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.
Space sims are one of my favourite game genres. Indeed my go to title whenever I find myself without an Internet connection is Microsoft’s Freelancer, a game released way back in 2003 that still manages to be home to a lively modding community who’ve extended the games’ life considerably. It’s been a while since I’ve seen something of that calibre though with many recent titles like DarkStar One and Sol Exodus not managing to capture me in the same way. Eve Online got close though I’m hesitant to make comparisons between a MMORPG and a single player game as the experience is wildly different. On the surface Galaxy on Fire 2 would be in another world yet again however it really did feel like Freelancer all over again, and that’s a good thing.
Galaxy on Fire 2 isn’t a PC platform native. Whilst its original versions were released for Java (something I’m having trouble finding out if that meant it was actually keyboard/mouse) I was first introduced it as a title that I could use to stress my then shiny new Samsung Galaxy S2 with. After fiddling around with ChainFire3D for a while and eventually getting the Tegra emulation to work properly I was able to play Galaxy on Fire 2 without a problem and really quite enjoyed it. However holding an ever warming handset for more than 20 minutes was a tiresome experience so I never got around to finishing it. You can then imagine my excitement when I saw the title was coming to Steam in all its spacey glory.
You play as space fighter pilot Keith T. Maxwell, out on a routine mission to hunt down pirates and then head back to collect your reward. Unfortunately during the fire fight your hyperdrive is damaged causing your ship to begin malfunctioning. The malfunction then propels Keith forward in time 35 years and far across the galaxy where he finds himself among a newly formed confederation that’s severed all contact from the rest of the galaxy. At the same time a new threat in the form of a wormhole capable species begins attacking at random which Keith, of course, gets roped into helping out with.
I feel like just commenting on how the graphics look on PC would be doing Galaxy on Fire 2 something of an injustice. Taken in the context that the above pictures are a pretty similar quality to what you see on a phone says something about how powerful today’s smart phones really are and just how good Galaxy on Fire 2 looks on them. For a PC sure they’re not that fantastic (the screenshots are done with all the settings on absolute maximum) but in comparison to other recent titles in the same genre they’re actually not that bad and in light of their origins they’re actually quite impressive.
Just like any true space simulator there are a few core components that make up Galaxy on Fire 2’s game play. There’s the full 3D space combat where you’ll battle other enemies in space ships, a commodity trading market (including everyone’s favourite mini-game: mining!) and a set of storyline missions that functions as both a tutorial in the beginning as well as a way to give you game changing pieces of technology in an organic fashion. This level of detail is undoubtedly the reason why I feel that Galaxy on Fire 2 is well above its recent competitors as others would do away with one or more of the aspects which meant a good section of the expect game play in the genre was gone with nothing left to fill the void.
The combat in Galaxy on Fire 2 is pretty decent although its mobile roots do show in its simplicity. In essence most dogfights are the exact same encounter: you’ll get shot at from a distance, find the enemy that was shooting at you then proceed to chase them as you wear them down. The AI isn’t particularly smart and will react in pretty much the same way every time and thus the only real increase in challenge comes from either tougher enemies or by throwing large numbers of them at you. In essence it’s challenging right up until you figure out how to cheat the AI (hint: they can only seem to predict motion in 1 plane of movement) and then after that you’re pretty much just burning time until they all go boom.
There were 2 issues with the combat that I need to mention. The first is the lack of any trajectory compensating reticle, I.E. a little targeting thing that shows you were to aim in order to hit the target that’s moving in front of you. It’s pretty much a given in any space sim (and pretty much anything with a flying component these days) so its absence feels more like laziness than something that adds challenge. Indeed initially it forced me to choose a different weapon type in order to make aiming easier (read: rapid fire) which I felt was extremely limiting. The second issue is the motion of enemies when they’re close to static obstacles. Instead of flying around them enemies will instead hit them, stick to them, and then track along them; that is if they don’t just fly directly through them first. Collision avoidance in space sims isn’t particularly difficult so I can only hope its absence is deliberate for one reason or another.
