I know it's unwise, but this review is being written at a high pitch of fury. If I could erase Strike Suit Zero from existence I would, but as it is I'll settle for removing it from my hard drive and raising a glass as its bytes blink into oblivion. I rarely properly hate games, and have never detested something quite as obviously accomplished as Strike Suit Zero before. Don't let the prettiness fool you; buy this and you might as well peel off your skin and jump in a vinegar bath.
Agony awaits, to the extent that your expression is reduced to a series of inchoate groans and outright screams of rage. This game is so frustrating at times that I was writing totally useless notes like "ARGH I HATE IT". All of its problems come down to design flaws that could probably be easily corrected in a patch, but here they are nevertheless: terrible checkpointing, frequent crashing, a seriously flawed implementation of the central 'transforming' mechanic and escort missions that have given a new name to pain.
Strike Suit Zero's opening sets up the Strike Suit, which transforms your fighter craft into a Gundam-flavoured space robot. The levels before this point are actually quite pleasant, relatively undemanding interstellar cruises, and give you time to admire things like the beautiful user interface. The targeting system is especially neat and comes complete with a tracking guide over quarry that helps with leading your fire.
In fact, if Strike Suit Zero had just forgotten about the robot suit altogether it would have been a much better game, because its best moments are undoubtedly to be found in the dogfighting. The controls allow the ships a wide range and speed of movement, matched to simple weapon-switching and defensive options. Turning an evasive 180 while silhouetted by a burning planet and blowing away your pursuer is what these games are all about, and sometimes Strike Suit Zero delivers that.
You acquire the Strike Suit at the end of the third mission, and the first task is an escort mission. Remember Natalya? Perhaps the most infamous 'partner' of all time, she specialised in ruining GoldenEye levels for you by getting killed. Now imagine escorting a frigate approximately a million times bigger, immobile, and wearing a giant target reading "SHOOT ME". This is the Arcadia, the most loathsome lump in the known universe. Hell, this thing is worse than Natalya; I failed this first suit mission about 20 times in a row and had to take several breaks to calm myself down. If I have a heart attack in the next few days, put "The Arcadia was Destroyed" on my tombstone.
Look, I like a hard game as much as the next man, but Strike Suit Zero is not frustrating because it's difficult. Its key mechanic is poorly designed from top to bottom. The concept is that players should use the suit to deal mega damage or destroy multiple smaller targets at once; you switch out from ship mode, which can only fire one missile at a time, into the suit mode, which can fire lots and lots and also has a huge cannon. Suit mode also changes how you move, replacing forward momentum with what is basically strafing. The idea is clearly to create something akin to Bangai-O in 3D, with a quick switch into the suit mode followed by a simultaneous launch of multiple missiles, and then a speedy escape in ship mode.
This never happens. A pronounced difference in aiming sensitivity between ship and suit mode can be fixed in the options menu, but even after this the transition is always ham-fisted, not least because it forces players using the first-person perspective to quickly adjust to third-person and back again. The game also positively chugs during certain suit changes; I suspected high visual settings might have been to blame for this, but even after changing to the lowest available, Strike Suit Zero gets choppy when things get hot.
Instead of the Strike Suit being an empowering tool it's a weak link, something that feels vulnerable and clunky and not even that powerful.
Much worse than dropped frames are the missiles, which should be your pride and joy but instead are incredibly finicky to target accurately - and take absolutely ages to hit anything. This is a huge deal because very often Strike Suit Zero will face you with a challenge that, were the Strike Suit any good, would be achievable, like shooting 10 of torpedoes out of the sky. If I try to do this I often end up firing 40 missiles at the first torpedo and then a few apologetic stragglers at the others. Because the aiming is so problematic and the impact takes so long to happen, you very often end up just trying to fudge through with the basic ship. At least it can kill small, weak things relatively quickly.
But dodgy targeting is the least of the Strike Suit's problems. Far worse is the fact that transforming turns you into a sitting duck, a still point amidst a chaotic battlefield, and nearly always results in being targeted and losing health immediately. What this means is that instead of the Strike Suit being an empowering tool it's a weak link, something that feels vulnerable and clunky and not even that powerful - and yet you're condemned to use it. Don't even get me started on the pathetic range of its machine gun.
The AI, both enemy and ally, is rudimentary, the former unchallenging and the latter useless. The objectives spike from incredibly easy to incredibly hard. You'll sometimes get a 'game over' for chasing an enemy a bit too far out of bounds, even though they're much further. And the worst thing is that all too often success or failure doesn't really rest on you - it rests on whether a hulking piece of crap can survive long enough while you do other things.
Perhaps Strike Suit Zero wouldn't be so frustrating if it didn't do this over and over again. When you're not escorting ships, you're attacking ships, and this seesaw quickly becomes a deadening repetition, made even worse by a checkpointing system that often puts you way further back than it should - sometimes it'll take 15 minutes merely to reach the battle you died in. Which means you have to listen to the phoned-in voice-acting again, go through often frustrating sections again - and just when you think you can't take any more, the whole sodding thing crashes and you have to re-start the mission from the very beginning.
I'd love to talk about how good-looking Strike Suit Zero is, how it manages to make each level feel like a different part of space. I'd love to talk about how cool the ship designs are, and even how exciting its battlefields can look when you're approaching them. I would love to sit here and write about space dogfighting and the comeback of games like Wing Commander and X-Wing.
But this isn't it, not by a thousand long shots. There's a part of me that wants to play it safe and give this an average mark, because clearly the components of Strike Suit Zero are well-polished and the team behind it talented in certain areas. Some simple patches could improve much of Strike Suit Zero, and perhaps they will. But the honest truth is I had an absolutely miserable time playing this. You can have the best ingredients in the world, but if the chef's crap it doesn't matter. I wouldn't give Strike Suit Zero to my dog - and he can't even play video games.