Remember when space combat games were actually a fixture of the medium? X-Wing, Tie Fighter, Wing Commander, Freelancer and of course the popular Rogue Squadron series on Nintendo systems made up a beloved genre, and then it just... stopped. There have been a few token games here and there, but for all intents and purposes we have had a decade-long drought of space fighters and space sims. That looks to be changing with the upcoming Star Citizen, but that’s a pretty long way off. What you can and should play right now is Strike Suit Zero.
You play as a disgraced fighter pilot named Adams, who is re-earning his wings as aggressive Colonial forces decimate Earth’s fleet. Adams is thrown into the conflict as one of the few remaining capable pilots, and ultimately the pilot of the experimental titular Strike Suit. The plot is serviceable at best. It makes scant effort to make you care about the story, but the story isn’t why you would play Strike Suit Zero anyway, and generally the cutscenes and dialog are short enough to not get in the way.
Sadly, without a great plot there’s not a lot to distract you from the fact that Strike Suit Zero is incredibly repetitive. By the time you have picked up the Strike Suit you’ve seen pretty much every enemy the game has to offer, and all of the game’s 13 missions all boil down to “kill all enemies” and “defend friendly ships.” Between missions you can make minor customizations and upgrades to your ships, but the game is designed as nothing more than a series of menus and missions.
This would be a huge problem if the game didn’t have incredibly solid combat mechanics. While certainly nothing resembling a simulator, Strike Suit Zero is an arcady space combat game, focused on dogfights and destroying enemy capital ships in small fighters and the fighter/mech combo Strike Suit. The Strike Suit is one of four ships you can pick, which also includes an interceptor, fighter, and bomber. The different ships have clear advantages and disadvantages, but ultimately piloting the Strike Suit is the most enjoyable and involved.
Combat revolves around balancing the weapons and abilities of your craft with missile defense, shield, and energy management. Different weapons have specific advantages, for example machine guns can strip a craft’s shields almost instantly, but do basically no damage to their armor, requiring you to combine it with missiles or other weapons to successfully dispatch fighters quickly. As the Strike Suit you’ll also build up an energy meter which will let you transform from fighter into missile-barrage-equipped mech. Wreaking havoc as the Strike Suit is incredibly empowering and great fun to boot.
High difficulty enhances the combat; it’s hard not to be satisfied when you get off that kill just in time or evade that missile that would have obliterated your already weakened craft. Sadly, the lack of checkpoints can also make the difficulty really frustrating. There are some checkpoints during the missions, but they are sparsely distributed, and you can’t quit the game mid-mission and resume later; you either finish that mission in one sitting or start over from the beginning. The game does offer you a reason to replay the missions however through a robust scoring system.
If you’re looking for amazing graphics you’ll probably want to look elsewhere. While Strike Suit Zero looks decent, it’s not competing with the higher end games of the current generation. There is some nice background artwork of nebulae and planets as you battle, but ships, explosions and effects are all standard fare. The voice acting ranges from tolerable to bad, but the music actually shines. Homeworld composer Paul Ruskay composed an excellent and appropriate composition.
While Strike Suit Zero isn’t perhaps the rebirth of all the best parts of space combat as a genre, it does succeed at being fun to play. At 8-10 hours it’s a very good buy at $20, but poor mission structure, plot, and lack of variety would kill the game if not for the great core gameplay. It’s still a satisfying experience - just one best played in small doses. I look forward to more games from Born Ready, and Strike Suit Zero is an easy recommendation for those hurting for more space fighter games.