The trading section is pretty interesting as reading about it on some of the Galaxy on Fire 2 forums shows that it has supply and demand curves so you can create demands in areas and then fill them later on for a huge profit. I personally didn’t bother much with it until I got the blueprint for the Khador drive which requires about $40K worth of materials but retails for about 6 times that which sent me on a trading rampage to try and find the cheapest places so I could start churning these things out. I only ended up building 2 of them in the end and that was enough to get me a ship (a Groza, if you’re interested) that was more than capable of handling pretty much everything that was thrown at me, despite what the forums said to the contrary.
The missions, both the story line and I assume procedurally generated space lounge ones, are pretty simplistic in nature with most of them being not much more than a variation of the “Go here, kill that, repeat” kind of deal. They do mix it up a bit with some of them being disable, capture or raiding pirate base type affairs which helps to keep it interesting for a while but I’d be lying if I said it didn’t get repetitive after a while. Indeed I think this is a problem with most space simulators as the grind of working up to better ships and weapons often sees you repeating the same missions unless you find a shortcut of some description (like selling Khador drives).
The story of Galaxy on Fire 2 certainly isn’t bad but if you’re looking for something akin to a space opera like Battlestar Galactica you’re going to be left wanting. It’s fully voice acted with the actors doing a good job of making the dialogue lively but there really isn’t much to it apart from the wry humour and half assed romance plot. It’s enough to carry the game along and I did genuinely want to see Keith and his love interest get together but there was no lasting emotional impact which is usually how I judge a good quality story.
After saying all that you’d get the impression that I didn’t really enjoy Galaxy on Fire 2 but actually I quite did. Sure the graphics and gameplay are somewhat simplistic and the combat gets repetitive but Galaxy on Fire 2 is the closest thing I’ve had to Freelancer in a long, long time. That’s saying a lot as Freelancer was a game made with (I assume) a much bigger budget and was built for the PC from the ground up rather than coming to it after finding wild success on the mobile market. As a mobile game Galaxy on Fire 2 is an incredible demonstration of what the smart phone platform is capable of. On the PC its a great experience for those of us who cut our teeth on other space sims and hopefully Fishlabs will continue to release their titles (and expansion packs) for the platform.
Galaxy on Fire 2 is available on Android, iOS and PC right now for $5.49, $4.99 and $19.99 respectively. Game was played entirely on the PC on Hard difficulty with 7 hours of total play time and 24% of the achievements unlocked.
I’ve always loved space simulators, even before I discovered my passion for all things space related some years ago. For the last 2 times I’ve found myself between Internet connections at home I’ve always found myself playing through the campaign of Freelancer at least once just because there’s something so incredibly satisfying about the experience. Few games have close to generating that same feeling even though there’s been quite a few that tried (DarkStar One and Evochron Mercenaries come to mind). Sol: Exodus is a recent title in the space sim genre and it came as part of one of the Indie Bundles currently going on steam. From what little I had heard about it Sol: Exodus looked decent enough to warrant me giving it the once over.
Sol: Exodus takes place 500 years into the future where humanity has devastated our home planet and we have instead become a space bound race. You play as Commander Michael David, a well trained space pilot who’s been tasked with protecting the last hope for humanity: a series of science vessels designed to scout out potential planets for settlement. Just as the scientists relay the exciting news that they’ve found a planet that would be suitable your fleet comes under attack by a religious zealot group who are hell bent on ensuring that humanity stays bound to space. You and your command ship survive and this begins your journey into bringing them to justice whilst also bringing about humanity’s salvation.
The graphics of Sol: Exodus are a mix of very nicely done spacescapes coupled with rather rudimentary level models and textures for everything else on screen. Now I won’t be unduly harsh on the developers behind Sol: Exodus because of this, there’s only so much you can do with such a small team, but it bears mentioning that the art work isn’t anything stellar. Couple this with the almost pixel art level renditions of the character portraits and the game feels like it was released around the same time as my go to favourite Freelancer more than it does for a title of the present day. Still the backgrounds are usually quite pretty so they win back some points for that.
