While it sometimes seems like gaming is full of guys in giant robot suits, fighting it out to save or take over some place, really good mech games are actually rather rare. And the same can be said for aerial dogfighting games. Which is why Strike Vector EX (PlayStation 4) makes me a little giddy. While this mech dogfighting game is far from flawless, it gets enough right to satisfy both itches.
In Strike Vector EX, you pilot a Vector, which can switch from being like a jet aircraft to a hovercraft on the fly; think Macross, not Transformers. These ships are fast, nimble, and not only armed with such typical weapons as Gatling guns, homing missiles, and rocket launchers, but also such sci-fi accouterments as nanobots that can repair your ship mid-battle and a Tesla Coil that painful shocks any nearby enemies.
Played in your choice of first- or third-person, which can switched on the fly, battles in Strike Vector EX are largely held in and around floating platforms. Though there is some variety, not just in the way these platforms are laid out, but also because the maps in the online modes include a Blade Runner-looking city, while some campaign missions have you flying into these superstructures like Lando Calrissian and Nien Nunb did with the Millennium Falcon at the end of Star Wars: Return Of The Jedi. It is these fights in and around the platforms that are the highlight of this game, since you can use their intricate lattices of scaffolding and platforms, and your ships ability to quickly switch from hovering to jet-power, to cat & mouse your enemies.
Of course, your enemies in Strike Vector EX can do all of the same tricks, which is why it’s handy that there’s power-ups floating around these bases: wrenches for repairs, and stopwatches to lower the cool down time on your rechargeable attacks. Though when both fail you, you have one last option: self-destruction. Much like the “Martyrdom” perk in Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare, which turned dying bodies into landmines, you can hit a button when your ship turns into a fiery ball of wreckage, and if you aim it right, the resulting explosion can damage nearby enemies.
The centerpiece of Strike Vector EX is its online multiplayer, which supports up to a dozen players on fifteen maps and six modes. Not surprisingly, most of the modes are the usual modes. “Squad Battle” is “Team Deathmatch,” while “King Of The Hill” and “Capture The Flag” are fairly standard. Though some have been slightly adapted to this game’s specs. “Demolition,” for instance, doesn’t have you arming or disarming a bomb, but shooting at generators.
As far as feel, the multiplayer modes in Strike Vector EX are all closer to Call Of Duty than Battlefield, in the sense that they’re fairly forgiving. Unlike the planes and tanks in Battlefield, your Vector has a good amount of health, and some strong shields, which should keep you from being instantly killed when you first begin. Though if you’re worried you might still get your ass handed to you, there’s a practice mode called “Skirmish” where you play different multiplayer modes on your own.
Strike Vector EX also has a progression system that unlocks new weapons and special attacks as you proceed. But then, what online game these days doesn’t.
Where multiplayer in Strike Vector EX diverges from Call Of Duty, et al, is that because you’re in a flying machine, and not a grunt on the ground, battles are as vertical as they are horizontal. Or rather, they will be if you want to win (you can insert your own Star Trek II: Wrath Of nn “two dimensional thinking” joke here). But they also don’t always play like a typical dogfighting games because your ship’s default form is the hovering one, not the jet one, so most of the matches I played ended up being more stand-up fights than doggie style.
It’s during these moments, when you and your opponents are playing frantic games of cat & mouse amid the scaffolding, that Strike Vector Ex shines. Not only because doing so is a test of your skills as a pilot, since you have to bob & weave to survive, but also because it’s during these moments that this doesn’t feel like just another aerial combat game, or just another round of “Team Deathmatch,” “King Of The Hill,” and so on.
While multiplayer may be the main mode of Strike Vector EX, the game does have a short but solid single-player campaign as well. In it, you’re a Vector pilot named Marv who starts off on one side of a conflict, then switches sides, and some other stuff happens. To be honest, the story is rather rote, and badly acted, which makes it feel like a SyFy Channel live action adaptation of a bad ’80s anime. Some of the other pirates, for instance, sound like they just watched the porn parody of Pirates Of The Caribbean instead of the real thing.
No matter, the cheesy story just does what it needs to: it sets up the action well, giving you a reason why you’re shooting down enemy Vectors and destroying their stuff. And while it is short — there’s only fifteen missions, and each is only about five or six minutes long — there is a decent amount of variety and challenge to the campaign that may make you play it two or three times.
That said, the campaign in Strike Vector EX is not without its problems. Well, maybe not problems, but it has aspects that I didn’t appreciate it. I wasn’t into how arcade-y it’s presented. Not only is the story told through a series of static panels with bad voiceover, and small dialog boxes with headshots, but at the end of every mission you’re given a scorecard, and then have to go back to the world map instead of straight into the next engagement.
A similar problem plagues both this and the multiplayer modes of this game (though it’s seems worse in the story). Remember those power-ups I mentioned earlier? They’re big, bright green wrenches (repair) and yellow stopwatches (cool down) that clash with the game’s otherwise detailed visuals. Though I do appreciate that, unlike many games, your enemies can use them as well during the campaign, even though it’s only the big bad bosses who do.
Strike Vector EX also suffers from a problem so common in games today that I now cut and paste this paragraph into every relevant review I write: some of the text is too small. If you sit at a reasonable distance from your TV — know, like your mama told you to — you’ll have trouble reading the mission briefings (which are inexplicably light blue type on a blue background), the weapon descriptions, and other parts of the menus.
Even with these subjective issues, though, Strike Vector EX still manages to be a solid mid-air mech game that successfully marries two shooting genres. While the aerial part adds a different dimension to these fights (pun intended), being able to hover during them makes these shootouts feel unique. I just hope similar games don’t remain so rare.