I've found myself playing mostly space games lately, and Strike Suit Zero fills the gap between addictive indieness and huge blockbuster. SSZ is a bit of a cross between Zone Of The Enders and a flight simulator.
In this heavily objective-based game you're mostly either defending your huge allied ships or destroying enemy vessels or supplies. Smashing the turrets off large enemy ships to let your bombers get close enough to finish them, or just fending off swarms of enemy interceptors to keep yourself and your team alive.
I love that as you're flying about in space there's no "way up". It's very easy to lose your orientation but it makes for heaps of fun. Aside from the interceptors and other swarming ships, everything stands a certain way, which makes them easier to map in your mind too.
For most of the missions you pilot the Strike Suit, a mech fighter that starts off looking and acting like any other interceptor but has a unique morphing ability. It can transform into strike mode, in which it takes on a humanoid shape for advanced agility and amazing firepower. Strike mode requires flux to activate and uses it up as you fire the advanced weapons. Once it runs out you're automatically switched back to pursuit mode.
You can only hold a limited amount of flux and you gain it rapidly by destroying enemy stuff and very gradually just by flying. If you use strike mode efficiently by successfully rampaging you can make it last long enough to get everyone off your back or strip an entire enemy warship of its weapons.
The other three playable ships are fighters, interceptors or bombers with varying levels of speed, defence and offence. Each one has a single mission designed for it, forcing a situation where it can be most useful.
Each mission has one particular upgrade tied to it that you can unlock by fulfilling a certain condition. Things like not letting a single torpedo hit your ally or taking down a giant enemy fighter before it destroys one of your main ships. Either way it's always a case of blowing stuff up as quickly as you can. Each upgrade is permanent too. You can replay any mission with any fighter and you'll still have all the upgrades you've unlocked thus far. This calls for some great strategic replayability: maybe there's a shield upgrade you just can't get because your weapons don't have enough power to take down the conditional target in time? Just move on, get an energy upgrade and come back to it!
Even with these upgrades, SSZ
can be hugely challenging at times. Now, you might know that I love a proper challenge (see FTL: Faster Than Light
) but this one had me quite frustrated once or twice. A few missions into the game the difficulty ramped right up into a brick wall level of impassibility. Just simple tasks like destroying a series of large stationary supply platforms turned into a struggle to survive against entire fleets of enemy interceptors. The same ones that were so easy to destroy at the start of the game were now on me like a swarm of hornets. In pursuit I could barely see my target through the fire and debris that was bouncing off my ship. It had turned into an utter clusterfuck and singling out any one individual enemy seemed nigh on impossible without getting quickly battered.
This is where strike mode became my saviour. This heat didn't start until after I'd already destroyed a couple of platforms full of supplies and had a full stock of flux ready to go. I activated it and shot anything that came near me, quick and easy. It could have been that simple all along!
The visual style is so much more colourful than you might expect from a game that's set entirely in space. There's so much lens flare, when combined with the blue and orange glowing trails from each ship it creates some mesmerising shapes. The background of each mission has a distinct feel of being somewhere new. No matter which way you look it's like the whole scene is surrounded by vibrant waves of colour weaved into the stars, or a giant oil painting of a nebula. Nearby planets, asteroid fields and recent warzones are all given an awesome (in the real sense of the word – awesome
) scale that combines the illusion of sheer size and great distance.
Outside of the action, the soundtrack is a subtle and eerie backdrop that works nicely since you're in space. Almost as if there are giant space-whales lightyears away communicating with each other. OK, no, sound doesn't travel through empty space, but that's the creepy vibe I get when I leave it paused to go make a cup of tea. It's not this way all the time though - it rises up and pushes the tempo often when the situation calls for it.
With just thirteen missions it's not a huge game, but it's nice that way because it doesn't overstay it's welcome. Each mission gets longer and tougher as you progress.
The gameplay might take some getting used to as it did for me, but as you overcome each challenge it just gets more fun and more rewarding. It starts off a bit same-y but the story should keep you occupied in those early hours until the variety slowly gains some traction. This should be looked at as a hectic shooter that involves skill and strategy.
+ Amazing visuals and ambience.
+ Not extremely long, 100% completion won't be a chore.
- Can get a bit samey
- Overly punishing at times
SPOnG Score: 7/10