If you’re old enough to remember the nineties (clue: Britpop, Tarantino, that ‘internet’ thing everyone went on about for a while), you may well recall the great space battle games of the era. There was Wing Commander, with its cinematic story of fear and struggle (and that was just Mark Hamill’s pre-Joker acting career); there was the cult Psygnosis hit Colony Wars displaying the developer’s characteristic combination of style and tricky handling; and there was X-Wing vs Tie Fighter, managing to render those classic Star Wars space fights into joyous interactive reality. It was a great time, when developers were filled with wonder by the possibilities of polygonal visuals and the sheer huge-ness of 3D space. Then everyone sort of stopped making space games, and a lot of people were forced to pack away their dreams of being interstellar combat pilots. It was heartbreaking.
Thank your lucky stars, then, for Strike Suit Zero from Born Ready, a 3D space combat simulator that recalls those heady days – just with super detailed HD visuals and a touch of Anime-style mech action. The story is classic space battle stuff. In the year 2299, the human race has discovered ‘fold’ technology which – like the jump tech in Battlestar Galactica – has allowed colonists to travel enormous distances and popularise far off worlds. Unfortunately the folks back in our Solar System soon become alienated by their resource-hogging space cousins and start a mammoth civil war. Some sort of ‘third-party’ is introduced to the battle later on, but the studio isn’t saying what this is. But we’re thinking martians.
Anyway, the player takes part on the side of the colonists, piloting a piece of alien technology known as the strike suit. This thing is essentially a Transformer, able to switch between a super powered space craft equipped with missiles and blasters, and a giant robot that can streak through the cosmos targeting enemies. And my God, it’s full of spacecraft. Every environment is jammed with gigantic battle cruisers, mega-freighters and one-man fighters swarming about the place like space wasps. Starship designs are by Junji Okubo, who’s previously worked on the game Steel Battalion as well as anime like Appleseed and Viper’s Creed. He’s well-known for creating authentically functional craft – every hinge, joint and feature on these things is there for a reason. In the background, planets loom, glowing peacefully – an utterly majestic canvas for the frenzied action. This game just looks beautiful.
The action is mission-based, with battles taking place in various locations around the galaxy, and everything you do is framed within a much wider conflict. “We want the player to feel like they’re part of something much bigger,” says community manager and ex-journo, Jamin Smith. “When you’re flying around you’ll see allies taking out enemies, there are big cruisers that you’re trying to protect and that will ultimately take out much larger enemies than you can. You’re one guy, one part of this much larger conflict. It’s got to feel epic: it’s a space game”.
The ultimate aim is to save planet Earth from its restless natives, and how the player performs will decide the fate of the planet at the close. “It’s a sort of Save Earth meta-game,” says Smith. “Depending on how you play, and the sub-objectives you complete, Earth will be in a different state at the end. So, say you fail to protect a certain freighter in your fleet and it’s destroyed, at the end of the game you might find that New York has just been levelled – there’s a real notion of action and consequence with multiple endings tied in to that”.
Although there’s a linear structure of 13 main missions, not all of the objectives can be completed first time – players are able to backtrack when they unlock better weapons and abilities. There are also highscore possibilities, backed by a global leaderboard – so you can compete to be the very best fighter pilot among your space battling peers. And if you grew up playing games in the nineties, you’ll surely have a few of those lurking about in your contact book.
The game is due out this winter on PC and will follow on XBLA.