a button would transform my ship into what's ostensibly a powerful, mobile turret in the heat of combat, allowing skilled players to take down swarms of enemies in a fraction of the time it'd normally take. It's a super powered mode that can only be activated in relatively short bursts, but it's powerful enough (and often required) to turn the tide of battle in your favor.

Strike Suit Zero's space battles are enormous.

As much as it does right, Strike Suit Zero isn't without its blemishes. The biggest issue I had with the game was when it combined its rather long missions with a surprising lack of checkpoints while tasking me with the defense of a bomber squadron. For example, the game's fifth chapter culminated with a multi-stage battle in which I first had to blast heavy guns on a huge capital ship, then flak cannons, completing my objectives in time to save a friendly cruiser under fire. Once I'd blasted enough hardpoints on the capital ship and nearby enemy base, a bomber squadron would warp in to finish off the behemoth, all within a swarm of enemy fighters. I struggled for a couple of hours on this final section of the mission, having to restart the entire process when either my bomber squad or I met an untimely end. The callback to the difficulty of games like X-Wing vs. Tie Fighter was most evident here, but my frustration stemmed from not always knowing how I'd screwed up when things went sideways. I'd be tearing through enemy fighters left and right for minutes, only to receive a message that the bombers had been destroyed, and the mission had failed. The game included a handful of difficult moments like this for me, where old-school mission design intersected with objectives I wasn't clear how best to approach. This being the case, finally finishing a really tough mission was often more relieving than rewarding. I'm not really a fan of feeling that my progress has anything to do with blind luck. Overall, Strike Suit Zero is a very competent space-combat game that I feel occasionally undermines itself with a few sections of gameplay that has a tendency to punish players without nudging them in the right direction for the next go-around. I'm not a player that likes his hand held--a disturbing, ongoing trend in mainstream releases--but Strike Suit Zero swings the needle a bit too far back in the other direction. If I'm going to have to repeat the same 20-30 minute section of gameplay multiple times, I'd prefer to be given at least some clue as to how I might improve. It's hard not to recommend Strike Suit Zero to fans who have been dying for a good space combat game. It does a number of things incredibly well, and when it's all clicking--like in one of the ridiculously-huge dogfights--it's a very challenging and rewarding experience. Just be aware that the game will occasionally test your patience, and it won't always feel fair.
This Strike Suit Zero review is based on a digital PC version of the game provided by the developer.