Strike Vector's eye-catching trailers meant that it was destined for my hard-drive. I have a long, over-documented fondness for that genre of game that straddles all types of non-simulatory flight combat, and although it's taken me a while to catch up with Strike Vector, I'm glad I did. Back in the times of Forsaken and Descent, I would sink lifetimes into these kinds of games, and Strike Vector - a multiplayer take on the idea - feels very much like a cry from that distant and beautifully three-dimensional past.
But does that invocation of the classics lead to greatness? Here's Wot I Think.
Looped guitar rock on the menu screens always means you're in for a certain kind of experience, and it's completely true for Strike Vector: it's a punishing, fast game of deathmatch and capture-the-flag, which could have been a Quake clone if it hadn't hung its hat on the 6DOF way of doing things. They've decided that gravity wasn't going to feature, and everything hangs in the sky in exactly the way that bricks don't.
"Aerial FPS" they call it.
This head-spinning multiple directional flight game is immediately going to put Strike Vector out of the taste-field of many gamers, and the sheer balls of it killing you on impact with any of the scenery will cause many more to make like the developers and Ragequit. (The studio is called Ragequit Corporation. That wasn't really clear, was it?) What I am saying is that this is not the easiest game to mesh with, and even tougher to master.
But... well, it's certainly enticing to me. It's alluringly beautiful, all vast structural sci-fi architecture porn and impossible weightlessness. The sense of speed and the mad splendour of the all-directions environments certainly captures something that most games seem to miss. Even with all the art that's hung on it, it's pure videogame, as if the hormones produced by Defender or Robotron are still pumping through its Unreal-powered veins, giving it some primordial strength over modern, smoother productions.
Once you get past the initial spikes of difficulty, there's a load of game to master, and I was amazed to see quite how much a tiny studio like Ragequit Corporation had managed to cram in. Nor is that flow of content letting up, it seems, because new DLC is appearing all the time, and it's free.
The vector customisation screen is a particular delight. You get to choose between left and right weapons, for which there are eight reasonably varied options. So you could go with a couple of gatling guns, or a homing missile launcher and a plasma cannon, and so forth. There's a lot to play with in terms of working out how you to put down damage, and ultimately how you want to specialise. Speaking of which, there's also a specialisation choice, which skews your stats in a certain direction, and a special power type additional unit, giving you AoE effects, cloaks and so forth. As I said, they've made a lot of game here.
To be brutally honest, though, I can't see Strike Vector ever getting to the level of popularity where it could command organised clan competition, which is a disappointing sort of realisation, because it has the kind of "build" mentality that could make for incredible teamplay. I saw a bit of dog-fight tag going in the game, as players complemented each others kills, but I'd love to see tactics developed purposefully, rather than simply being improvised in open play. There's some amazing potential here that I fear might never be realised by players.
In flight there are two modes, one where you are a speeding rocket, and another where you are floating along much more slowly. This means that while much of the time you're going to be hurtling about at breakneck speed, you can also stop on a dime and move tightly through even very close environments, if you use that slow speed mode. It's a system that initially feels daunting, and then later feels well-tuned. It's good design.
The lethality of the environment does concern me, though. I can see why you'd want your ship to explode if it even clips the scenery - because high speed impacts should equal death - but I do wonder how much less frustrating this game would be if it simply bounced you away from the scenery in a shower of sparks. Less realistic and less nerve-jangling, certainly, but it might have made the game a little less of a problem to get a grasp on. It certainly needs something to leg up beginners, because although you can explore the maps solo, to learn the layouts without getting nuked by other vectors, there's almost no tutorial - a few pages of text and diagrams has to suffice.
Not that this really matters. We're all hardcore enough not to need hand-holding, right?
The biggest problem facing Strike Vector is, well, the server populations. There are always a couple of games going on, but there are also a lot of empty servers, even on a weekend. I suspect the time to grab this minor gem will be when it appears in a Steam sale, which will have the effect of both filling out the servers and also providing you will non-expert opponents to take apart in play.
I like Strike Vector. I like it a great deal. And I recommend it if any of that stuff sounds like your cup of rocket fuel. I just suspect that I will soon forget it. And that's a true and terrible shame.
Strike Vector is available now.