Strike Suit Zero

By Shamus
on Jul 29, 2013
Filed under:
Game Reviews

It always bothers me that this genre ends up being called a “space combat simulator”. Okay, “space” is a given. And “combat” is impossible to argue. But sim? These games do anything but sim. A game where you shoot slow-moving orbs of energy at fighters that must continually generate thrust to remain at max speed and that detonate in audible explosions when you reduce their hull integrity to zero is not a simulation of the sorts of things that can happen in space. Fun, sure. But that’s not a sim.

While claiming any title to be the “best” is usually grounds for a flamewar, this genre is small enough that I think I can point to the Freespace series as the high-water mark. The original was actually titled Descent: Freespace. Publisher Interplay wanted the game to have better name recognition, so they tacked on the name of their popular, unique, and totally unrelated first-person indoor spaceship shooter. I mean, both games have you piloting ships in zero gravity. That makes them kind of related, right? Like if Valve had named their zombie game: Half-Life: Outbreak because both games have you play as a person with a gun.

Freespace was tremendous. So good that it stepped out of the shadow of Descent, and has arguably outlived it in the minds of the gaming public. Freespace 2 is said to be even better, although I managed to miss it. It’s still on my list to play eventually. But it’s hard to play games from fourteen years ago when there’s so much new stuff to play. For example: Strike Suit Zero.

ssz1.jpg

Strike Suit Zero was developed by indie team Born Ready Games. If you’ve ever played Freespace, X–Wing, Wing Commander, Tie Fighter, or any of the other Space Combat Unsimulators, then this is just what you’d expect: You’re given a single-pilot craft and sent on missions where you escort stuff, scout stuff, bomb stuff, guard stuff, or scan stuff. But no matter what your mission is, you’ll be doing a lot of dogfighting. Always dogfighting.

The hook with this game is that you pilot a Strike Suit, a fighter that can occasionally transform into a thing with arms and legs and skates around in space shootin’ ships Gundam style. (Not to be confused with, well… you know.) The Strike Suit can only be activated when you kill enough stuff, and firing your weapons causes it to lose power until it reverts back into a fighter and begins flying around again. Like I said: Not a simulation.

ssz2.jpg

One thing I’ve always loved about these kinds of games is the way they’re content to let you be a regular pilot. Okay, you might have a ridiculous kill count and you end up flying all the most crucial missions, but you’re just another member of a squad. You’re not the chosen one, the prince, or the superhuman. The strike suit kind of undercuts this by making you the only person who has access to this exotic super-ship.

I had fun with Strike Suit Zero until I got frustrated and ditched the game on mission 9. I might give that mission a post of its own, but the short of it is that I was asked to do a little too much without enough justification and suddenly I was stuck, I wasn’t having fun, and I didn’t care what happened next. It’s a shame when a game has one bad part that can derail your enjoyment. In a movie you can just go passive and wait for it to stop sucking. But if a game raises the bar on how much work you need to put into it and at the same begins lowering the payout in enjoyment, then it’s no longer an entertainment product – it’s a chore.

Even if this mission had been easy, it was still absurd and undercut the notion that I was a lone fighter taking part in a larger conflict.

ssz3.jpg

The Strike Suit is an interesting idea. The visuals are glorious. The voice acting is surprisingly good for an indie title. I recommend the game to fans of the genre, if only because we don’t get these things very often. I can vouch for the quality of everything up to mission 8. After that, you’re on your own.

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  1. Cordance says:

    I got to say I loved the game but felt there was a lot of could have beens due to its indie nature. Perhaps I have just grown too soft from lack of serious time sink challenge games but the game does seem to ramp things up fairly steeply. Just when you think you have gotten past the hardest of it, there is a new level of challenge. Personally I feel this could have benefited greatly from some different difficulty levels that improved friendly AI.
    I did find that going back to past missions and unlocking the bonuses was a huge help in progressing in later missions. Also creative use of checkpoints for a free rearm mid mission helps if you have issues.

    The one thing I felt that could have made a huge difference if their development was a little longer would have been a way to make sense of directions in open space, it is very easy to get turned around.

    Personally I hope this game leads to bigger and better space games I miss them. Well most of them.

  2. ClearWater says:

    Reading those lines about Gundam style, I just knew something like this must exist. Turns out I was right.

    • BeamSplashX says:

      I guess I’ll be that guy that says transforming robots aren’t really the purview of the Gundam franchise. There are more than a handful, but that was a trend being followed, not set. Macross is actually the closest, where evolutions of modern fighter jets transform into humanoid robots and also fire tons of missiles at once.

      Speaking of which, I was hoping the mode switching in SSZ would be a tactical consideration instead of some kind of super mode. Can’t win ’em all, I guess.

  3. O.G.N says:

    I have to disagree. Space sims are sims. They’re just simulating the kind of combat found in Star Wars or Babylon 5 rather than anything resembling reality. I do seem to recall I-War was slightly more realistic than most.

    • Mephane says:

      How close to realism a game is has little to do with whether it is a simulation or not. What matters is whether the simulation is the game, or just the framework upon which the actual game runs. For example, Kerbal Space Program is a space sim. I would call Strike Suit Zero a space shooter.

      • Ringwraith says:

        Strike Suit Zero is much more arcadey than some other ones, like I would call the X series more of a space sim game because you are on equal footing with other ships and there’s even a whole economy tacked on to it.
        Arcadey doesn’t mean bad though, as Freelancer is such a nice game to just play.