The main game mechanic of Sol: Exodus is good old fashioned space dogfighting with a couple mini-games thrown in to break up it a little bit. It functions pretty much as you’d expect, you have a targeting system that paints target after target for you to gun down and you can do so with either your homing missiles (which have a limited supply) or you can try to mow them down using your unlimited ammunition gattling gun using the provided aim ahead reticle. Apart from that there’s not that much more to it (apart from the mini-games which I’ll get into later) and for the most part it works well save for a few little quirks I think need to be mentioned.
Like all space games with dogfighting in them (apart from games like EVE Online where you’re movement is almost irrelevant to the combat) you’ll spend a great deal of time chasing enemies from behind, sending torrents of bullets and missiles after them. The AI is unfortunately somewhat rudimentary and whilst they provide a decent challenge, especially the later elite ones, they are quite dumb and will gladly fly to their deaths by ramming into any obstacle that happens to be near by. This could be your ship, an NPC ship or anything that has collision detection on it. Whilst it’s not really possible to get them to fly into stuff by baiting them into it you’ll be likely witness to dozens of them driving their crafts into inanimate objects just for the hell of it. It’s amusing but a sign that the game AI is only half baked.
The mini-games I’ve referred to usually take the form of a scramble pad that pops up which displays a whole lot of random characters. After a couple seconds 3 letters will be highlighted and then you’ll be presented with a list of similar codes and the code that was just displayed, leaving you to chose the correct one. In all the times the game came up I only stuffed it up once but that came down to the font of the game having quite similar characters for 1 and I. Once you choose the right code you can then perform some function on the device you just hacked, usually disabling something or downloading blueprints.
The blueprints function as a sort of unlock that allows you to take down the larger capital ships that you’ll come across from time to time. Once you have the blueprints parts of the craft will become highlighted in red with a big “Weakness Point” dialog hovering over the top of them, showing where you need to start hammering away. You don’t seem to need to hit all the weak points in order to take down a craft though so if you’re strategic about it you can take them down quite quickly. It’s a pretty cool, if completely unoriginal, idea although it does feel quite samey after you do it a couple times.
There’s also an incredibly simplistic upgrade system that gives you the choice of upgrading your weapons, giving you more missiles and allowing you to fire the canons longer before overheating, your armour or your afterburners.Out of the 3 upgrades the most useful is, of course, the weapons as whilst the armour upgrades are handy you in fact don’t really need it as you can repair at your capital ship at any time during the mission. There are missions when your capital isn’t there but once you get to them you’ve probably already upgraded your weapons to max and then you can easily spare some points for armour upgrades. The speed boost upgrade seems rather useless as the default one is pretty much sufficient as long as you use it wisely.
The upgrade points come to you when you complete a mission and should you hit on an extra objective you’ll get 2 instead of 1. Unfortunately this isn’t made clear to you before the mission and whilst you can kind of guess what the objective is there’s really no way to know what you should prioritize if you’re hungering for those upgrades (or achievements, but you can just read them in the steam profile). I think there was only 3 missions where I didn’t manage to get the extra upgrade points, so it’s probably moot anyway.
The story is pretty uninspired being a rather generic space opera kind of deal with a dash of religious commentary thrown in just for good measure. The characters are given little back story or development and whilst it’s fully voice acted (commendable given its indie nature) there’s nothing really notable about the performances. Suffice to say if you ignore the story completely I don’t think you’d really be missing out on anything and the fact they committed the cardinal sin of leaving the ending open (they even said TO BE CONTINUED at the credits screen) leaves me the only option of saying you’re probably better off for doing so.
In the end Sol: Exodus feels like a good starting point for a space simulator game, one that could be so much more than it currently is. It’s incredibly short, even by indie standards, and there’s no multiplayer to speak of, something which would have made the short campaign length more understandable. Granted Seamless Entertainment are a small studio and should be commended for getting to this point but the fact remains that Sol: Exodus isn’t much more than an afternoon’s distraction and feels like it would be much better suited to the iOS/Android platform than the PC it resides on. Maybe we’ll see more from the developers in the future where they use all the investment in Sol: Exodus to produce something that has a lot more meat to it than their latest title does.
Sol: Exodus is available on PC right now for $9.99. Total game time was approximately 2.5 hours with 57% of the achievements unlocked.