Born Ready’s Kickstarter success story has you piloting a giant ship/robot in space and blowing everything to smithereens. Is this the intergalactic combat shooter we’ve been waiting years for, or should we fire it into a black hole?
It wasn’t meant to be this way. Developers Born Ready got their space combat shooter Strike Suit Zero funded through a Kickstarter campaign, and it looked every bit like a game made by fans, for fans. An independent project, no publisher interference, in a genre largely regarded as dead and buried? One that seemed to be riffing on the best of the best? I get the free-wheeling dogfights of cult favourites like X-Wing and Freespace, plus the large-scale fleet action of real-time strategy classic Homeworld? And my ship turns into a giant robot? Shut up and take my money, as the internet likes to say.
The first warning sign comes early, though, when you discover you don’t get to use the giant robot whenever you feel like it – but in fact the problems start well before that. As soon as you begin your driving test, it becomes obvious the controls are awkward, over-complicated and fiddly. The ships handle fairly predictably – with the ability to boost, brake and hit the afterburners – and you’ve got your shield and hull strength gauges, one which regenerates, one which doesn’t. You can choose a primary and secondary loadout too, where some weapons use finite ammunition, some drain a rechargable energy supply.
But there’s just something slightly off about how all of these work. Movement is awkward and sluggish, so much so braking seems pointless. Even something like assigning afterburners to clicking the left stick by default grates within seconds. Your energy weapons fire so slowly and drain your battery so fast you’re continually running dry, particularly given how difficult it can be to track your targets. Shields vanish in moments and take forever to recharge too.
Stick with it and you start to settle into a rhythm, of sorts. Machine guns take down enemy shields, then energy weapons finish them off, and your allies help out enough that you start to enjoy the giant furballs a little more, as ships rocket every which way. But it’s only ever a decent space combat game, never a very good one. And then Born Ready decides to hand you the keys to the Strike Suit.
The suit handles very differently to the regular ships. For every target you’re locked on to you’re basically moving round and round it in circles, dodging missiles and riddling it with cannon fire. You have an extra power gauge that governs how long you can stay in suit form, so you build this up by shooting things as a fighter, then transform and let rip. Kill enough things fast enough as the suit and you can stay transformed for even longer than normal.
The thing is, this is twice as fiddly as the regular ships, and all the more frustrating under pressure. Your first mission in the Strike Suit sees scores of enemies all rushing one mission critical ship, filling the air with missiles. Meanwhile, you’re asked to press, like, six buttons at once and the framerate’s turned into a slideshow and the ship you’re protecting can’t even defend itself and oh, Christ, I’m dead again and what lunatic thought this was a good way to introduce the player to the reason they’re supposed to have bought the game?
From there it all just slides awkwardly downhill. Attacking a large ship turns into an awkward battle of attrition, desperately picking off turrets one by one while your allies just sit there and take hits, and you realise flying a big robot in space just doesn’t seem that much fun. You start to notice how the visuals are shiny, sure, but not really that detailed despite how badly they run, or how neither friendly nor enemy AI is up to much (one mission stretched out five minutes too long after a squadron of bombers got stuck in a holding pattern).
The whole thing just feels like an idea that was never properly thought through. There are moments it clicks, but precious few. Too much of it is a half-hearted stab at recreating past glories, and the lack of polish, flagging attention to detail and teeth-grinding difficulty spikes just mean by the time you’re half-way through the game you’re asking yourself: what’s the point in soldiering on?
Strike Suit Zero, from Born Ready Games, is available now for PC.