      • Knut says:

        I disagree when you say that being a simulation has nothing to do with realism, as the definition of simulation is imitating a real system. As Wikipedia would put it: Simulation is the imitation of the operation of a real-world process or system over time.

        Given this, I do agree that Strike Suit Zero is a space shooter. And I’m sure it’s a much more fun game like this, instead of employing the same kind of Newtonian physics (ever played Frontier: Elite 2? Quite frustrating, though you could perform gravity slingshots like a boss).

        However, sometimes some of us really want to use 15 minutes to start up a F-16. (And yes, use a replica joystick.

        • Rax says:

          15 Minutes to start up your fighter? Ever watched Nerd³ try to start an a-10C?
          Simultaneously one of the most boring and most entertaining of his videos.

        • Mephane says:

          Sorry, I should have worded this cleaer. I meant the word “simulation” specifically in a game genre sense.

          • Knut says:

            Yes, I see what you mean. However, I think “simulation” and “game” is not the same thing, and should be used about different things:

            When I fly a plane or a spaceship in a game, I expect the physics to be unrealistic (typicaly simplified), because it’s more fun, or to increase performance etc

            However, when I fly a plane or a spaceship in a simulator, I expect the physics to behave as close to reality as possible.

            One is not “better” or “more correct” than the other, they are simply different things. I enjoy both, but in different ways.

            As of SSZ, I would not call that a “Space Combat Simulator”, but rather a “Space Combat Game” or “Space Shooter”, in the same way I call COD a “First Person Shooter” instead of “Military Simulator”. Because they are games.

        • False Prophet says:

          But by the standards of the GNS Theory of gaming, a simulation would be:

          “[a] style of play where the main agenda is the recreation of, or inspiration by, the observed characteristics of a particular genre or set of source material. Physical reality might count as source material for these purposes, but so might superhero anthologies, or any other literary, cinematic or historical milieu. Its most frequent concerns are internal consistency, analysis or modeling of cause and effect, and informed speculation or even extrapolation.”

          Is SSZ a “realistic” simulation of space combat? No, but neither are 95% of so-called “space combat sims” because most of them are using the “World War II dogfights IN SPACE” trope common to space opera fiction, which is an extremely unrealistic portrayal of space flight to begin with.

          Is SSZ an immersive and detailed recreation of space combat as described in a particular fictional setting? (In this case the most likely candidate is Macross/Robotech.) That I’ll debate.

          • Knut says:

            But if anything can be the basis for simulation, then everything is a simulation, and then the word “simulation” no longer has any meaning, other than “based on something else”.

            I totaly disagree with this, and hold that a simulation must be simulating physical reality.

            • Deoxy says:

              Imagine a series of fiction books that involve one or two noticeable changes to the laws of physics, and that said fiction books are very popular.

              Imagine further that someone makes a video game that seeks to create an accurate experience as one would have it in said fictional universe, complete with VR goggles and force feedback systems.

              What other useful name would you call that other than a simulation? Clearly, it IS a simulation… of a fictional reality.

              If your definition of “simulation” is “based on reality”, then a vast and ridiculous number of things are “simulation” because the thing they are based on is reality.

              What most people would consider a “simulation” is one that puts more effort is lowering the level of abstraction in some important way. SimCity, while still abstracted in SO many ways, was called a “simulation” because it simulated the parts of a game that are usually abstracted (instead, it abstracted the parts that usually aren’t – what the people were doing, for instance).

              Whether or not something is a reasonable simulation of something else depends on which parts you want to simulate. Most games aren’t considered “simulations” because the things they would be simulating they instead highly stylize, which is totally different.

              • Knut says:

                I would still call it a game. The popularity of the source material, or the number of VR systems and force feedback systems is not the criteria used by me to determine whether I call a system a “simulation” or “game” or anything else.

                My definition of “simulation” is not only that the system is based on reality, this is to broad as you point out. I also hold that the goal of the system is to as accurately as possible simulate reality (within reasonable limits). I feel that this is a better definition, as it includes the systems based on reality, but only those that actually makes an effort to accurately simulate reality. (Also, while we are talking about computer games here, it can be mechanical or other forms too)

                I also call SimCity (and similar systems) games, because the levels of abstraction, and because the goal of their development is to create a game. What EA/Maxis calls it, is irrelevant. That’s marketing talk anyway (they also called Sim City servers stable).

                From the definition citiated by False Prophet above:
                “[a] style of play where the main agenda is the recreation of, or inspiration by, the observed characteristics of a particular genre or set of source material.” (emphasis mine)
                Notice that it says “inspiration by”. Since most forms of entertainment arguably are at least inspired by something else, the term simulation loses it’s meaning when using this definition.

    • Aristabulus says:

      I agree with OGN’s angle, that they are sims, just not simulating realism.

      More generally, I think it’s just an extension of genre naming conventions. The space sim’s closest sibling is the (terrestrial) flight sim. Shorthand style associations like that don’t always make sense if you deconstruct it.

