Originally kickstarted into life on PC back in 2013, Born Ready’s Strike Suit Zero was released to somewhat mixed reviews which most commonly cited problems with terrible checkpointing during missions, dumb squad AI and the late stage at which you get your hands on the eponymous suit itself. A Director’s Cut addressing these issues as well as enhancing graphics, reworking voice-acting and adding the ‘Heroes of the Fleet’ DLC was released on consoles and PC in 2014, and it’s this souped-up version which sees its way onto Switch this month.
Players assume the role a disgraced fighter pilot thrown into an ‘epic battle’ between Earth and Colonial forces (this may remind you of a famous Japanese anime series). A mysterious alien signal has granted humans the ability to travel beyond the confines earth, colonising planets as they go in search of the source of the origin of the power they’ve been granted. Fractures soon appear in the relationship between Earth and her colonies when they begin to demand independence and, absolutely inevitably, all-out war ensues. It’s run-of-the-mill space opera stuff which never threatens to develop into anything even remotely interesting, serving only to frame some very average space action which ultimately falls apart under the weight of a multitude of problems stemming from the implementation of the titular Strike Suit itself.
The main problem with the Strike Suit here is that it just never seems absolutely essential to the run of play; it never fully embeds itself into the rhythm of combat or makes the sort of big splash you anticipate when you excitedly hit the transform button, which causes your spacecraft to come juddering to a halt, flipping and twisting like Michael Bay having a bad dream, into its robot form.
Instead of empowering you, creating a faster, deadlier, more awe-inspiring version of the threat you were, all the Strike Suit actually does is make you temporarily stronger whilst robbing you of your speed and agility; it’s also on a rather stingy timer. Killing enemies in normal form fills up a flux meter which you then, very quickly, expend whilst doing damage in mech form. Your time in Strike Suit mode is therefore always on a countdown; it never gives you time to feel comfortable, instead forcing you to do as much damage as you can – mostly in a blind panic – before returning to your normal state.
There are also control issues. Dodging from side-to-side in robot form is easy enough, but moving up and down requires the directional buttons on the D-pad, so too does switching weapon loadouts required to engage different types of enemies. It’s cumbersome, and feels the exact opposite of empowering. There’s also a bizarre issue in that if you transform whilst your fighter is upside down, you are then left stuck upside down in Strike Suit mode – there’s no way to correct yourself other than to flip back to ship mode, which is an odd oversight.
Moving away from the suit itself, Strike Suit Zero doesn’t help itself by being made up of extremely bog-standard mission types which repeat themselves ad-nauseum, getting more frustrating and difficult until the credits roll. Don’t like escort missions? Well that’s tough, because there’s even one in the opening tutorial mission and you’ll spend a lot of time in this game defending giant sluggish fleet ships against seemingly endless waves of enemy fighters. And when we say endless, we mean endless. By the time this game hits its third or fourth mission, you’re looking at sorties which can last in the region of around thirty minutes. Transports are escorted, waves of enemies dealt with and complexes assaulted, and when you think you’re heading home another load of the exact same objective types arrive. It’s tiresome.
A shout out must also be given to the bomber mission which arrives halfway through the game’s campaign. Stripping you of the ability to use your Strike Suit, this is a long and plodding mess, totally at odds with everything the game has been trying to achieve with its central mechanic, and very obviously thrown in as a desperate attempt to add some variety to proceedings. It’s a low point from which things never really recover.
Other small niggles include UI problems such as red targeting boxes which overlap and become confusing to parse, and, on one early mission set to the very red backdrop of the embers of a recently destroyed planet, become almost invisible, especially in portable mode. Cycling through targets is also confined to hitting X to target what is directly ahead or B to select the nearest enemy to your craft. It’s understandable that this is a streamlined system designed to suit console controllers, but it limits your ability to engage with your surroundings and create strategies to deal with enemies.
Having said all of this, the port that’s presented here is impressive in that it performs almost identically to its console and PC brethren. The graphics are, by and large, a match for all versions of the game, although it’s a shame that even in this enhanced Director’s Cut version ship textures are so uninspiringly dull and undetailed. Missions do play out against some lovely skyboxes though, and besides a stuttering issue during a handful of very large explosions (which, it should be noted, is also present on console and PC versions) the game handles very smoothly in both docked and handheld modes. Indeed, it’s surprising to find that this type of game plays perfectly well in the Switch’s portable mode; space combat games tend to be very busy onscreen affairs but, besides those aforementioned red targeting boxes niggles, everything is easy enough to follow and enemy targets aren’t blurred or hard to see.
Other positive elements here include the Heroes of the Fleet DLC, which fleshes out the game’s story somewhat by dropping you into half a dozen historical scenarios – some of which include better mission design than the actual main campaign – and a superbly atmospheric soundtrack by Paul Ruskay which mixes dark synth strains and ethereal voices to create a pleasingly bizarre backdrop to the action on-screen.
There’s no escaping the fact that Strike Suit Zero is a let-down, despite the promise of this enhanced edition. The Director’s Cut has fixed issues with checkpointing and, in terms of content, is certainly a generous package on Switch, but the game never escapes the fact that its central conceit isn’t satisfactorily delivered upon. With better mech controls and some more time and care put into delivering more varied missions this could have been a great little space combat game, but as it stands it’s hard to recommend to anyone other than diehard space jockeys.