After having your space-license of space-fighter pilot revoked you attempt to rejoin the space-air-force. During your space-test a space dogfight breaks out. And it’s only the space-beginning.
The first couple of missions put you in control of a simple fighter to allow you to get a firm grip on the reigns of the space-jet, which is not at all complicated as the game is far more like an action flying game, rather than a simulator.
The controls are easy to grasp, but they are sometimes a bit out of whack – particularly the aim and subsequently the course-setting. It appears that sensitivity rises exponentially as you get further away from a small area in the middle of the screen where the aim is fine, but it is not a major problem as you never have to navigate any closed spaces and going off too much to one side can be quickly and harmlessly corrected within a split second. It is a very different story in the Strike Suit mode, though. Once in strike suit mode, deviating from a circle of about 5 cm radius in the middle of the screen will send your aim flying off and on top of the constant chaos of dozens of other ships and their respective missiles and bullets it can be very disorienting indeed. Thankfully in strike suit mode there is a dedicated lock-on button that swiftly changes from enemy to enemy as you send them to their peril at about 10 times the speed of a normal dogfight, due to the immensely increased firepower of the mech.
The missions are largely repetitive and usually involve some or all of these 3 things: take down a bunch of enemy fighters, shoot down the defenses of an enemy frigate or defend a friendly ship from getting destroyed. While it sounds bland and tiresome it rarely is, as the combat mechanics completely overshadow the shortcomings of mission structures. The combat is fast, tactical and truly empowering. You are usually immensely outnumbered, but due to your Strike Suit capabilities, never outgunned.
Taking on dozens of enemies while conducting evasive maneuvers to escape from enemy plasma and sending out last-second EMP surges to disorient locked-on missiles is only a third of the battle, the main focus is the strike suit. Very few things are as enjoyable as flying into the heart of the enemy swarm, transforming within a second and raining down heavy machine gun fire and a seemingly infinite rain of missiles upon the foes, destroying a dozen ships within a span of 15 seconds and quickly turning back into pursuit mode and boosting out of there, knowing that these 15 seconds were as crucial and devastating as a handful of minutes preceding that. The game excels at making the player feel critical to the battle and truly irreplaceable, which is one of the reasons we turn to games – to be the one, the chosen, somebody truly awesome.
Unfortunately even the most fun gameplay cannot compensate for repeating half an hour of the game due to poor and minimalistic checkpoint placement. As with games in general, situations get a lot harder and more bullet-infested in the imminence of the next checkpoint, but it is infuriating when the enemy frigate has but a slither of health left and that is the moment when enemies finally decide to coordinate and send four missiles your way, reducing the ship to a wreck in less than a second.
The story is vastly secondary and something I barely paid attention to because of the lack of strong characters, poor dialogue and preoccupation with gameplay. Whether every game should have a strong narrative is arguable, and I am certainly on the side that does not believe that it is crucial. Some games do not need an engaging story to drive the player forward if the sole gameplay is capable of doing so on its own, and this is a shining example.
There is no multiplayer, which is most likely a good thing. Usually I disagree with the hatred towards “tacked-on” MP, because the budget would not have been allocated to the developer of the singleplayer anyway. Games that do have seemingly pointless MP usually have it developed by a completely different studio and is made to extend the shelf life of the product, so, in fact, the publisher would not have given that money to the developer of the SP as the MP is insurance for the publisher that the game will keep bringing in money over a period of time. This is because people would be more reluctant to trade it in quickly and play the MP upon completing the single player, thus decreasing amount of games traded in, which would mean a decrease in cheaper used copies, which only the retailers profit from. With less used copies people would be more likely to buy new ones, bringing in more profit to the publisher. In this case, however, it was developed by an independent studio, funded by Kickstarter money, no less, so all the budget could have been used on the SP and if there was MP, it would certainly reflect on the quality of SP. Most air-combat games tend to have rather boring MP, and without it being Gundamized with swords and all, I don’t see it being very fun and it would simply be a tacked-on and useless mode in my eyes.
Aesthetically the game is very pleasing as the backdrops are without exception beautiful images of outer space. That coupled in with neon blue and red streaks of fighter jets as they course through the battlefield and one of the best glare effects in all current videogames makes for a vibrant and interesting look.
The music is very ambient and calming which provides a pleasing break from the chaotic battles, but does nothing for the fights themselves. Personally, I think J-pop or power-metal would have been perfect for battle music, but that may be because of my love for Gundam and all Japanese mech-oriented anything. Speaking of Gundam… no matter, how impossible this is, but if the game was re-skinned with Gundam mechs and given a Gundam-like story (+ sword StrikeSuit-on-StrikeSuit battles would not be too shabby) all the shortcomings of the game would have been inexistent.
Overall it is unarguably enjoyable and fun, and while poor mission structure, storytelling and harsh checkpoints are to its detriment, they are certainly overshadowed by breathtaking and empowering combat and beautiful visuals.