I almost didn’t get to write this post, as initially Strike Suit Zero was way too hardcore for me. I just couldn’t get through the first mission with the actual giant robot – essentially part of the tutorial. They’ve since added an easy mode and mid-mission checkpoints, and hey – now I can enjoy this game!
There’s a pen and paper RPG and tabletop war game that’s always fired up my imagination much more than the media it’s based on. That game is Dream Pod 9’s (now discontinued) Jovian Chronicles and the stuff it’s aping is space anime – mostly Gundam. The war game flavor is called Lightning Strike. They have mecha design to die for, combined with a mind for drama and a smooth system. It’s very good.
I haven’t ever got to play those kinds of colorful, crowded space battles in a videogame. Closest experience is Wing Commander, with its space cats and frantic pace, and it’s been quite a few years since that. Strike Suit Zero is basically made for me – it gives me precisely that fantasy, even serving its mecha with a combined western-eastern flavor, as JC does.
It is very pretty, obscenely so at times. Beautiful trails chase every space craft, missiles streak across the stars in clouds, lasers and kinetic weapons explode everywhere around you. The constant, tight dogfighting sees you diving through an exploding enemy ace’s craft every thirty seconds or so.
The ship designs are good to great, although I really don’t care for the cockpit design, and the Strike Suit itself is masterclass space mecha design. I love it very much and would like to see more of it, considering that when I’m using it myself I’m way too busy to really appreciate it.
I would very much like to fly my giant space robot all the time, but the way Strike Suit Zero rations it out is very effective. You need to zoom around in a furious little fighter most of the time, dogfighting dozens of enemies, collecting something called flux from debris to power your transformation sequence. Then you have a timespan of seconds to unleash glorious space hell on your foes, filling the sky with missile trails and laser death, before zipping away as a fighter once more. Time it incorrectly and your woefully inadequate armor leaves you dead in the sky.
The long missions grate, typically at around half an hour, with lots of interminable talking heads narration inbetween, all of which is thankfully skippable. A much bigger problem is the nature of the missions, far too often based on escorting utterly useless, defenseless ships assailed by waves of torpedo ships.
Shooting down torpedoes is not exactly thrilling.
Otherwise the campaign works, with medals to chase based on your performance and space ship options to unlock.
The controls work, but they never come naturally. There’s too much conscious thought going into every weapon change and transformation, as accomplished and interesting as the combat systems are on paper. Using all of the different weapon systems is empowering and tactical, but it’s a bit of a chore in the heat of battle. It does make you feel like a proper, trained ace when you do nail a complex sequence.
But the dogfighting works and hitting that ideal moment and spot to transform into space god, wiping your enemies into so much stardust, is pure space nerd gold, every time. And for this first proper space war game in a far too long time, that is enough.