The time between space sim style games is way too long in my opinion as there’s usually only one per year that manages to grab my attention. Even then most of them fail to live up to my expectations which I think is due to Freelancer setting the bar so high. Kickstarter seems to have been something of a haven for this niche genre however as I’ve backed not one but two of them recently. I was then surprised to find out that Strike Suit Zero, released just under a month ago on Steam, was the result of yet another Kickstarter that finished in November last year. Had I known about it then I probably would’ve thrown money at it sooner.
Strike Suit Zero is set in the far off future where humanity has expanded to some of the furthest reaches of the galaxy thanks to a signal of unknown origin that urged them to do so. After a long period of colonizing many planets and star systems the source of the original signal has been found, an escape pod that contained highly advanced technology. The colonies, seeking freedom from Earth’s oppressive grip, struck a bargain for their independence. This didn’t last long as Earth discovered something that they didn’t want to reveal to the colonies, which lead to the expulsion of the Earth researchers and the revocation of the colonies indepdendence. War ensued and you, playing as a formerly disgraced space pilot named Adams, find yourself in the middle of it and quickly become one of the turning points in this conflict.
Compared to the other recent space sims that I’ve reviewed on here Strike Suit Zero is graphically superior, ostensibly owing to its origins as a PC only title. Compared to other modern titles released recently however it’s nothing to write home about with many of the models and animations being relatively simple. In earlier missions this leads to the battlescapes being somewhat empty and boring but as the missions get bigger and the targets more numerous it changes into a cacophony of lights, explosions and giant planets looming overhead. Essentially whilst the graphics aren’t anything to write home about they do work quite well, especially when compared to Galaxy on Fire 2 or SOL: Exodus.
Strike Suit Zero favours a linear mission structure, giving you a list of 13 missions that you can complete from start to finish. Each one of them is divided up into check pointed sections with a pretty well defined set of parameters that need to be accomplished before you can move onto the next section. It’s reminiscent of the stages of PVE missions in Eve-Online although the triggers, instead of being a certain ship or NPC structure, are usually something like “destroy all the things” or “destroy these things in this order”. If you were looking for an open ended experience Strike Suit Zero isn’t it, but that doesn’t mean you don’t have some influence over how the mission progresses.
The first few missions are heavily centred around good old fashioned ship to ship combat which usually entails you chasing down enemy craft whilst pummelling them with missiles, lasers and, interestingly enough, machine guns. All of this works as you’d expect it with missiles requiring lock on and dumb fire weapons requiring you to lead your target with the help of a HUD aim assist. Nothing particularly out of the ordinary which is to be expected as it’s much like FPS’s in that regard with formulaic approach being good due to the level of refinement it has received over the past 2 decades.
One of the major selling points was that whilst you might be the main character of the game Strike Suit Zero still wanted to make you feel like you were part of something much bigger. This was something that I’ve always wanted to see in space sim games as many of them make you the entire focus of everything which limits the potential for huge, awesome battles in space. Strike Suit Zero stays true to its word in this regard as once you’re past a certain point you’ll be facing off against ships that are hundreds of times more massive than yourself but you’ll be backed up by equally as impressive ships and a whole fleet worth of fighters at your side.
When this first starts happening it’s quite awesome as you duck and weave your way through the throng of fighters in order to square up against a giant capital ship, usually so you can take down some critical part of it. However as you progress and the ship number increases (along with the power of their weapons) it becomes clear that the AI really likes to target you in preference to, well pretty much everything else. This leads to some missions which require you to make tedious runs past the capital ships, inflicting a small amount of damage before you have to jet straight back out again lest you end up a pile of wreckage. I understand that this is part of the challenge but there was many a dogfight where I was the only target of any enemy fire which left me spending countless minutes simply running away from everything rather than being part of the action.
