Platforms: PS4 | Xbox One (reviewed) | PC version incoming
Developer: Born Ready Games
Strike Suit Zero should have been brilliant when it released last year. A beautiful arcade space sim starring a wonderful transforming mech fighter, designed by Appleseed's Junji Okubo and scored by Homeworld's Paul Ruskay, it literally promised "space combat reborn." And it failed.
What ought to have been a revolution ended up as a solid yet shockingly derivative space sim that stubbornly looked backwards, not forwards, launching with numerous missing features and sidelining its eponymous war machine in favour of a billion frustrating escort missions. Having backed the Kickstarter campaign at not inconsiderable expense (well spotted, I was wearing a U.N.E. T-Shirt in our Rezzed 2014 interviews), I had to shelve my excitement while picking apart its flaws in our 6/10 review.
So I'm delighted to report that Born Ready Games have fixed it!
Containing all the patches and improvements from several months of extra development, alongside fundamentally rebalanced gameplay and a visual makeover, the Director's Cut feels like a completely new game. Consoles may not be the space sim's spiritual home, but Strike Suit Zero feels more at home on PS4 and Xbox One than it ever did on PC.
Strike Suit Zero's fighter combat is as enjoyable as ever. Cast as U.N.E. pilot Adams (a faceless mute nonentity who should have been given a callsign, not a name), you'll desperately sally forth against a massive rebel colonial fleet headed towards Earth with a terrifying alien superweapon. It's an excuse for hectic and gorgeous dogfights as you scream through the void, blasting enemy fighters into flaming debris and picking capital ships apart turret by turret. With a pleasing range of objectives -- blowing stuff up or defending friendly ships by blowing stuff up, what more do you need? -- you'll barely have time to appreciate the jaw-dropping backgrounds and Ruskay's uniquely soulful score.
The streamlined controls fit onto a controller perfectly, with excellent default sensitivity and dead zones, allowing you to pull off zero-G manoeuvres and dodge through the flack while pumping out insane amounts of neon firepower. There's an awkward learning curve, however, which stems from what I can only describe as Born Ready's hubris.
Rather than taking inspiration from existing console arcade sims like Ace Combat and Project Sylpheed etc, they decided to implement three bizarre proprietary control schemes that put essential commands in initially counter-intuitive places or double up (why do both thumbsticks control pitch?!). This wouldn't have been an issue if not for the fact that controls can't be rebound, meaning that we can't map thrust to one of the thumbsticks to free up trigger real estate (or bind thrust and yaw to the triggers and bumpers a la Ace Combat). You'll get used to the new status quo after a couple of sorties, but I'd like to see full rebinding as a matter of priority.
Still, you'll be a flying ace in no time, but that's only half the package. The titular Strike Suit can instantly transform between a traditional fighter and manoeuvrable mech capable of dishing out frankly obscene quantities of homing missiles and strafing around targets. The concept sounds amazing, yet in the original game we used the Strike Suit as little as possible due to horribly twitchy controls and a paper-thin hull that turned us into a sitting duck. What should have been a unique selling point became a white elephant of the first order.
Now, conversely, its controls are flawless, our weapons are powerful and the hull can withstand more punishment. What was once a liability is now our greatest weapon as we dance around capital ships while stripping down their turrets, or smashing entire fighter wings into ash using its a handy auto-aim feature. Whooping and giggling is positively encouraged.
Strike Suit Zero finally makes sense! It's proud of Okubo's gorgeous transforming space mech, owning its most important unique feature rather than pushing the Strike Suit onto the sidelines. Mission accomplished, Born Ready. I knew you could do it. Better yet, the extra DLC strike suit variants are included as standard for extra neon death merchantry.
Then numerous subtler yet no less welcome improvements start to make themselves known. We can toggle 'closest target' priority between useful categories, such as 'torpedoes' or 'capital ships.' Wingmen damage has been buffed, making them more valuable. Checkpoints and gameplay flow has been smoothed out, while some monstrous difficulty spikes have been flattened down (don't worry, it's still fearsome on Hardcore Difficulty). All little tweaks, but they conspire to create a game that's fun and demanding rather than frustrating.
In truly wonderful news, Born Ready Games have also rebalanced the escort missions, making friendly capital ships more durable and thus freeing us up for more aggressive pursuits. During an escort section that utterly confounded me on PC, I was able to break from the line and optionally take down an opposing cruiser without incident, earning an upgrade in the process. Escort missions still abound, but nanny duty feels like a challenge now, not a chore.
Strike Suit Zero was already astonishingly pretty and things have only improved. Ships are redesigned with a colourful industrial aesthetic; oozing functionality, elegance, authenticity and menace in equal measure; while fidelity, detail and lighting have been noticeably ramped up. Cockpits are fully-modelled in first-person view, which I now exclusively favour. Admittedly the vaunted 60FPS target takes a serious hit when you fly into exploding capital ships (i.e. frequently if you're an aggressive player), chugging on Xbox One. I personally like the unintentional slow-motion effect during these climactic sequences, mind.
Some annoying gameplay niggles remain. Our target indicator tends to get lost in the visual noise - it needs to be much brighter and a totally different colour - while there's no sniff of a radar or wingman commands. The pacing is undeniably still lumpy and uneven; with some engrossing dogfights interrupted by cutscenes whereas other sections seem to drag on without the ability to restock ammunition mid-mission (even though your carrier is only a few kilometres away). Depressingly, we're once again forced into that annoyingly sluggish torpedo bomber during mission seven: a gutless cop-out considering that Born Ready could have let us use the 'Marauder' Strike Suit variant this time around. Crucially, though, these flaws are now just hiccups in a consistently enjoyable experience.
Except for the final mission. It's awful, off-kilter, deeply boring and may deter you from experiencing some of the different endings. At least it's short, but I'm afraid that our impending Editor's Choice Award has just deflated like a balloon and flopped out of the window.
As a Director's Cut, this new version also expands and improves upon the storyline, which I originally described as "an amateur dramatic performance of Project Sylpheed." Some new voice actors and dialogue does a much better job of expanding on the backstory and motivations behind the leading characters (notably the enigmatic puppet master Control and obsessive Commander Bowman), but still tries to cram far too many big ideas into its undeniably short runtime. Indeed, the real value stems from replaying missions for upgrades, rankings and leaderboard runs, as opposed to a lengthy campaign.
So it's good that the £15 asking price also includes the Heroes Of The Fleet DLC, then. These challenging standalone scenarios are great for skilled players, but I can't help but wish that Strike Suit Infinity had been included instead, thus adding infinitely-replayable score attack into the mix and increasing longevity tenfold. Ultimately I won't look a gift horse in the mouth, and reckon that genre fans will get bang for their buck.
- Fun, hectic and replayable arcade space dogfighting
- Infinitely improved mech controls and rebalanced campaign make the Strike Suit relevant and potent
- Numerous considerate tweaks and edits - from gameplay to storyline
- Ravishing overhauled visuals and art style reboot
- Paul Ruskay's soundtrack is still a thing of haunting beauty
- Atrocious final mission, lumpy pacing and niggly holdover flaws
- Controls can't be manually rebound, initial learning curve
- Frame rate chugs during capital ship explosions (i.e. frequently)
The Short Version: More an overhaul than a director's cut, Strike Suit Zero's console debut feels like the definitive version of Born Ready's space sim: the game we all wanted it to be. Empowering mech handling and rebalanced gameplay makes a universe of difference, turning frustration into fun and challenging action in the main.
Piloting a ridiculously awesome space mech is finally as good as it looks. And it looks even prettier now.