When you watch a dogfight scene in a work of science fiction, there is this feeling you get when the scene is done well. It’s hard to describe. When you watch movies like Star Wars or certain scenes in space themed anime like Cowboy Bebop, there’s this moment in the aerial combat that makes you feel special and envious at the same time. You get the same feeling when you watch the opening cinematic for StarFox Zero (2016) and similar cutscenes in many other games. And most games set in the flying shooter genre try their very best to emulate this feeling in the gameplay. Developers, like the rest of us who watch these sorts of works, want to experience that feeling first hand. But sadly most developers fail. I can safely say that though I’ve played countless flying shooters, I’ve yet to find one that truly recreated that movie feeling that I’ve been searching for . . . until now. Strike Vector EX by Ragequit Corporation is the first game I’ve ever played that truly emulates the feeling of being a science fiction gun pilot in an accessible and satisfying way.
Strike Vector Ex is the recently released (8/30/2016) PS4 port of the PC exclusive, Strike Vector, from 2014. Having not actually played the original PC version, I can only speak on my experiences playing the PS4 port of the game.
Visually speaking, this is a solid game. We’re not talking AAA, photorealistic Uncharted 4 good, but it does deliver higher quality graphics. This is an indie game, but it doesn’t have that cheap look often associated with sub $30 indie titles. The gameplay looks good because there are fine levels of detail where it counts and not where it doesn’t. The setting is a planet of mostly desert or rock with a light bit of cloud cover. Enough detail of this is given to make it identifiable, but not enough to make you focus on it. And that’s fine because the game takes place in the airspace above the clouds. The levels, which aren’t too big, but allow plenty of room to maneuver freely, are giant floating mining facilities and air bases. These are highly detailed. With rust, smoke, debris, scratched paint, and plenty of other minute details, you get a very believable setting for a futuristic dystopian environment. Other than the ships and their weapons, nothing else in the game really moves, making the game able to look good and still run very smoothly. I didn’t have any lag issues even when playing the 12 man multiplayer matches.
The ships look very impressive and original. Everyone’s ship kind of has its own personality in both the single player and multiplayer. The single player much more so because you can hand pick the colors for specific parts and the patterns they’re painted in. Not to mention the many different decals you can add to your wings. Unless you’re flying the default build, no one’s ship really looks the same. And the weapons you choose affect your ship’s appearance as well.
The HUD is very nice in Strike Vector EX. It’s the perfect balance of informative and simple. The game can be played in first or third person view, but the HUD never changes. In the top left, you have a simple grid based, compass map that only shows other ships. In the bottom left you have an elegantly simple life bar. And in the bottom right you have your weapons HUD. It shows your current weapon and special ability cool down meter. When you’re playing a timed mode, the clock appears in a simple white, block text in the top right. The multiplayer timer appears in the center top of the screen in the same white, block text. You aim with a very straightforward, but quite large reticle. It has a circular outer layer and an eight pointed inner layer that works very well.
The menus don’t look bad in Strike Vector EX, but they come off a little cheaper than the rest of the game. The same can be said about the main menu background. As this is the first thing you see when you start the game, other than the featured title card image, it prematurely lowers your visual expectations of the game. The cutscenes are sequences of beautifully hand drawn still images narrated by the main character. These maintain the spirit of the gameplay graphics, but are much different in visual style. Overall I was happy with the graphics, but I would love to see a sequel with an even higher visual standard at the level of a high caliber AAA title.