Once you get the Strike Suit this changes a bit as its Strike Mode allows you to unleash all sorts of pain in short order. However whilst you’re highly maneuverable you can’t use your emp or thrusters which, combined with the fact that the AI targets you even more heavily, makes you something of a glass cannon. Now this is probably something that can be countered by doing the additional objects in order to get the upgrades (which I got the majority of) but they don’t seem to have much of an impact past keeping you in line with the ramping up of the mission difficulty. Usually with these kinds of games you get to craft a ship which just massively out-guns anything you come across but you can’t really do this in Strike Suit Zero, which is a little bit disappointing.
The story is also decent but it’s let down by the mediocre voice acting which is usually delivered flat without much feeling behind it. For instance whenever the enemy seems to surprise one of the fleet commanders they sound as if they’re one of the Neutrals from Futurama reacting to the beige alert on their screen. I can’t comment on the conclusion as I stopped playing it in frustration when one of the missions took forever to complete and then placed me right beside a carrier, killing me instantly and forcing me back 15 minutes.
For the time frame that it was delivered in Strike Suit Zero is pretty impressive as it has all the trappings of the space sims of yore whilst avoiding many of the mistakes of more recent titles. However I feel like there was so much more that could be done with things like the upgrade system, ship choice and breaking away from its highly linear nature. Strike Suit Zero then is a great base for Born Ready Games to expand upon, using the universe that they’ve created to form the foundation for future titles. If you liked games like Freelancer you’re sure to enjoy Strike Suit Zero, but be sure to go in with your expectactions set accordingly.
Strike Suit Zero is available on PC right now for $19.99. Total play time was 5.2 hours with 50% of the achievements unlocked.
The roguelike genre has always been on the periphery of my gaming world; sitting in the corner with its randomly generated levels promising me all sorts of wonders should I take the time to play through it. Of course it’s a fool’s gambit since the Roguelike genre dictates that your path in the game will be a slave to your computer’s random number generator forcing you to make the best of the situation that you’ve been dealt. I think it’s this exact reason that I avoided the genre for so long, I’m not the kind of player who likes being out of control of a situation especially when if a wrong move means I won’t be able to reload and try again. You’d then think that FTL: Faster Than Light wouldn’t get a look in but it overcame the barrier by being in space and having several recommendations from friends.
FTL puts you in control of a small federation ship that has intercepted a data packet from the rebel fleet that’s hell bent on taking your empire down. This data could prove to be invaluable in stopping them so it’s up to you to get back to your fleet in order deliver this information. You’re a long way away however and the rebel fleet is hot on your heels, forcing you to venture through some sectors of space that you probably wouldn’t have gone through in the first place. Indeed space seems to be a rather hostile place as you’ll face many obstacles along your way and even upon reaching your final destination there will still be many challenges for you to overcome.
In typical roguelike fashion FTL eschews modern graphics, instead favouring pixel art styling for everything. As far as I can tell they’re actually vector based images as rendering them on my 1680 x 1050 screen didn’t give me the huge pixel blocks that I usually get with titles like this which is a pretty great achievement. The simple, clean art style also helps immensely with the game play as it’s much easier to distinguish everything on screen, something which can be crucial when you’re in the middle of a battle and clicking wildly. The UI elements are also straight forward and their functions clear further adding to FTL’s overall usability. It really pleases me when a game manages to get the graphics and UI right without being too over the top as I can’t tell you how many times a bad interface has soured me on the whole game experience.
FTL’s game play is your run of the mill Rougelike dungeon affair with you moving from beacon to beacon, each of which is randomly generated and contains things like an event, an enemy ship or simply nothing. Depending on the choices you’ve made in what to upgrade, what kind of crew members you have and even what weapons you have equipped the events (and the way they play out) will change which means that no two play throughs will ever be a like. This is both a blessing and a curse of the genre as whilst you’ll never be playing the same game twice this does mean that you’ll often find yourself in situations that you’ve never been in before and should you make the wrong choices you’ll be doing it all again in no short order.
