In the 90s, the space simulation genre was one of the most popular genres in gaming. Games like X-Wing Vs. Tie Fighter, the entire Wing Commander series and Freelancer 2 captured the feel of what it was like to engage in the sort of space dogfights that were so common in sci-fi movies and shows.
However, outside of a few rare releases like the Rogue Squadron series, this genre seemed to disappear off the map in recent years. It's unclear why this was, but genre experts claim that it could be due to the fact the space simulation games were “too complicated” for the current generation of gamers or that the genre achieved as much as it could.
Developer Born Ready Games feels that there is still a place in the world for space simulation games and with Strike Suit Zero: Director's Cut, available now for the PlayStation 4, they set out to show the world that this genre still has a lot of life left in it.
Do they succeed? Well, it depends on how you look at it.
Strong Anime Influences
Unlike past space simulation games that carried a very “Hollywood” look and feel as to how they portrayed the game's over-arching story, Strike Suit Zero presents a very eastern look and feel, thanks in big part to the game's narrative.
The story takes a lot of cues from the original Mobile Suit Gundam, with the concept of Earth expanding into outer space via colonies and those colonies eventually wanting their independence. The following war ends up as a stalemate until the colonies end up with a super-weapon that could change the course of the war but the Earth federation has one a super-weapon of their own: The Strike Suit.
The Strike Suit takes its cues from Macross, being a fighter ship that can change into a bipedal robot and back. The robot features a lot of firepower but isn't as agile as the fighter ship, again just like Macross. The anime references make a bit more sense when you realize that Junji Okubo, one of the talents behind Appleseed: Ex-Machina, had a hand with the game.
While the story takes a lot of cues from the space opera anime genre, there is just one problem: the story itself is somewhat boring. There are long stretches in each mission where characters are chattering over the radio and you're just sitting there doing nothing, hampered even more by the fact that the voice actors on tap just sound exceedingly bored with the lines they are reading. Most lies are delivered in a flat, monotone voice and you'll be praying for the talking to end so you can get back to the action. The action frequently comes to a grinding halt as the characters monologue back and forth among each other, and it would have been better to keep the action fast and frantic during gameplay and instead bookend each mission with story similar to how Ace Combat does it.
What's worse is that there is no way to skip any of these scenes when you replay a mission, so you're frequently sitting there for minutes on end listening to the characters prattle on with information you already know. Strike Suit Zero is steeping with replayability (more on that later) but the frequent story interludes just slow that process down.
More Wing Commander Than Freelancer
The best way to describe the gameplay in Strike Suit Zero is that it's more Wing Commader than it is Freelancer (which is made obvious by the header), and by that I mean the game follows a mission-based structure and is not open-ended. The game features 13 missions in its story campaign, with each mission taking anywhere from 15 to 20 minutes to complete on your first playthrough. Missions generally follow the same premise: go here, kill all the enemies, rinse and repeat. Occasionally, you'll have a few different missions, such as protecting an ally, but the game always returns to the old standpoint of blowing up the opposition.
True to other space simulation games, your loadout can be changed depending on what you expect to find, with new weapons unlocking at a rapid pace. In addition, additional performance upgrades can be unlocked by completing a specific objective that you can view before the mission begins. However, these additional missions are usually very dependent on knowing the layout of the level so it's unlikely you'll unlock an upgrade for your ship the first time you play through any given mission. It's a clever mechanic to induce replayability. Further upping the replayability is the fact that the game ending you receive depends on the medals you receive at mission completion, giving you a reason to shoot for Gold and Platinum on each mission.
The highlight of the game is right in its title, and that's the inclusion of the Strike Suit. Transformation is limited to a resource called Flux, earned by defeating enemy ships. The Strike Suit absolutely decimates the opposition: The one-two punch of a powerful cannon and lock-on missiles means the Strike Suit can obliterate your foes quickly but the limited mobility of the Strike Suit means you can find yourself easily overwhelmed. While the Strike Suit can move, movement uses Flux and you're better off just using the transformation to destroy as many enemies as possible while stationary. Gameplay mostly revolves around gaining Flux and then balancing between your stored Flux vs. utilizing the Strike Suit to deal maximum damage. It's a nice twist on the space simulation genre.
