It is the absurdly distant future of 2299, humanity is somehow still alive and some of its members don’t have any kind of existence outside of their spacecraft. Wars with complicated, yet not all too interesting, reasons are being waged in the vast vacuum of the galaxy and you, mostly as the fighter pilot Adams, are deep in the middle of it all. This isn’t Sparta. This. Is. Strike Suit Zero: Director’s Cut.
Developed and published by Born Ready after a successful Kickstarter campaign back in 2013 Strike Suit Zero gets a new lease on life on the Nintendo Switch in the form of the Director’s Cut, as first released on the PS4 and Xbox One in 2014. The game is centered around dog fights in space, protecting allies and destroying ships way bigger than yours, though what lies beneath this top layer of awesome sounding is not at all fine and dandy.
We are introduced to the plot and universe via in-engine cutscenes with not much to bond or identify with except for big hunks of metal. The story kind of just happens at the player and I didn’t really care much for the web of political incidents nor the military rank schemings Strike Suit Zero: Director’s Cut threw at me. The voice acting is fine, though I imagine the voice director used the phrase “More stoical!“ a lot, which results in a blandness all the characters share.
After a short introduction, we are thrown right into the thick of it. And by that, I mean a tutorial. It is what it is, nothing special about it and we are just straight up teaching some of the core mechanics with a bit of dialogue and pop up text. Keeping in mind this is all about space combat we get to know how to shoot our fast guns, our lock on and not so lock-on missiles and how to move three-dimensionally in our bulky space jet.
The controls present the first challenge regardless of chosen difficulty as they’re needlessly complicated without any chance of changing the control scheme or individual buttons, a missed opportunity for sure. Just as an example, to boost you need to push the left analog stick in and ZL at the same time, a button combination you will quickly find very uncomfortable, especially with two separated Joy-Cons in each hand.
While motion controls are missing, a big no-no for any shooter game port for Nintendo Switch, you don’t have to aim with pinpoint precision to hit anything. Just wait until your reticule turns red and fire, you’ll hit your target, though this mechanic is restricted to active targets and not anything you can actually destroy.
Transform into the game’s titular strike mode and a whole slew of different problems come up as suddenly you don’t move like a jet, with perpetual forward motion, but instead with your left analog stick in a more direct fashion; forward suddenly moves you facing forward instead of upward etc., a change confusing, to say the least, often only for a few seconds and as long as your flux meter lets you.
Additionally, the dodge mechanics in strike mode get in your way quite a bit. Intended behavior would be to tap the left stick quickly twice in the same direction, but unfortunately, if you swivel the stick in another direction and back to the first the game thinks you wanted to dodge. Sometimes right into the hull of a massive enemy ship, which can mean a quick death for you.
While battling with problematic control design choices you also battle with a myriad of enemies in a mission-based path of progression through Strike Suit Zero: Director’s Cut. These missions range from roughly twenty to sixty minutes and checkpoints between big objectives save you from insanity, as death can be very frequent, even on normal difficulty.
Between mission objectives the story often moves on with you still in the cockpit, twiddling your thumbs and drifting aimlessly through space while lifeless character portraits just… talk. Between missions, you are presented with different ship and loadout choices, but to be honest I didn’t quite feel the impact of these.
The visual presentation of all of this is rough. I mean Playstation 2 rough. The models are blocky and generic, the textures are unremarkable, both in quality and detail and some of the levels are so dark, with no brightness options at all, that in combination with the absence of a mini-map orientation around the open spaces can become quite a tricky task and one that doesn’t feel intended as part of the gameplay loop. The not so spectacular sound design also doesn’t do anything to alleviate this issue at all. To be fair the performance is fine, both in handheld and docked mode.
Keeping all this in mind a question of great importance lingers: Is Strike Suit Zero: Director’s Cut fun? This depends on the player, of course, so let me pose a couple of follow up questions. Do you like repetitive mission objectives and design? Do You like switching playstyles drastically for very limited amounts of time, breaking up the flow every so often? Is storytelling awkwardly integrated into gameplay your cup of tea? How about fiddly and cumbersome control schemes, do you like those?
If you would answer all those questions with a hearty „Yes!“ you are obviously not me and this game should be totally up your alley. Unfortunately, all the issues Strike Suit Zero: Director’s Cut comes with have made for a rather unenjoyable experience for me. Of course, it’s not the worst game the genre has to offer but a bunch of oversights combined with many design flaws make for a generic package in total. With better alternatives around, even on the Nintendo Switch, you should think twice before buying, even on a budget.