      • The Rocketeer says:

        I have the same problem with never knowing how to refer to games like Ace Combat, and the weird spot on the realism spectrum they tend to fall on. Call them a combat flight sim, and people think I mean something like Il-2 Sturmovik or Blazing Angels, which I actually really don’t enjoy, but at the same time no other descriptor really leaps to mind…

      • some random dood says:

        @Aristabulus
        Are you in advertising? Legal? Marketing? Humpty Dumpty? ‘When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less.’
        Please stop it. (And no, I don’t go as far to suggest the Bill Hicks meaning of ‘stop’.) For the sake of society, please do not go along with marketers/advertisers/lawyers abuse of the meaning of words. Instead, gently mock them for their failures in the understanding of the English language. Or, if their abuse of language is deliberate, simply mock them for their failures as human beings.

    • X2-Eliah says:

      So GTA games are driving/shooting sims? All FPS/TPS are shooting sims? All racing games are driving sims? All games about conflict en masse are war sims?

      There HAS to be some distinction, some limiter between a sim or a nonsim. If you say that any game is a sim purely by virtue of it being a game, well – then the “sim” has exactly 0 value as a genre descriptor/attribute.

      • Leviathan says:

        If every game (except a few truly original ones) simulates something, the question becomes not whether they are sims but what they simulate. I can imagine two games with very similar mechanics, except that one is a war sim and the other is a business sim; they would feel very different to play.

    • Bubble181 says:

      Bab 5 is a weird example to use, though. There’s dogfighting and all kinds of other very unlikely crap, but the original fighters B5 uses were actually designed with NASA engineers – except for the “practically infinite energy in a small location during fighting” bit, they’re amongst the very few spaec fighters that would actually *work* in space. Hence the 8 engines on the far corners in different directions.

      It’s not realistic there’ll ever be anything even remotely resembling dogfighting in space, and if so, we’ll solve it differently, I’m sure….But as an example of “dogfighting based on WWII style fighting instead of actual space mechanics”, it’s an odd choice at the very least.

  4. Lalaland says:

    I think only the Elite or X-series have come close to space sims in the sense of modelling Newtonian physics other than that visible lasers and spacejets abound.

    Despite never having played any of the Freespace series I can conclusively determine that they are inferior to TIE Fighter in every way, my nostalgia goggles tell me so. I loved the way TIE Fighter blended the rote job of being an Imperial pilot with the high intrigue of the Star Wars setting by having secondary missions for the Emperor that could even conflict with your primary. Also +10000000000 points to TIE Fighter for making your progression as an Imperial agent an ever growing tattoo. ;)

    • ehlijen says:

      Tie Fighter is great, no question. But there is one thing that gives Freespace 2 an edge in any comparison: It comes with a fully functional mission editor. Well, sometimes it crashes, but it still provides superior long term playability I find.

      If I had to pick one of them for a desert Island, I’d toss out the food to make room for both.

      • Lalaland says:

        Hmmmmm this and the awesome fan campaigns & mods I’ve read about have me super curious about F2, damn you GOG.com with your fine games. Need a joystick though otherwise I just won’t feel like it’s the early 90s again!

        Shame my Sidewinder died a few years ago, MS made some bloody good PC gaming peripherals. The gamepad and joystick were awesome, it’s always baffled me how they got the d-pad so right on that PC pad and so god awful on the 360 pad.

    • SlothfulCobra says:

      I always hear about how great the old Lucasarts space combat games are, but they’re not on GOG or Steam so I never will get the opportunity to try them.

      It’s awful that these genres are so unpopular these days.

      • Aldowyn says:

        They’ve tended a lot more towards the open-world style with games like the X-series. Very little in the way of a set campaign like Freespace or Wing Commander had. Star Citizen might have a chance of resurrecting it, though…

      • Sabredance (MatthewH) says:

        They won’t work on modern hardware without modification. Fortunately it’s already been done and is out on the internet now -but it took me a couple of days to get my copies to run on Windows 7.

      • Klay F. says:

        Thats LucasArts for ya. They owned so many quality titles back in the day, yet they have absolutely no interest in making them available again. Now that Disney owns LucasArts, I doubt these old games will ever see the light of day again.

        • SlothfulCobra says:

          I don’t think Disney owns Lucasarts, I think they dissolved the company and sold the Star Wars videogame rights to EA.

          Which admittedly sounds even worse.

          • Klay F. says:

            Yeah, I should have said they own all of LucasArt’s old properties. As far as EA goes, I think they just have an exclusivity contract, sort of like they used to have with the NFL and Madden.

            • Lalaland says:

              I was kind of hoping the Disney of 600 straight to video sequels might actually release all of the old catalogue in a janky-but-legal kind of form. As the smarter people on the internet have already posted nice guides on how I could make that crud work I could finally get my Manny and Glottis on :(

              If Disney release Grim Fandango on download I swear to god I will buy every one of their awful straight to video movie sequels…MAKE IT HAPPEN DISNEY!!!

  5. Irridium says:

    You haven’t played Freespace 2 yet? You should. I’d say it’s space combat at its best.

    Also, mission 9… is that the one where you have to escort that freighter to the installation, then defend it from some stuff, then defend it from the OMGWTF fleet that pops in? Because if so, yeah that mission was pretty weak. I did manage to beat it, but since then I’ve been waiting to play it again. Still feel burnt out from that mission…

    • guy says:

      I think it’s the one where you have to single-handedly defend a frigate from a carrier that has anti-capital weaponry in addition to fighter/bomber wings.

      • CannonGerbil says:

        That’s strange, because the mission you all seem to be describing is mission 8. The actual mission 9 is a cakewalk breather level, as far as I can recall.

        But, yeah, that mission is bullshit. There’s really not alot you can do other than grit your teeth and savescum through it.