The gameplay is what sets this game apart from other flying shooters. It’s not that it’s more complicated or even that original. There’s just something about the way it was executed in tandem with the visual atmosphere of the game that just makes it a better overall experience. The controls are actually very simple. You control the ship in all directions with the left stick. There is no acceleration button. You move automatically when you push the stick. You can hover as well. You control the camera with the right stick just like in any other well-made modern game. To make vertical maneuvers in a straight line you can use L1 or R1 to move up or down. Push down the left stick to honk your horn, which is never actually needed. Push square and a direction to dodge. This game has one of the most effective flying dodges I’ve ever seen. But you can crash and die so you still need to keep track of what you’re doing. Push down the right stick to zoom in your scope for long range shooting. You shoot with R2. Depending on the weapon type, you can press it for each shot or hold it down to continuously fire. Weapons can be fired continuously without having to worry about reloading or overheating. Press X to fire your special ability, which has a cool down timer. L2 puts the ship in fast mode. It’s similar to flying an X-Wing in Star Wars: Rogue Squadron, but the difference is that it’s not a locked mode, meaning you have to hold it down at all times to use it and it stops as soon as you release L2. You can fire your weapons and special ability in fast mode, but you can’t use the zoomed scope. One important thing to note about fast mode is that it’s camera stick driven instead of manually like in the normal flight mode. Where the camera is aiming is where the ship will go. You can’t look in one direction but fly another while getting the speed boost. The controls are perfect because they are simple and effective without taking away from the quality of the experience.
The tutorials in this game are very effective. Rather than having a tutorial mode or level, you are given tutorial cues as part of the campaign as you progress forward. This works because the story is written so that your character, who does take part in the game’s dialog, starts out as a rookie pilot with the first mission being his first time in the pilot seat.
Your ship can be customized in a number of ways in both the single player campaign and multiplayer modes. Options are limited based on where you are in the campaign, but eventually you can unlock seven different weapons, eight different special abilities, seven special perks, six engine types, and six cockpits. Each part of the ship can be painted with three featured colors. There are 30 total color options meaning you can choose to use up to nine colors on your ship at any one time. The weapons consist of all the traditional types like Gatling guns, missiles, and long range cannons. Perks can affect things like radar range, cloaking, and damage ratio. Special abilities can be offensive or defensive depending on which one you choose.
For the most part this is a straight forward flying shooter. There are some non-fighting challenges such as races, but 95% of the game is dogfighting in both group battles and one on one duels. You can commit friendly fire. You start every life with 100 HP but there are repair pickups scattered throughout the levels shaped like floating crossed wrenches that reappear over time. You can have a total of 150 HP in both single and multiplayer. There are also pickups for shields and faster cooldown times for your special ability. What I really liked about the pickups is that they’re proximity based, meaning you have to get near them to collect them but not necessarily fly through them.
The single player campaign is sadly very short. It’s only 15 missions, each taking less than 10 minutes including cutscenes and the actual gameplay. You are ranked at the end of each mission based on completion time and the leaderboards for every mission are topped by people under the five minute mark. Meaning the entire single player campaign can be beaten in less than two hours. There are a number of different ranks you can get at the end of each mission including things like platinum, gold, silver, and steel. I’m not sure how many possible grades there are.
The multiplayer is extremely fun. This is one of the first games I’ve played in the modern era, outside of fighters, where I genuinely love the PVP more than the single player campaign. It truly gives you the feeling of having a real dogfight against true adversaries each with their own unique personality and fighting style. The game is level based, but the levels don’t affect performance. As you play more matches you get more experience and money which can be used to purchase aesthetic changes such as your avatar, but they in no way affect your ability to win or lose. A level one can easily beat a level 30 if they have the flying and shooting skills to do it. Avatars are unlocked with experience but purchased with in-game currency, which is also gained in matches. What happens is you need to reach a certain level to unlock the ability to purchase a specific avatar, but you only have to purchase the avatars you want. My only issue is that you can’t preview the avatars before buying them. You can also use currency to buy ship decals and gallery artwork. As you get more experience, you rank up and each rank has a moniker attached to it. You can hit a max level of 45 and then prestige back to level one like in Assassin’s Creed’s PVP.
