Dogfighting! Dinky lock-on noises! Carriers picking each other apart with torpedoes! Sizzling tapestries of exhaust trails! In theory, Strike Suit Zero is a triumphant comeback for the deep space combat sim - a hot mix of Colony Wars, Gundam and Homeworld - but "in theory" doesn't always survive orbital re-entry.
The PC version met with mixed reactions last year - praised for its beautiful backdrops and cascade of special effects, panned for its reliance on trial and error. Will exactly the same be true of the Xbox One version, which will be published via Microsoft's much-sung [email protected] program? Or has Guildford-based Bornready made a few vital course corrections?
It seems that the studio has. "We wanted to maximize the power of Xbox One to give the game the best visuals, but we also wanted to ensure that the Director's Cut is the definitive version of the game," creative director Jim Mummery told me by email.
"As a result - we have completely restructured the first quarter of the game, replaced almost all of the art assets to bring them up to next-gen standards, rewritten a fair chunk of the story, added the Heroes of the Fleet DLC mission pack and two additional Strike Suits."
Strike Suits are the game's flagship features, as you may have guessed. They're a class of space fighter that can morph into a bipedal mech after accruing enough "flux" from the carcasses of enemy ships. While in mech form, a Suit is effectively a super-powered missile turret, controlled in third person and able to decimate whole squadrons in seconds; the price to pay for all this extra muscle is that you're a sitting duck, so it's important to time the transformation just right. There are three other ship classes: an all-rounder, a fleet-footed interceptor and a bomber that's good against capital ships but easy pickings for a hostile fighter.
The cut-and-thrust of combat can be exhilarating, according to our friends at Edge - you'll pull off barrel rolls through curtains of fire, and slide into "air" brake turns as you fight to keep a foe between your crosshairs. The mission design has been found wanting, however - objectives too often involve defending numbskull friendlies against arbitrarily spawned bogeys, cue punishing late-game difficulty spikes. The HUD and controls have also been deemed unintuitive, at least when playing on controller.
Bornsteady now recognises that the original didn't do enough to win over greener pilots - it began life, after all, as a love letter to veterans of the space sim's heyday. "We were very aware during Strike Suit Zero that we were making a niche game. We were the first space combat game in ages and our community - built up largely out of Kickstarter backers (who are still credited on Directors Cut) were largely a hardcore audience.
As a result - the game we made was a little old school in its difficulty. However our community grew and there were a large number of people who wanted to play Strike Suit but did not want to be thrown in the deep end. "
Accordingly, the developer has taken a pickaxe and sander to Strike Suit Zero's learning curve. "We've worked hard to make the game more accessible, to give the player more information and more time to get used to the game and the Strike Suit before ramping up the action. We've added more training, more checkpoints and rebalanced much of the game. The challenges are still there but players now have more of a chance to get to grips with the game and enjoy it.
"Also players wanted the Strike Suit earlier. In the original PC game - players reached the Strike suit halfway through Mission 3. We have completely restructured the beginning of the game - including reworking the story and the missions - to ensure players get to enjoy the Strike Suit as quickly as possible."
In terms of what the Xbox One version in particular offers over the PS4 and PC versions, you can expect the "usual" stuff - help docs, new Achievements plus time-specific Challenges and play statistics. The big focus, however, has simply been to pump the visuals full of next gen jazz: all the ships (designed by Infinite Space and Steel Battalion artist Junji Okubo) have been scaled up, the resolution has been raised and the lighting is more luxuriant.
"Clearly having a more powerful machine is good as we like to push things a bit, and the last boxes struggled too much with what we wanted to do," Bornready CEO James Brooksby observed in a separate email. "We very much like the architecture of the machine, it has made it quick for us to move our engine over and have something running, and running very quickly indeed."
While the new features and additions should make a decided difference, it doesn't sound like the Director's Cut of Strike Suit Zero will be too dissimilar to the PC original - so if the latter sent you into a corkscrew, you should probably steer clear. In particular, there's no mention of any overhaul to the game's much-criticised friendly AI, which suggests that allied ships will probably be (annoyingly fragile) scenery for the most part.
Those with the patience to power through may find the spectacle of combat worth the effort, however. Strike Suit Zero launches later this year. Don't know about you, but I can't wait to get it out of the hangar.