        • False Prophet says:

          Was there finally an update that let you savescum? Last time I played it, I was still stuck with checkpoints, and just couldn’t live long enough to finish the mission. I was getting close, but just got burned out before I finished it and haven’t gone back since.

          • Humanoid says:

            This is why I like having failure as an option in this type of game. Okay, you can skip the mission eventually, but I felt saving the Ralari was more a badge of honour because you wouldn’t have had to do it to complete the game successfully – indeed I’ve only ever saved it once.

            • You could get to where you could save the Ralari and medal about 60% of the time, with practice.

              As for WCII’s mission 13, all you had to do was command your wingman to attack the escort ship for the starbase and he would take that down before he blew up.

              Then you killed the fighters and could take the base down in a single run.

              The Wing Commander series and their mission 13s were interesting, but solvable with planning rather than super twitch skill.

              Which made them more fun in many ways.

  6. GO PLAY FREESPACE 2!! Auuughh!

    It’s like Freespace but BETTER. It’s very pretty now too. And I think there is even a way to play the campaign co-op, if you want.

    • Tom says:

      Yeah, it’s got super-pretty since the source code project!

      • Aristabulus says:

        And if you would rather fuss with the vanilla retail release, GOG has Freespace 2 for 10 bucks.

        • Otters34 says:

          I’ll add my voice to this, Freespace 2 is a spectacular game. Just about everything that was good and great about the first is present and the writers managed to make a very grounded and believable story out of what could have been overblown and preposterous.

          • Aldowyn says:

            Freespace 2 (and the original, although the second IS better) pretty much defined a TON of sci-fi tropes for me. I can’t not compare the Reapers to the Shivans, for example.

          • Hydralysk says:

            I’ll second that. Admiral Bosch specifically is one of my favorite antagonists in a game. Without his character, the whole NTF plot could’ve easily devolved into “Look at them craaaazy space racists!”.

            Still I got to say the best thing about FS2 is the work done in the mods though. A few notable examples would be Vassago’s Dirge which is set during the events of Freespace 2 and framed around classical music structure, and Blue Planet which is pretty much an ongoing fan made sequel to the original unresolved plot. On the more upbeat side there’s also Wings of Dawn which is an original universe obviously influenced by Gundam Seed and the like, and the Just Another Day series which pokes fun at everything about Freespace and it’s modding community.

            I got the Freespace game when I was around 10, and I still get a kick out of constantly seeing new mechanics, models, and stories being introduced by the community. It’s a game that just keeps on giving, even after 15 years.

  7. Bropocalypse says:

    Since getting into KSP, I can’t take seriously any spaceships which move like planes.

    • Nick Pitino says:

      Yes.

      This.

      Kerbal Space Program and Atomic Rockets pretty much ruined me forever.

      For Example: The mention of space fighters doesn’t quite make me foam at the mouth but it does ensure that it’ll be impossible for me to take a given work seriously.

      See also: Space is cold and our ship is all stealthy-n-stuff!

    • JPH says:

      Then I suppose you also don’t take seriously any shooter that doesn’t end after taking one or two shots?

      He who sacrifices fun for realism deserves neither.

      • The Rocketeer says:

        “And loses both,” is the other half of that statement; creating the expectation of realism is just going to scandalize all the respects in which the game isn’t realistic, and there are going to be a lot of those because reality is sophisticated.

  8. postinternetsyndrome says:

    I’ve been keeping half an eye on this game and was disappointed when it got mediocre reviews. In the steam sale I picked up its younger sibling: Strike Suit Infinity, which is the same game but with no campaign; just a horde mode. It’s much cheaper and I thought why not. Been having some fun, but it’s very bad at explaining how the upgrade system works and it is – perhaps unsurprisingly – a bit repetitive. Might pick up Zero at some point. I like the looks of it and it plays pretty well with a 360 controller.

  9. guy says:

    Freespace 2 is on Good Old Games. Go purchase it immediately.

    SSZ is pretty fun, although I was not terribly fond of just how much of it you spend hunting down torpedo volleys. Sure, you do that in Freespace 2 as well, but not anywhere close to as frequently. SSZ has you doing it very nearly every level.

    Also, the final level demands annoyingly precise flying for an extended period.

  10. Tobias says:

    After that introduction I was really expecting you to point us towards a realistic space simulator.

  11. bucaneer says:

    I’ve always thought that dogfighting would be to actual space combat as karate is to nuclear warfare. Without such pesky things as atmosphere and surface curvature (or surface) and with a practically unlimited line of sight, the incentives are all there for the fighting parties to stay as far away from each other as possible. How far that is, of course, depends on how sci-fi you expect future technology will become.

    • SlothfulCobra says:

      It’s really the same as following one dude with a gun around in the middle of a whole war. It shouldn’t be as important as the game makes it out to be, but it’s what most games follow because they don’t want to be just pushing a bunch of numbers around on a map.

      To be fair, dogfighting is basically extinct these days anyways. I don’t think I’ve ever heard of a game trying to effectively simulate modern air combat.

      • Aldowyn says:

        HAWX had you running around in modern planes shooting stuff down. Super fun, but I don’t doubt that it was quite unrealistic.

        Near the end you got an F-22 and if you airbraked (it was a thing, basically like drifting in planes) and did a flip you could fly straight into a missile chasing you – pretty annoying since with every other plane, you’d end up flying ABOVE the missile and it would go careening past you.

