Strike Vector review: danger zone

I was a continual hazard to myself.

Game Info
Platform Win
Publisher Ragequit Corporation
Developer Ragequit Corporation
Release Date Jan 28, 2014

In the land of Voodoo graphics cards and Quake 3, Strike Vector would be king.

Strike Vector only slightly feels like it was made by a studio as tiny as developers Ragequit, with more crashes than I'd hope for and wince-inducing guitar rock over the title screen and in-game. But somehow the studio has used Unreal Engine 3 to reach back to a more experimental era of shooters, when Pentiums and software renderers were the rule and hardcore arena gameplay took center stage.

The result is a game that mines inspiration that other developers have let lie for years. Combined with a punch-you-in-the-face difficulty that allows for great skill-based play, Strike Vector offers something that feels unique. But the problems come when Ragequit hits the wall.

Each player controls a jet-powered spacecraft that can also shift to a hovering weapons platform at the tap of the space bar. In practical terms, this allows Strike Vector to smoothly glide between two kinds of gameplay. The aerial dogfighting of the jet mode feels directly descended from space combat titles of the '90s. But the more measured play required of hover mode calls back to a specific kind of first-person shooter — the six-degrees of freedom subgenre popularized by games like Descent.

Put as simply as possible, you can move your ship in any direction independent of any concept of gravity. This combination of game types makes for a different dynamic than Strike Vector's multiplayer-focused peers.

I was a continual hazard to myself

Jumping into Strike Vector after flipping through its woefully bare tutorial — less than a dozen pages of minimal text explaining the basics of its mechanics and systems — was eye-opening. My immediate impulse was all speed, all the time as I raced around arenas in jet mode like some kind of methamphetamine-afflicted dog chasing cars on a highway.

This did not go well.

Strike Vector's environments are unforgiving, as dangerous as any human-controlled opponent for the careless or inexperienced. In jet form, even a love tap against a wall or other piece of scenery is usually fatal. As I struggled against Ragequit's brutally implemented learning curve, I was a continual hazard to myself. But after an hour or so of progressively less disastrous navigation of its environments, I started to learn the rewarding particulars of Strike Vector's momentum.

By switching between flight and hover modes at opportune moments, I learned I could immediately break and navigate tight spaces with health power-ups and cooldown pickups. I found a rewarding sense of development to my education in piloting, and the inherent danger at every corner makes successfully navigating complex environments like heat vents and superstructures that much more rewarding.

I needed all the skills I could muster in Strike Vectors more hectic matches.

flak cannons and a tesla field make for a surprise bad day

Combat in Strike Vector is only superficially like other shooters — the six-degree axis of approach means that you can attack or be attacked from any angle at any time, and often at very high speed. You're not fragile, exactly, but no one can afford to be careless for long, and it takes time to learn how to balance not killing yourself while avoiding, and then actively pursuing, other players.

Every pilot can choose a right and left weapon — whether mixing or matching different kinds of armaments — and a special skill that must recharge after being deployed. There's a wide enough variety of different weapons to allow for different offensive approaches, and often death was as educational as any kills I scored. I found only frustration in the conventional gatling guns and lacked the eye for unguided rockets. The semi-smart mines I tried to lay only managed to destroy me when I retraced my steps in reverse in the process of evading a pair of enemies.

But I quickly developed my own devious strategies to serve my team. Homing and swarm missiles proved to reward my patience and persistence and enabled my teammates to make kills I couldn't manage myself. And I later transformed myself into a moving trap with the electrical field ability — I'd catch the other team's attention, allow myself to be chased, and in tight corridors, abruptly flipped to hover mode and activated arcs of lightning that fired off my ship and into enemy vessels. Combined with, say, a pair of shotgun-like flak cannons, I was a surprise bad day over and over again. Then I'd boost off toward cooldown powerups and shift into hover mode at the last second to gather them up just before I'd have otherwise plowed into a wall.

In that regard, Strike Vector seems to be doing exactly what it intends to. A huge amount of concentration and focus is required to learn Strike Vector's basics of control. The nuance required to succeed makes even simple survival feel like an accomplishment. Ending a match without a negative score balance was an occasion to be celebrated.

Strike Vector's basics provide a considerable arc of skill progression to find and enjoy. That's where meaningful progression ends, though. You can earn cosmetic upgrades, but there's no persistence that factors into actual gameplay — a match with veterans of hundreds of games will more or less look like a match with new players.

Yes, Strike Vector has the standard collection of multiplayer shooter modes — in addition to deathmatch and team deathmatch, there's a point-capture mode and even a bounty mode that resembles Call of Duty's Kill Confirmed gametype. Almost all of them are fun, though perhaps surprisingly, I found free-for-all deathmatch games to go the most un-entertainingly lopsided.

Wrap Up:

Strike Vector can't quite stick the landing

It's impressive that a small team has managed such a successfully punishing arena shooter in 2014. Strike Vector is fast, mechanically sophisticated and fun. I enjoyed my time with it, but it's not sitting at the forefront of my mind the way other more involved shooters have. As successful as it can be in flight, Ragequit can't quite stick the landing.

Strike Vector was reviewed using a code provided through a Steam Press Account. You can find additional information about Polygon's ethics policy here.

About Polygon's Reviews
7.0 Win