Strike Suit Zero: Director's Cut Review
Sony PlayStation 4Also available on Microsoft Xbox One
Two years after the Strike Suit Zero Kickstarter campaign reached its goal, the space-combat shooter makes its way onto the next generation of home consoles as a downloadable title. When SSZ initially arrived it was met with an extremely divided reception, but with time and feedback since the original release the developers have made a number of changes for the SSZ: Directors Cut.
For those of you who missed SSZ the first time around most of what you need to know is that you get involved in space battles; there is a story as such but it’s fairly uninspired. You are a member of the U.N.E (United Nations of Earth) and are engaged in a massive war with the Colonies, who are intent on destroying Earth, throw into the mix an ancient relic and some metaphysics and there you have it. The story, and in fact much of the game, feels very much like the PS1 classic Colony Wars, which is in and of itself no bad thing but it’s all about execution and what we have in SSZ is a mixed bag.
The game has two modes for players to blast their way through. First up is the traditional campaign which sees players fighting their way through twelve missions, this time the developers have tweaked the tutorial which has made the introduction to the fighting mechanics somewhat less abrasive. The missions in general are variations on a theme, and given the subject matter, that can be forgiven to a degree. You will have a few different objectives that you will relive over and over to near exhaustion, expect to either escort, destroy turrets, destroy all enemies or hold out for a designated amount of time over and over again. The only real variety in the gameplay comes in the final mission and it’s so short-lived that it can do little to properly build on what came before it to make any real difference to the overall narrow scope of the gameplay.
The second mode of play is the Heroes of the Fleet mode, which was released as DLC and has thankfully been added here to round out the whole package. This mode is essentially a scenario-based ‘simulator’ that lets you relive historic and heroic moments from the fleet’s past, with the aim being to achieve the same result as that recorded in the history books. These scenarios can be rock hard, which can be hair-pullingly frustrating to near Kobayashi-Maru levels. But persevere and there is a level of satisfaction that comes with achieving success that is missing from the main campaign. One of the great things that SSZ does is to make you feel very much that you are playing a small part of a larger battle with U.N.E and Colonial forces battling all around you as you go about your checklist of objectives. You will see the the distant shapes and colours of ships and explosions decorating the backdrop of your mission and in fairness to the developers it gives a real sense of galactic warfare on a massive scale.
One of the main selling points of the original Kickstarter was that not only do you pilot a ship but that ship can also be transformed into a mech at the press of a button. This isn’t something that you can do right away and you will progress through the first part of the game without it. When you finally get your hands on the Strike Suit it opens up a genuinely exciting element to the space combat. To activate the Strike Suit you have to build up ‘Flux’ which is achieved by destroying enemies, which balances the power that the Strike Suit has. Build up enough Flux and you can transform and deal out a lot of exploding space justice with a simple button press. When transformed you can mark as many enemies as your Flux limit allows and when you release an absolutely stunning array of neon-trailed missiles launch against the blackness of space towards their intended targets. The Strike Suit gives a real sense of dynamism to the combat, one second you will be hurtling through a group of enemy craft and then with a button press you will suddenly be stationary painting targets, firing and then transforming again to be on your merry way.
One of the main disappointments of SSZ is the lack of fidelity to the larger ships and while it isn’t make or break for the game it really removes you from the action. The fighter craft dogfighting looks fantastic but when you have to attack a large ship, especially with objectives that require you to get close to the ships, you will be left uninspired by the flatness and blandness of the textures of those ships. However, it’s not all bad, special mention must be given to the artwork that sets the backdrops to the mission as some of them are incredible. From planets, nebulae and massive looming ships there are moments of beauty in SSZ, and while their function is typical for the practical reason of giving you a sense of direction, they succeed in painting a vibrant and beautiful arena to do combat. Bizarrely there seems to be a fair amount of slowdown in moments of mass violence and given the limited textures it’s not clear if the game needs further optimisation or if it is limitations of the engine. You feel that given the power of the next-gen consoles that these issues should be non-existent, or at the very least they shouldn’t be as prominent as they are.
If you have missed space-combat shooters, as they are a real rarity, then you could do a lot worse than SSZ: Director’s Cut. The truth is that the director’s cut hasn’t improved anything majorly from the first game, so if you have it on the PC then don’t expect some revelation here as you’ll be left wanting. If you don’t care about story, odd pacing and at times frustrating checkpointing then you might get along quite well with SSZ. It’s a brief, fun and at times utterly beautiful space-combat game, and you get to be a mech...in space...with a lot of rockets. If you just felt something warm inside then give it a punt, but you’ll need to balance your love of galactic warfare with a heavy dose of forgiveness.