      • Sabredance (MatthewH) says:

        I’ve played a couple. They were notably not fun. You fly high and fast, target by instruments, and most of the kills are achieved with missiles well beyond visual range. Half the time, I don’t even know if I hit what I was shooting at.

        The fancy flying is only done to dodge incoming missiles.

        And if you absolutely must use the guns, it isn’t dogfight-style. It’s done from some several miles away, and again: entirely by instruments.

      • Humanoid says:

        Yeah, I enjoyed Strike Commander and its world, but in the end it was sort of Wing Commander/Privateer, with a floor.

        Also unrealistic in that storywise it was set in 2011, where supposedly the US had fragmented into many individual independent nations.

  12. Daemian Lucifer says:

    I dont know if I should go on a tangent here,or post it on the forum.Ah hell,you said it here,so here it will be:

    Anyway,the gangam style video has over 1,7 billion views.Ok,I know that doesnt mean that a third of the worlds population has seen it,but its still a scary number that implies that about 5-10% of the world knows about this,which is astonishing for a silly music video,and certainly not something that could be achieved so quickly before youtube.

  13. SlothfulCobra says:

    During the summer steam sale, I agonized so much about getting this game. I loved the Rogue Squadron games, and I always yearn to play more games like it, (especially since lately I’ve been getting tired of the standard running around shooting/punching/stabbing guys that most games default to) but it never really convinced me to give it a try. The ship that you fly just looks too silly because it never looks like a fighter, just a robot with wings stuck on. The shooting doesn’t look all that visceral, and the transformation into a giant robot to fire off a bunch of missiles still just sounds dumb to me.

    It also didn’t help that it has a sequel game that advertises itself as a “high score chaser” and I never bother with that sort of thing in games.

  14. X2-Eliah says:

    Ooooooh talking about space games? YESSSSSSS.

    First off, Shamus’s experience –

    I had fun with Strike Suit Zero until I got frustrated and ditched the game

    mirrors my own in this game (except I got frustrated way earlier than mission 9, I think).

    Now then.

    About the “sim” part – I completely agree with Shamus. This game is a space combat arcade. A shooter, if you want to nag – but definitely not a sim. What is a space sim, then? As Shamus said, a space COMBAT sim would be.. well, nearly nothing. Until realistic weaponry is added to Kerbal, I guess.
    However, as some posters noted above, “sim” does not have to imply realism. However, it DOES have to imply strict, defined, fundamentally sound mechanical frameworks and interactions thereof. In that sense, games like Freespace are combat sims, because there is great depth and method to the combat (strafing, directional shields, energy transfer systems, missile systems, well-defined flight models with newtonian / pseudonewtonian physics to spacecraft [and ideally projectiles]).

    Strike Suit Zero does not have in-depth mechanics. Sorry, but it just doesn’t. The flight model is even worse than Freelancer’s, which already was quite laughable. (Quite fun as well, though. And reasonably defined to be competitive in multiplayer, sure. Just not very deep nor intricate). In SSZ, you have the following problems:

    – No engine-shutdown (hence, no drifting, no turning-outside-of-flight-vector).
    – No strafe drive ( you have a magical side-dodge in mech mode only, which is an insufficient patch on the problem, at best).
    – Forced auto-thrust forwards. You can only “go slower” and “go faster”, you can’t “not go at all” nor “go back”.
    – No known manoeuvring capability data in the ships you fly. What’s the turn rate? What’s the roll rate? What’s the pitch? Is it better to turn sideways or roll 90deg and push up?
    – The mech mode makes my head hurt, please let’s not talk about that.

    I really don’t know how the game’s difficulty is what it is (I had to replay the 1st mission several times just to get the bronze medal), considering just how vague and floaty and odd the flying even feels. And how can you avoid enemy fire effectively if you don’t have good control over engines and no strafing at all?

    Sigh.

    Anyway. I just didn’t like SSZ’s flight feel. Fair?

    Next thing to talk about:
    There’s a big difference between space combat games and space simulation games. And that difference is, well, obvious. Combat games are just like SSZ – you have your missions, in which you spawn, kill stuff, kill more stuff, mission ends. No real persistent play, no simulation (HEY THERE IS THAT WORD) of the universe itself. Space games, on the other hand, have those things still going, which are unrelated to what you are shooting at in a given moment. Heck, Space Games don’t necessarily demand you shooting at stuff all the time either. There’s exploring, building, trading, just plain flying and gawking. There’s a plethora of NPC agents all doing their thing, not created just to be your shooting-ducks. Heck, there can be economic systems. That, imo, is what ‘space sim games’ really are about – they simulate a whole persistent ecosystem of a universe that exists as a whole entity, not setpiece dressing for player’s shooting gallery.

    Bottom line:
    The X games (X:Beyond The Frontier, X:Tension(iirc?) X2: The Threat, X3:Reunion, X3:Terran Conflict, X3:Albion Prelude) are a perfect example of a true non-realistic space sim game.
    The Kerbal space prog is an example of a true realistic non-combat space sim game.
    SSZ is a space shooter arcade.

