Shoot for the stars!
Dubbed “a new type of FPS” by its indie developers, Strike Vector is an intense aerial space combat game that was released on the PC in 2014. Now an updated version has been crafted for PS4, and it's anything but a straight port. In addition to the frantic online multiplayer mode found in the original, Strike Vector EX now contains an offline multiplayer training mode with bots (called Skirmish) as well as a story-based single-player campaign and new multiplayer levels. While these extra features are definitely welcome, the original online combat is still the star of the show.
Promising space pilots take on the role of a Consortium Vector pilot named Marv who finds army life to be far from what he expected. Soon he jumps ship and joins a gang of space pirates known as The Horde, then he becomes a mercenary, then he joins a different group called The Syndicate, then becomes a mercenary again, etc... Honestly, the story is so convoluted and has so many unnecessary plot twists that I eventually started zoning out during the cutscenes. Sadly, the single-player gameplay is also rather lackluster as nearly every mission tasked me with slight variations of the same theme—destroy enemies in stellar dogfights.
“In space, no one can hear you scream,” but my neighbors can definitely hear me curse at the screen like a drunken sailor who just ran out of rum. While this game is indeed a “new type of FPS,” the fast-paced gameplay is more reminiscent of old-school shooters like Quake and Unreal Tournament. As a result, players will frequently die from enemies they didn't see and also crash into the menagerie of floating space hulks. For a bit of retro flavor, numerous power-ups are littered throughout each level that replenish health and shorten reload time.
While each craft is technically a spaceship, they're known as Vectors because they can transform from a flying ship to a hovering craft in a split-second. The main reason for this is to slow down gameplay a bit and let players take the time to line up shots from a stationary position. This is really helpful for using dumb-fire weapons and downright necessary for the plasma sniper weapon. Changing to the hovering mode is also good for hiding behind cover and popping out to take shots as well as for traveling through the complex mazes created by giant floating structures.
Speaking of which, I find the level design to be one of the best features of Strike Vector EX. Each level is gigantic, and they're all filled with complex floating structures of different sizes. It's like flying a Tie Fighter around a Battle Cruiser that's docked at a space station surrounded by the debris of past battles. It's really fun to fly through structures and holes during combat, and this is also a great way to avoid enemy fire. Just make sure not to fly into the structures yourself. These structures also provide a nearly endless number of areas with which to take cover, just like a standard FPS. This is welcome not only because most aerial space combat games have nearly empty levels, but also because Vectors can be destroyed very quickly in open space.
Is it odd that I enjoy customizing my Vector slightly more than actually participating in combat? While I knew that I'd have a wide variety of weaponry at my disposal, I didn't expect to also have a special action and a specialization. Primary weapons run the gamut from a rocket launcher to homing missiles, while special actions include an instant shield, an EMP blast, and a deadly Tesla Coil AoE electrical attack. Specializations further enhance the play experience with items like a long range radar, stealth enhancer, and heavy armor. When you add the ability to customize each Vector with paint and logos, there are over 10,000 possible combinations!
What's really cool is that players can combine these items to create loadouts that are similar to what's found in modern FPSs. For example, a long-range sniper can be created by combining the long-range plasma rifle with the special action ghost (temporary invisibility) and the hyperscope specialization. This creates a Vector that can turn invisible and take out enemies in one shot from afar. It's also possible to create tank-like Vectors as well as numerous medium- and short-range loadouts. Part of the fun is experimenting with different customizations and then testing them out in Skirmish mode before taking them online.
This game is far from being stellar, however, as some players won't like the hyper-fast-paced gameplay that rewards twitch-based combat more than intelligent strategies. This is made even more frustrating by friendly fire that makes weapons like stalker mines chase teammates and the Tesla Coil damage friendlies in close proximity. In addition, the single-player campaign needs more variety because it's too much like playing Skirmish mode with cut-scenes. I also think that the gameplay would benefit greatly if it featured “ground” targets mounted on ships and space stations in addition to aerial targets.
Nevertheless, Strike Vector EX is still a blast to play! Newcomers who pick up the console version will surely benefit from practicing in both Campaign and Skirmish mode before heading online. In addition, several new levels and online modes help to reduce the repetitive nature of gameplay. While it's not the next CoD, it's still a fun way to pass the time in between playing infantry-based shooters.