For the most part you’ll spend your time fighting other ships with varying levels of weaponry, configurations and additional abilities that are sure to make your life far more difficult than it should be. Whilst the combat occurs in real time there it’s still in essence turn based thanks to the time limits placed on all actions you can take. In the beginning the scales are most certainly stacked in your favour as you have several times the hull of any enemy ship and can usually take them out with a well placed missile, leaving you to clean them up at your leisure. This doesn’t last particularly long however and you’ll soon find yourself waging a battle on several different fronts.
The combat system is actually quite detailed with many viable strategies available. The initial ship you’re given, The Kestrel, is a pretty typical “blast them until they stop moving” type of craft which is optimized for taking out their shields with a missile and then pummelling them with your laser. Other ship configurations, which you unlock by completing certain achievements, focus on different ways of taking out the enemy. The first (and currently only) ship that I unlocked uses an ion canon to disable enemy systems whilst a single drone wears them down. Others focus on boarding parties where your crew is teleported to the other ship to wreck havoc which usually requires careful micromanagement to pull off correctly. These are just the main types of combat as there’s a lot more variation if you include the different types of weapons and drones, each of which can have devastating effects if used correctly.
I spent most of my time on the Kestrel, favouring to upgrade my shields initially to prevent most of the early hull damage whilst looking for some kind of weapon to give me the edge. I’d usually end up keeping one missile around in order to disable their shields so I could then unleash with my other weapons but I did have a lot of success with 2 lasers and 1 beam weapon which would usually let me drop their shields before doing a lot of sweeping damage to them. The issue with this was that it was something of a one trick pony and direct hits to the shields or weapons systems usually left me rather vulnerable so it was always a race to disable their weapons first before they could do it to me.
Now I know this is probably going to sound like I’m missing the point of the roguelike genre but the fact is that a good chunk of this game (I’d say about 50% or so) is pure, unadulterated luck. There were several times when after my first jump in a new game I’d find myself in an asteroid field or next to a sun that’s about to go nova which would do enormous amounts of hull damage to my ship before I could escape. This then put me on the back foot as I’d have to use my scrap for repairs rather than upgrades which usually meant even more hull damage and thus the cycle goes. Sometimes it swung the other way with FTL coughing up a weapon that was seriously broken for when I got it, effectively enabling me to take down all sorts of foes without having to pay too much attention to strategy. Many will argue that this is part of the fun but I’ve got one story that I feel proves my point somewhat.
So I had gotten to the final stage with an amazing ship, nearly full compliment of crew and all the missiles and hull I could want. Not wanting to lose this game I hunted around for the save game files and copied them off (yeah, yeah, I know) before heading off towards the final mission. Upon reaching it I did pretty well but didn’t make it past the first phase and so I reloaded it and tried again. I did this no less than 20 times and whilst I got the first stage down pat it appears the second stage still eludes me. Without doing that I would’ve had to have invested a lot more time to get to that point and there would be no guarantees that I could get there with a similarly decked out ship. Essentially, if I was playing the game normally, I wouldn’t have had the same opportunity to learn the boss fight if I hadn’t jacked my save game which irritates me. I know a lot of people enjoy this kind of challenge but after a while I have to say the hour long build up to inevitable demise started to wear on me.
Despite my misgivings with the Rougelike genre I really did enjoy FTL: Faster Than Light for what it is. When I started off just getting around without dying was a challenge but later on it was easy for me to get to the final stand without too much hassle. Of course how I did from there was completely dependent on how much the RNG liked me that day but that didn’t stop me from trying time and time again. I’ve still yet to get passed the second phase of the final boss fight but you can rest assured I’ll keep trying. I might not go the whole hog every time (I still have that game saved) but there is a certain satisfaction in playing from start to finish and I’m sure that’s what keeps everyone coming back.
FTL: Faster Than Light is available on PC, OSX and Linux right now for $10. Game was mostly played on the easy difficulty setting with around 7 hours total play time.