There are six multiplayer modes plus a practice mode. The Skirmish mode, is used as PVP practice and doesn’t net any experience or money. It’s just free for all dogfights set in each of the game’s 15 campaign stages. You unlock each stage as you progress through the story mode. The multiplayer modes, though going by different names, are death match, team death match, capture the flag, king of the hill, and a money mode similar to coin battle in Super Smash Bros. When you die in PVP, you can relaunch right away or change your ship’s weapon and ability options. Matches last 10 minutes in all modes including practice mode. The game has your traditional medals such as kill streak and so on. There are a total of 13 medals that can be achieved. The game tracks the traditional multiplayer stats such as K/D percentage, wins, losses, total kills, and so on. Ultimately I was extremely impressed with the gameplay and greatly enjoyed playing all parts of Strike Vector EX. I wish the campaign was longer, but it’s quite a fulfilling experience.
The sound is well done in this game. The music, effects, and voice acting volume levels can all be set independently, but the default settings are mixed very well. The voice acting, which is only used in the campaign, is very well done. It’s clear and differentiated. Each character has their own tone of voice, emotions, attitude, and style of speech. You really get to know the characters through their voice and avatar. The music isn’t too invasive. You really only notice it while in menus, but it is in the gameplay as well. There are a few tracks that are more for ambience than anything else. The effects are quite good. It’s mostly your weapons, but there are also sounds for crashing, an alarm for incoming missiles, and a tone for pressing buttons in menus. Strike Vector EX is actually pretty simple on the sound front overall, but it works for this game. You have the option to tailor a more effects heavy, realistic experience, but for me personally that doesn’t add to the quality of the gameplay as a whole.
The writing in Strike Vector EX is a bit like watching a TV show, but skipping episodes. There is a story about how in the future people will live in mining colonies on faraway planets and be forced to govern themselves independently of their home governments. On this particular planet, there is a war being waged between two competing mining groups called the Consortium and the Syndicate. But there are also other powers at play such as pirates and cultists. It’s actually a lot like watching Firefly. The story follows Marv from his first day as a Vector pilot, but it’s written as a flashback so that the cutscenes are all narrated as if Marv is recounting events from the past. As the story progresses, he goes through a number of phases, making decisions such as joining a band of pirates. There are specific characters that get developed and become friends with Marv as he develops both as a pilot and as a man. But the game tells this story in a combination of six short cutscenes and in game dialog. Much of it is never really developed. The reason for this is the very short missions, of which there are only 15. It’s a game that has the mechanics and setup to be a much more fully fleshed out story, but not enough content to actually accomplish that. The dialog is decent and the general world the game is set in works quite well. But essentially this game is kind of like watching a single episode from each saga of Dragonball Z.
There is a decent amount of replay value in this game, but I don’t know if I’d say there’s enough total content to warrant the $15 purchase price. There are only 15 stages, each taking less than 10 minutes. You can replay them to achieve the platinum rank if you want, but that’s based completely on time and not performance and won’t really get you anything unless you’re trophy hunting. There is also a challenge mode that contains several different race challenges. These are very difficult to get platinum rank in but are also very short. The multiplayer is very fun and has six different modes. There is a leveling system that works very well and more than 100 total objects to be unlocked with in game currency. But that assumes you want to play the multiplayer enough to unlock all these items. There are 41 trophies, including a platinum, with 21 of them being multiplayer specific. This is all well and good, but it ultimately means that you will replay the same things over and over with no variance in the gameplay once you’ve completed the very short campaign and done a few rounds in each of the six multiplayer modes. If you’re going for a full platinum with everything unlocked, you’ll get your 15 hours and then some. But if you’re just looking to play the single player, this game is way too expensive. At $10, I’d probably say the price was fair.
I had a blast playing Strike Vector EX and I plan on playing it a lot more. As far as gameplay is concerned, it’s basically perfect. But everything else in the game ranges from good enough to above average. It’s an excellent experience that I highly recommend, but note that if you aren’t looking for a diehard PVP experience this game will get old very quickly because of the small amount of single player content. If you see it on sale for less than $10, consider that a steal.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Sony Playstation 4 code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to email@example.com.
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