The space combat genre hasn’t fared too well in recent years, but it’s about time that it made a comeback, and thankfully, the fine people over at Born Ready seem to feel the same, which is why their Kickstarter funded shoot ‘em up has now made its way onto next gen consoles. So, is it any good?
Launching as the first title to come under the ID@Xbox brand, Born Ready have entered the fray with a bit of pressure on them to rise to the challenge and set the standard that independent developers will have to aspire to, at least as far as the Xbox One goes (the game was also released on PS4). Thankfully then, for both them and us, Strike Suit Zero-despite stuttering in places-does not disappoint.
Set in the year 2299, players assume the role of a voiceless, amnesiac crack fighter pilot who manages to find himself in possession of a state of the art fighter craft, the Strike Suit. A war has broken out between Earth and her human colonies, and your role, is to save the home planet from its impending annihilation. The breakaway colonial armies have discovered some alien technology out in the stars, a mammoth ship of incredible power that once lay dormant, but they have somehow managed to activate it, and have sent it to destroy the earth. The story appears to be fairly generic fare, and not especially noteworthy, much like the dialogue between the overly one dimensional cast of characters, though in all honesty, these were hardly likely to be the key selling points for the game, now were they? Of course, the setting isn’t actually as bland as it would first appear, but I’m going to keep this appraisal spoiler free so as not to ruin the ending for those planning on playing through it.
What Strike Suit Zero does have going for it, along with several other things, is a brilliantly tense atmosphere, the feeling of impending doom that seems to follow you like a shroud throughout the story is a wonderful addition. For as much as I appreciate space shooters such as this, they typically feel somewhat bland and uninteresting, which is a trend that this game manages to shirk because it keeps players on their toes, and there also is a genuine sense of speed as well, which is another aspect that the genre typically fails on.
Visually, the game is quite strong, whilst ships and stations generally look rather simplistic, the backdrops are nothing short of gorgeous across all thirteen missions that comprise the main campaign, and the additional five that comprise the Heroes of the Fleet content; this was added along with some extra graphical polish to both the PS4 and Xbox One versions over the original PC release. Strike Suit Zero is sharp, and whilst battles become decorated with vast arrays of lighting and particle effects, there is never a dip in the frame rate. Vast swathes of dust and gas swirl around star forming nebulae, planets and moons stretch out into the distance and asteroid fields hover precariously in front of glistening white beads against an infinite backdrop of all consuming black. The beauty of the universe is almost indescribable, and it has been replicated here quite wonderfully by the developers.
The audio is suitably effective too, whilst the sound effects are not particularly special, they certainly do the job well enough, and the soundtrack is a rather excellent, mood setting, ambient backdrop to the on screen proceedings. The opening theme is the first display of a prominent eastern influence that remains throughout, and reminisces the score to Panzer Dragoon Saga with its heavy reliance on percussion and choral work, which is an unexpected, though certainly not unwelcome surprise.
Whilst the game offers several types of missions for the player to complete, the result is always effectively the same, shoot everything on screen that isn’t on your side. Initially, I found this to be somewhat tedious, but as the game progressed, I found myself becoming more involved, and even wandered back to early levels to improve my scores and unlock some of the upgrades to the ship. These are achieved by meeting preset criteria on each level, and are necessary for completing the game, unlocking achievements and setting high scores.
The latter, of course, is what this game is really all about, and the primary source of its longevity. Different endings can be unlocked by improving one’s performance across the levels, but naturally, there are also online leader boards to allow gamers to compete against one another for the highest scores in the galaxy. To achieve this, there are upgrades to be unlocked that improve various aspects of the Strike Suit’s performance, including more efficient energy usage and upgraded armour. On top of this, there are multiple ship types and load-out customisation options that allow players to tailor the weapons that they carry to suit either their play style or the mission at hand.
Destroying enemy ships or torpedoes results in the gaining of flux, this is indicated by a bar in the player’s HUD, and as this fills up, it allows the player the opportunity of transforming their ship into an all-powerful mech, which is rather reminiscent of Polyphony Digital’s excellent, Omega Boost. When in this mode, the player has access to far more powerful weaponry with which to lay waste to the enemy hordes, including homing missiles that can be locked onto a massive number of targets at once, making them ideal for attacking the larger ships that can be encountered across the campaign. There are trade-offs with this ship mode, however, with manoeuvrability seeing something of a decrease, and dodging simply reduced to allowing the player to strafe to either side to avoid incoming attacks, sacrificing the player’s ability to drop chaff to fend off homing missiles. Thankfully though, the ship can revert back to its original form with just a single press of a button, meaning that the player can get out of almost any situation quickly, should they need to-and they most certainly will.
The original PC version of the game came under some criticism for its brutal, unforgiving difficulty, leading to the addition of more frequent checkpoints in this revised version of the game, yet still Strike Suit Zero will provide a stern challenge to most gamers, possibly still to the point where it might be off-putting to some, yet for those that persevere, there is a solid shooter to be found lurking underneath. In all, Strike Suit Zero does exactly what one would expect it to; it offers satisfying flight and combat mechanics, a surprisingly tactical, transforming ship and sufficient replay value to warrant its price tag. If you have been in search of an enjoyable shoot ‘em up, then don’t be afraid to give this a try as Born Ready have just about managed to make the old space shooter genre relevant again.
-James Paton @theblackpage81