While most enemies in the game are small ships that serve as nothing more but cannon fodder and a source of Flux, the game does throw a bevy of giant ships at you that must be destroyed piece by piece. Dismantling these ships piece by piece is absolutely one of the game's highlights.
Overall, the gameplay is solid and can hold its own with any of the greats of the space simulation genre. Wing Commander fans will find a lot to love here.
It's also worth noting that Strike Suit Zero is a difficult game even on Normal, especially for newcomers to the space simulation genre. Setting the game to Hard will present a challenge for even the most hardened space simulation veteran.
Sometimes Less is More
One of the biggest problems found in Strike Suit Zero: Director's Cut is that it just tries to do too much, too often. On some missions the game just bombards you with enemies onscreen, making it easy to lose focus of what you're trying to accomplish.
For example, one early mission has you protecting a ship, asking that you simultaneously shoot down any enemy torpedoes, destroy the smaller ships hounding you at all sides, destroy larger ships while avoiding the many, many turrets and keep an ear out for radio chatter so you know exactly what you need to do. I had to restart checkpoints more than a few times because I was so focused on the gameplay and trying not to die that I missed crucial information being spouted off over the radio. When the game is just you versus a handful of enemies big and small is when it's at it's best, as it's too easy to lose yourself amidst the chaos of a crowded battlefield.
As mentioned before, having less story and less voiceover work would have done Strike Suit Zero a world of wonders as well. It's been mentioned that part of the Director's Cut was adding in new story elements and personally, I would have preferred more gameplay and less story. Frequently did I zone out during the endless chatter, with several paragraphs of this review being written while I waited to get back into the gameplay. It's a shame too, because the gameplay is so good and you're left frequently waiting for it to come back.
Beautiful Graphics... Sometimes
Strike Suit Zero: Director's Cut is a game that is simultaneously beautiful and kind-of ugly. Confusing, I know.
When the game is in motion, it's a beautiful cacophony of lights and colors moving at a rapid pace and, coupled with the beautiful backdrops the game frequently places you against, it looks stunning. When the game slows down, usually during a cutscene, the character models themselves can be seen more clearly and they come across as a mish-mash of squared-shapes and poor textures.. The Strike Suit itself, in robot mode, looks like a poor man's battle droid from the Star Wars prequel movies. It doesn't come off as intimidating but rather somewhat goofy looking.
Luckily, the game is almost always in motion so you won't really have a chance to nitpick the game like this, instead being floored by the pretty colors and fast gameplay.
The music, however, fares much better than the graphics and is an aural delight. Renowned composer Paul Ruskay, composer for Homeworld, joins forces with Eastern phenom Kokia to create a blended soundtrack that captures the atmosphere of space perfectly.
PlayStation 4 Advantage
Strike Suit Zero: Director's Cut features a wealth of improvements over the previous PC release. The game features improved graphics, tweaks and improvements based on community fanback and the inclusion of the Heroes of the Fleet downloadable content into the core package.
While the game doesn't take advantage of any of the unique features of the DualShock 4, it has adapted itself well to the controller and the ships are easy to pilot after you become accustomed to the controls.
At the beginning of this review, we asked the question “Did Born Ready Games succeed in revitalizing the space simulation genre?” with an ambiguous answer. Now that we've laid out what Strike Suit Zero excels and disappoints at, we can more clearly answer that question.
Strike Suit Zero's eastern charm in the overall plot, character designs and atmosphere is something we haven't seen often in the space simulation genre and opens the door for a bevy of new plots. When the action is fast and furious, the game looks beautiful, and the gameplay is solid but it is marred in too much plot exposition and the fact that it frequently stops the action to talk.
Strike Suit Zero is a promising start, and like any good space simulation franchise the sequel will likely outclass the original by a fair amount. Look at Strike Suit Zero as setting the groundwork for a new franchise; while the game makes its fair share of missteps and leaves a bit to be desired, Born Ready Games has at least nailed the basics and given the PS4 a competent space simulation game.
If you're a fan of the space simulation genre, you'll probably love the game regardless of any issues. For the rest of us? It's a tough sell at the somewhat high price of $19.99 but it's definitely something worth checking out when it goes on sale.
Final Score: 7/10
A copy of Strike Suit Zero: Director's Cut was supplied to PS4 Experts by Born Ready Games for review purposes.
Article by - Joshua Phillips
Insert Date: 4/2/2014