Strike Suit Zero: Director's Cut is an arcade-style space shooter that one might compare to Star Wars: X-Wing, or even those Rogue Squadron games for the Nintendo 64 and GameCube. As a war rages on between Earth and the independent colonies of space, you'll play as a pilot in the U.N.E. (United Nations of Earth) with the goal of protecting mankind's home planet from ultimate destruction. It's a decent enough plot to provide context to your actions, but considering the narrative mostly unfolds through comm link transmissions in the heat of battle, it can easily get lost in the mix. So the important question is: how good is the gameplay?
The campaign is broken up into missions, each with multiple segments and advancing objectives. These basically revolve between "destroy those" and "defend that" — offering the basics but not really shaking things up. When the focus is on pure dogfighting that’s when Strike Suit Zero is at its best. Zipping swiftly throughout space while eradicating a dense magnitude of enemy ships can be utterly exhilarating, and having the ability to switch between a fairly standard spacecraft and a powerhouse mecha is as awesome as it sounds. But to be a proficient pilot, it’s going to take practice.
With a complex control scheme that utilizes just about every button on the controller, getting into the swing of things won't be simple for everyone. The expected tutorial missions are here and helpful, but they won’t mean much without following up with diligent practice. Word of warning: this is a game for diehard fans of the genre, and it doesn’t really spend any time attempting to comfort newcomers. You’ll either need to quickly grasp the demand of the controls and the intricacies of combat, or you won't make it that far. Regardless of which of the three difficulty settings you choose to play on – the usual easy, medium, and hard – saving the world isn’t going to be a cakewalk. Which brings us to an issue that regularly reared its head throughout the campaign.
While the situations that pit you against a sea of enemy fighters — with the sole purpose of obliterating them from existence — are the sure highlights, it’s when very specific objects need to be targeted that the missions can reach hair-pulling levels of frustration. Sometimes it’s hard to distinguish between the different types of turrets thickly layering enemy Cruisers, and even though the ones of importance will be marked with diamond-shaped icons, it’s common for them to get mixed in with the lot. Not destroying these targets in time can often result in friendly causalities, followed by a failed mission. There were countless times we had to replay sequences just to piece together precisely what we needed to be doing.
With most levels running considerably long – especially when you're figuring things out – restarting like this can really put a damper on the whole experience. It became common for a mission that should typically run around 15-20 minutes to drag on much longer than anticipated. We found these bloated lengths to be a deterrent, generally keeping us from playing beyond one or two missions in a single play session. Awkward checkpoints certainly didn't help matters, either.
It should be very clearly stated that Strike Suit Zero does get a lot of things right, too. For one, it can be pretty dang good to look at. The frame rate is silky smooth with barely a hiccup, making the action all the more satisfying. All of the space shooter-y takes place over the backdrop of absolutely entrancing planets and starscapes, layered with hypnotic colors and accompanied by an ambient score that melts you into the experience. The appearance of the enemy ships can be a bit underwhelming by comparison, but this is possibly to ensure they keep from blending into the universe around them. Overall, this is a great looking indie title.
As previously touched upon, once you do get accustomed to the controls the core gameplay is actually stellar, too — which is why basic dogfighting is so enthralling. Having the ability to unlock various spacecrafts and weaponry, allows you to choose how you want to approach certain missions, and we like that. While majority of the campaign was spent snugly inside of the Strike Suit, there were situations that caused us to rethink our plan of attack and switch things up. Would standard lock-on missiles be most efficient for focusing solely on the main objective, or could fire-and-forget rockets easily help us clear the ships clogging our airspace first? Finding the type of weapon that best compliments each mission, as well as your style of play, is interesting to play around with — even more so when replaying with the intention of setting high scores.
It took us about seven hours to defend Earth from the Colonial forces. Beyond that there is a 'Heroes of the Fleet' mode that allows you to simulate five historic moments from the war, though we found these more aggravating than enjoyable. Regardless of the selected mode, your performance will be scored, and there are leaderboards to climb for those interested in that sort of thing. Diehard fans of the genre should get good mileage out of the amount of content in Strike Suit Zero, though any curious parties with limited exposure would be best off waiting for a sale. We think the price might be too big of a risk when considering our concerns.
Strike Suit Zero: Director’s Cut delivers on the promise of offering intense space combat to those long overdue for a fix. Unfortunately, crushing difficulties, confusing design choices, and a steep learning curve keep this from being the great game it was so close to being. The highs are undeniably out of this world, but the missteps are sure to intermittently bring you back down to Earth. We can still easily slap on a stamp of approval for seasoned fans of the genre – especially with no other alternatives on Xbox One – though anyone that has yet to attend flight school likely won’t find this to be the most welcoming place to get started.
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