Space. Who really knows what's out there? Even if we do know more about the far reaches of the outer cosmos than we do the bottom of the sea, can we really say for sure that there isn't a giant transforming robot star fighter out there, just waiting for someone to take the controls?
Mixed in amongst a civil war between Earth and its colonies, that's the basic gist of Strike Suit Zero, a brand new space sim, which is a sentence we didn't think we'd be writing in 2014. Once an incredibly popular genre, over the past few years, space sims have gone the way of extreme sports, point and click (to an extent) and platform games, in that they're markedly fewer and further between than we'd like.
A PS4 and Xbox One title, Strike Suit Zero straps you into the cockpit (yes, it has a cockpit view!) of one of a number of futuristic space craft, as you do the Star Wars thing, and go into battle against a variety of intergalactic ne'er-do-wells. Each ship you can pilot has its own strengths and weaknesses (much as you'd expect), with different ships tailored to different jobs. Bombers are slow, but can carry a lot of missiles; fighters are good all round craft, with a mix of lasers and rockets; etc, etc. But the most interesting of all is the Strike Suit itself - a space ship that, at the touch of a button, can transform into an anime style mech.
Of course, transforming brings with it more than just a change of perspective. While you'll usually be shooting around at a given speed, propelled along by your boosters, the Strike Suit, by default, is stationary. You can move up, down, left and right if you choose to, but there's no default throttle driving you on. It's also remarkably powerful. With a gigantic cannon built in that can tear through most smaller ships in a few shots, and an incredible missile system that can lock on to almost as many targets as you want, destroying entire squadrons of fighters in a single barrage, it's nothing if not super effective.
As you might expect though, phenomenal cosmic power comes at a cost, and that cost is energy. Destroying ships nets you a power source called Flux, which you require not only to transform into a strike suit, but to fire its weapons as well. Keep blowing things up as the Strike Suit, and you can remain transformed for quite a time, but it's a mode that' best suited to blowing up lots of small targets than raining down punishment on several big ones.
So far, so good then - so why middling score? Well, Strike Suit Zero may get all the basic pieces in place, but there's something decidedly strange about how they're all put together. Perhaps it's a lack of polish, or perhaps the game just wasn't user tested as much as it should have been, but there are loads of little bigly things that work together to become one big one, bringing the whole experience down.
For starters, there are far too many escort missions - which, as anyone who's ever played a game will tell you, are the single most frustrating types of missions ever created. Asking you to defend a capital ship, or a group of bombers from attack while doing a million and one other things at the same time, these "protect the goodies" objectives never fail to frustrate, because should you ever fail, it's never really your fault. You are but one woman/man in a squadron, one space ship amongst many, and if the ship you're supposed to be defending gets destroyed, is it because you didn't pull your weight, or because the entire squadron you're flying with failed because they suck? It's annoying to say the least - and yet rarely does a mission go by without you having to protect something.
A good example comes in the sixth mission in. After having been asked to protect something for the first half a dozen levels, this one sees you protecting two gigantic "capital ships" in the middle of a nebula. Being stuck in the middle of this giant gas cloud, as you are, has disabled your missiles, yet your capital ship friends find themselves under a constant barrage of giant interstellar space mines, which are being flung in their general direction from god knows where. First, they attack the one ship at the one end of the nebula, and then after going through the motions, you have to jet down to the other end of the nebula as quick as you can to defend the other one. Once you're up there and have dealt out some hot laser punishment on those mines - you guessed it - some mines appear by the other ship, and you have to boost back there in an attempt to reach there before the mines do. Only it hasn't exactly been timed very well. Getting back to the ship before the mines hits is a challenge that's nigh on impossible, and turns an otherwise decent mission into one of the most frustrating in the game.
In another slightly weird way, the game's general controls feel somewhat off, too. While we'd hesitate to say it's unrealistic (let's face it - there aren't many of us who've flown a space ship), your ship generally doesn't handle quite as you'd expect it to. Enemy ships seem to be able to accelerate past you, then come to a stop on a dime, turn around, and shoot back the other way in the blink of an eye - laws of momentum be damned. In another disappointing touch, you don't actually control your ship's speed directly, too. You can boost, or slow down, but you can't control your throttle properly - you can't come to a stop, for example, and park next to a turret on a capital ship while you blast away at it - but when compared to how dizzying the dogfighting can be, that's a minor point.
There are other things that feel just that little bit off, too. You can't look around your ship, whether you're in the cockpit or otherwise, making tracking enemies that are behind you that much harder; your ship seems to vibrate and shake like it's about to fall to pieces when an enemy even so much as lands a single shot on your shield (without actually doing any damage to your ship itself); and in the midst of a battle, there are just too many things to watch on screen. Enemy ships can fire rockets at you, but the warning icon is so small, and usually so hidden by all the other lasers, sparks and explosions coming your way that you don't notice it before it's too late. If you spot it in time, you can press a button to deploy a countermeasure, but the worse the battle's going, the less likely you are to be able to see it. And speaking of unreadable - while the game may feature full subtitles, they're the smallest subtitles we've ever seen. It's probably fine when you're sitting a few feet away from a TV, but when you're squinting to read it from the other side of a living room, it's practically illegible.
So Strike Suit Zero is a bit of a mixed bag. While it has all the important parts a space sim needs, what it really lacks is that sheen of polish (and some much needed variety) that would take it from being a game that's just "OK" to a game you really need to play. With a bigger budget as a full price release, we'd have loved to see what the studio could do - but as it stands, with some eighteen missions to play through, this may still be worth a flutter, but only if you really, really like escort missions.