    Post Scriptum:
    Actually, there is a complication… when we talk about “space sim”, there are two aspects that people focus upon, to the exclusion of the other: Some folks talk about the combat simmyness, and some folks (like me) talk about the game world simmyness. You could call a game with very intricate flight model a space sim (e.g. freespace), and you’d be kinda right, it is a space combat sim. You could call a game with fully running self-sufficient persistent universe a space sim (e.g. X3:TC), and you’d be kinda right, it is a space sim – but with very non-simmy combat/flight. Personally, I don’t know of a game that is released and is a sim in both senses of the word – but two upcoming games, Star Citizen and Elite: Dangerous both are shaping up to be (with SC favouring flight sim, and Elite favouring universe sim).

    P.P.S.
    If we take realism as a requirement for a “sim”, then the whole discussion is nearly meaningless, because a) space flight stuff doesn’t exist, so some grognard will always say “but how do you know it is (not) real?!?!?”; b) simulating & running the universe *realistically* without gross loss of detail (non-realism!) is unlikely and computationally infeasible for normal current systems; c) Truly realistic – in terms of probably tech & physics – space combat would be boring as hell. If you have read A. Reynolds’ SF novels, you will understand instantly, but the TL:DR version – we are talking about less-than-a-second resolutions of skirmishes across lightyears, based on pure guesswork of positioning. This MAY work for an RTS or TBS game, but NOT for an in-cockpit starwarsy fun furball combat. So, please, let’s chuck the R-word out the window before it kills the debate, ok?

    • Paul Spooner says:

      On the topic of realistic space combat, it would probably end up a lot more like submarine combat than WWI dogfights or WWII strafing runs. Allow me to explain by pointing out the crucial differences between space combat (which has been done, but rarely) and aero combat (which we are all familiar with, and on which most “space” games actually operate).

      Airplanes can change directions relatively easily, by pushing on the ambient air. Space ships can not, because they are in a vacuum, and can only push on their (constantly dwindling) reaction mass. This means that targeting a spaceship is trivial, since it is both costly and unweildy to dodge.

      Airplanes can rely on the atmosphere to shield them from attacks. Space ships can not, since they are in a vacuum. This means that kinetic and energetic weapons do not dissipate with distance, so the effective range of space-based attacks is limited only by the target’s ability to dodge (which is poor, as above).

      The combination of the above means that spaceships would need to remain hidden at all costs. In space combat Detection = Destruction. Nearly all of the strategy would involve maintaining silence, creating misleading information with decoys, active sensor reflection, and orbital synchronization, and then analyzing available information to penetrate the enemy’s defensive obscurity.

      This leads to things like “time aloft” becoming incredibly important, as how long you can remain “on station” without moving or blinking increases the chance that your foe will have to resupply before you (which produces telltales like drive emissions). In turn, this would produce very large nearly completely self-sustaining vessels. But, if you’re too large it get harder to hide, so there’s a tradeoff there.

      Ultimately though, it would be a waiting game, the ultimate fake-out fest, and nothing at all like the dog-fighting that we are used to seeing from the “space combat sim” genre.

      • guy says:

        Except hiding in space is not really possible, so no long stealthy waiting game.

        • Syal says:

          That’s just a technology limitation though.

          • ehlijen says:

            Simply the body heat given off by crew or computer cores in case of unmanned ships would be detectable unless you don’t mind baking to death within a few hours by deliberately trapping all the heat inside your ship.

            The only ways to stay hidden in space are to use other objects to obscure you. Naturally occurring objects are rare given the size of space and tend to be too far apart to allow for effective sneaking up, which means you have to rely on crafted decoys and ECM.

            It’s not a question of who spots the other first (both sides are fully aware the enemy is present) but of who first identifies the actual target and launches an attack. And even then, if the attack takes too long to connect, the enemy might still launch a counterstrike before dying.

            • Syal says:

              …how close to a sun would you have to be before it masks your heat?

              • guy says:

                Hiding against the sun just means you’re too cold instead of too hot on sensors.

                • Steve C says:

                  Get a pen. Find a 100 watt lightbulb. Put the tiniest dot you can onto it. Turn on the light and find the dot. You can use sunglasses, a camera whatever you want. It’s not impossible but it’s really really hard. The sun is like that but with more noise.

                  The sun is not really masking your heat (hot or cold) just masking the signal with a lot of background noise. Sun big, everything else small.

                  • ehlijen says:

                    How did you get between the observer and the sun without being seen?

                    How are you managing to stay there without detectable engine use to adjust your orbit to match that of the observer?

                    And if hubble can analyse the atmospheric composition of plantes light years away based on what light from their star passed through it, we can be fairly confident wartime demand would quickly develop a device capable of scanning for ships hiding in front of the sun.

            • Decius says:

              Directional heat sinks.

            • WJS says:

              The only ways to stay hidden in space are to use other objects to obscure you.

              That’s ridiculous. At the kind of ranges we’re talking about, a ship trying hard to control it’s emissions wouldn’t even be a pinprick on thermal. It’s not magic, you know.

        • Paul Spooner says:

          Three words for you:
          Cold Dark Mirror

          But yes, if you are surrounded by foes it is impossible to hide. You’ve got to get rid of the waste heat somehow, and then it will be detected. But then again, if you are surrounded by foes you’re in trouble no matter what kind of warfare you’re engaged in.

    • Decius says:

      Challenge mode: Make Kerbal Space program a combat game. I guess that one could create missiles and kinetic kill weapons pretty easily: have a bunch of massive components joined to the missile with detaching bits. Get on a trajectory as close as you can to an intercept with your target, then drop all the junk you can into a cone attack.

      Or get good enough that you can send boarders over.

  15. X2-Eliah says:

    Anyway, this is THE place to talk about Star Citizen / Elite: Dangerous / Limit Theory (?), so I will detach this suggestion from by big angry rant above.

    So, cor blimey, Star Citizen will / could be great. And Elite: Dangerous is shaping up to be all I’ve wanted in a modern space sim.

  16. Hieronymus says:

    For those wondering how you can make FreeSpace 2 (look) better: http://www.hard-light.net/wiki/index.php/Installing_FreeSpace_2_Open

    • A lurker says:

      It makes me happy to see Freespace show up in conversation. It’s one of the best series I’ve ever played. Fs1 missions have been ported into Fs2, there are also a bunch of good 3rd party campaigns with better plots than many AAA games I’ve seen/played (some get a little weird, not foolish though iirc). All easily available through the launcher too. My Ideal space ‘sim’ would have combat like what is in David Weber’s ‘Honorverse’.

  17. Aldowyn says:

    Freespace 2 is a FANTASTIC game. I’ve been lamenting the seeming death of the genre (campaign focused space combat games) for quite a while now. They seem to have mostly given way to the (seemingly much more niche) open-world space sim – Like the X-series or EVE. Star Citizen seems to be trying for both, although I haven’t followed it as much as some.

    Anyways, I got strike suit zero, and I.. uh…finished the second mission and got bored. *shrug*

    Oh, and on the topic of calling games like this a ‘sim’: I’d agree with the idea of calling games like Freespace a ‘sim’ because of how complicated they are. FS probably has around a dozen buttons for different variations of ‘target ___’, plus energy management, a full throttle, complicated maneuvering, several different weapons to switch between, a complicated battlespace to navigate, etc etc.

    *edit* Clarification: I’m not sure I personally would call Freespace a ‘sim’, but I can understand the argument.

  18. Is this the official turning point where “what is a space sim” has taken over from “what is games journalism?”

  19. Dev Null says:

    One day I’ll get a real spaceship combat game, where I can be happily accelerating up to Ludicrous Speed, kill the main thruster, hit the maneuver jets, spin 180 to shoot the jerk on my tail, and spin back without affecting my trajectory and momentem in the least.

    I suspect I’ll be terrible at it.

    • urs says:

      like.. Asteroids? ;)

      I once played around with Gamemaker for a while and most of my time was spent piecing something together that was very much like Asteroids (under water). Moving through thrust and rotation is an awesome mechanic that I’d very much like to see used more often. More than never, that is.

    • postinternetsyndrome says:

      You can do exactly that in Freelancer.

      It’s funny though, because the game does normally kill your momentum the second you let off the thrusters, but if you press the special “kill engine” key, THEN it allows you to drift on.

      • Rax says:

        You can also do that in Miner Wars 2081 by deactivating your “inertia dampeners”. Sadly, not actually the game the developers wanted to make, or promised to make rather.

        Edit: I should maybe point out: You can do that 180 maneuver without changing your trajectory, but your acceleration is still limited. Even without inertia dampeners your top speed is limited by your engine, which has an afterburner, but it’s speed is also lost. Pretty odd overall to “kind of simulate” frictionless flight, but not go through with it all the way.

      • NotPCorrect says:

        I’ve been a major fan of ‘Freelancer’ for years myself. Done right it can be played quite realistically & there are MANY Mod’s/Total Conversions out there for it still available to this day. The graphics are a bit dated but it is Still fun to play even now. My only real problem with it was the fact that it was Not compatible with any joysticks, all maneuvering was done through the keyboard. The larger ships weren’t that bad to fly using the keyboard but smaller ships almost Begged for the use of a joystick.

    • ehlijen says:

      The BSG mod ‘Beyond the Red Line’ for Freespace 2 came pretty close to that. You could keep forward thrust, spin around, push your craft up/down/sideways while still going the same direction…

      The ai was fully able to make use of it leading to very difficult and confusing fights.

      That said, going full speed, spinning around and shooting the guy on your tail…will lead to the guy on your tail shooting you first because you’re flying straight and he doesn’t have to turn around first.

    • Humanoid says:

      It’s not all that uncommon really, even Wing Commander 3 had some sort of primitive implementation of it, where you could toggle “auto-slide” on some ships, which would lock your current vector while you could spin around freely.

  20. Rax says:

    wow wow wow, Shamus. Drop everything and play Freespace 2!
    You know, if you feel like it. It’s an awesome game, as probably other people have pointed out already, but to be honest: I skipped the rest of you review-thingy and all the comments to write this.
    Commenting on the game would have been hard anyway, my only experience with it comes from Scott Manley’s Let’s Play of it, looked interesting, but not interesting enough for me to actually buy it.

  21. RariowunIrskand says:

    What you’re saying here is precisely why I’m so sad about the death of cheats. The main thing cheats always did for me was create skip buttons for levels I never wanted to play. That meant that I often finished games: If I got stuck to the point it wasn’t fun, I’d level skip. Most people remember cheats as fun ways to make your character overpowered and go on explosive rampages, and whilst that was fun, it was the level skip cheats that saved me a lot of grief. Nowadays I often don’t finish games because of the exact same problem Strike Suit Zero seems to have: I’ll get bored at a particularly stupid or impenetrable level. It’s also the reason I rarely re-play them, as the thought of that one segment will just put me off playing. I’d love to re-play Dragon Age Origins, but the thought of having to go through that 5 hour Deep Roads segment puts me off every time I go to re-install it. Meanwhile, I can just boot up KotOR II and cheat my way past Peragus Station.

    Also, out of curiosity: How would you call the genre if not “Space Sims”? I agree, the name is not very good, but I feel it’s one of those situations where we end up sticking with the least worst name, like MOBA.

    • Brainbosh says:

      I wish more games had cheats in them as well. After playing games like Half-Life 2 and Elder Scrolls I became really spoiled by the freedom that it allowed me. Not only for skipping boring or tedious bits, but for fixing the game when it didn’t work the way it should be.
      For me, cheats are just another way to change the difficulty of the game to a level you are comfortable with. More than just the difficulty of fights, maybe I don’t want to have to micromanage inventory space, or maybe I just want to fly down off the cliff instead of walking around a maze. Thee freedom to be able to change the parts I didn’t like is what made me play those games for hundreds of hours.

      • Trix2000 says:

        Correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe most cheats from the past were simply commands programmed in for debugging, at least for the most part. These days, with more sophisticated debugging tools and methods, I imagine the need to have something like that had diminished a lot.

        Of course, there’s probably still a few that do it anyways.

        • Humanoid says:

          Funnily enough, some current Nintendo platformers share the same feature from Freespace 2 where after repeated failure at a level, they let you skip it.

          I prefer my cheats to be explicit though – invulnerability or unlimited ammo right there in the settings, as opposed to hidden ones, whether mechanically (in the new XCOM, on easy mode, if you only have one guy on a mission left, enemies have a 0% chance to hit), or by secret codes.

  22. Adam P says:

    I can think of only one game that is truly a “space combat simulator.” It’s not a flight simulator, mind you. It’s called Shattered Horizon and you’re basically an astronaut on a space walk with a gun. Unfortunately, it doesn’t appear to have any sort of single-player mode.

  23. Brainbosh says:

    I understand about games with just a single point of failure. Many games I’ve played and gotten far into, only to get stuck at one point, ad put down the game frustrated. When I played Legend of Grimrock, I made it all the way until I hit a timing puzzle That I could not get passed. No walkthrough, guide, or cheat could get me past it, so I had to put down the game, and never finished it.
    Shame too. I was enjoying it until then.

  24. Jonathan says:

    Freespace 2 is a Yes! Play this game.

    Then go and download some of the mod/Total Conversions.

    Storyline: Derelict
    Storyline+new ships: Blue Planet: Age of Aquarius + War In Heaven

    WIH is a bit on the hard side but has some unprecedented capital ship combats, and relatively more realistic tactics.

  25. I haven’t gotten as far you, Shamus (think I’m only on mission 5), but your post worries me. I have been enjoying the game so far (I find the camera/flying/aiming all tied to the mouse pretty wonky though). Up until I got the Gundam fighter and the Japanese track started playing, there was something about the game that reminded me of Homeworld–only from the perspective of a fighter pilot. The music, the missions, even the intro, it felt like that game.

    • X2-Eliah says:

      Interesting that you say that. I sort of felt that the pre-gundam missions were better (more in-depth and atmospheric, and better paced).. um. better-feeling?

      Then again, I’m now basically saying that I don’t like the gundam in an explicit gundam game, which makes me seem silly. (But that’s the thing, nevertheless – I don’t actually like the gundam)

      • guy says:

        I was not terribly fond of the fighter sections, personally, but that may be because I played it with WASD while I played Freespace like a sane person.

      • Perhaps? But I haven’t gotten far enough into the game to personally make that kind of judgement call. I did enjoy the mission where you lure the enemy fleet into a nebula, which was after acquiring the Strike Suit. But the Homeworld feel really is killed whenever that Japanese track plays.

  26. Factoid says:

    Does this game only have third person view mode? Is it designed for joystick or mouse play? Those are two things that kill space fighter games for me. Playing with a joystick is immeasurably more immersive. And I personally prefer playing in cockpit view over a third person perspective. For me that completely takes me out of the game.

    I hated Freelancer because of the third person view and the floaty mouse controls. You could play with a joystick, but you were at a considerable targetting disadvantage in multiplayer because there was no speed limit on aiming with a mouse like there was with a joystick.

    The easy fix for this is to lock the crosshair to the center of the screen, but all these games seem to like making your guns turn on limited firing arcs so you can stay pointed straight ahead but shoot many places on screen.

    When you give mouse-aimers a distinct advantage like that it basically makes joysticks obsolete. If you want to compete you have no choice but to switch even though it’s less fun.

    These days every game seems to want to do third person views because it shows off your pretty ship better. I can understand that. In this game I could definitely understand switching to third person when you’re in giant robot mode, but it just all feels so impersonal to fly in third person. Plus it blocks much of your view.

  27. Flaser says:

    Nowaday’s the Source Code Project is mandatory for Freespace 2:

    It fixes wide-screen issues, is fully compatible with modern operating systems (including Linux!) and using the Media VPs can update the game’s look so it looks like something released in the last couple of years and not 1999.

    3.6.18 Game executable:
    http://www.hard-light.net/forums/index.php?topic=83889.0

    3.6.12 Media VPs – Updated Models, Textures for the new engine:
    http://www.hard-light.net/forums/index.php?topic=70736.0

    Compilation thread of new models released since the last Media VPs Package:
    http://www.hard-light.net/forums/index.php?topic=85072.0

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