Strike Vector Review (PC)

Strike Vector is best described as an aerial arena-based shooter in which a selection of ridiculously quick futuristic spacecraft do battle with each other for territory or kills. If you think of an old-school title like Descent and cross it with Quake 3, you’re not too far off the scope. If you inject that bastard union with adrenaline, over-saturated colour and rock music, you’ll reach the final form of developer RageQuit’s project.

You spawn into each round as if shot from a cannon, your aircraft barrelling towards the floating structures that make up each ridiculous combat zone. There are Blade Runnner style cities, foundries blasting heat, oil refineries and cargo dumping grounds to thrust and spin your way around, each of which is somehow magically suspended in the air without so much as a lick of lore to explain how it got there in the first place.

Now imaging piloting through that at speed

Don’t ask questions then, just marvel at the silliness and get stuck in.

For a game that relies entirely on mouse and keyboard control where a joypad would seem the most suitable option, piloting an aircraft in Strike Vector is surprisingly fluid and easy to get to grips with. The finite adjustments necessary to dodge through girders or crest a city block at ridiculous speed are only really viable with the traditional PC input, and the tactile feeling achieved by sweeping your wrist through slow arcs to graciously round on an enemy is joyous stuff.

Managing to stay alive long enough to round a corner is another matter entirely.

Strike Vector’s combat is tough. The small pool of dedicated players currently making the rounds in the six or seven populated servers seem preternaturally gifted at scoping out your location and destroying you within seconds of launching into the arena, and it can be difficult to even catch your breath, let alone get a bead on an enemy craft. Descent or flight sim skills only get you so far when the pace is increased to Wipeout levels.

Part of the difficulty is simple clutter, both in terms of level design and visual effects. Although Strike Vector is beautifully rendered and should run on pretty much anything given its UE3 heritage, the speed of the action makes it incredibly difficult to separate enemies from the environment - even with a glowing orange radar indicator surrounding their position. Jabbing the space bar puts your aircraft in hover mode in order to facilitate stationary aiming and slow lateral movement that counters that frantic pace, but in a populated server you’re likely to be dead within seconds unless you’re hovering at the very edge of the battlefield.

The incredible flying refinery

Stick with it though, and things do get easier once you’ve played long enough to settle on a favourite power-up, special ability and weapon loadout, but there’s no underestimating the brutal road to get there.

However long that road may be, at least you don’t need to unlock different weapons or abilities to travel. At a time when most other studios are controversially plumbing the depths of free-to-play for the majority of their titles, it’s refreshing to see RageQuit simply set their game up for a fixed price and provide all their content from the start. There are so many facets of this online arena shooter that could have been chipped away into payment bundles, but that simply doesn’t apply here. You pay your money, tailor your ship with visual decals, select whatever you like from the armoury and swoop into the battlefield.

Those weapons and powerups offer a decent level of diversity once you’ve wrapped your head around the flight controls. Individual weapons can be mapped to the right and left triggers of the mouse, comprising the usual selection box of FPS offerings: gattling guns, rocket launchers, carbine rifles, swarming missiles, light machine guns and everything else. There are several ship specialisations too (of which one can be chosen) encompassing boosts to speed, armour, cloaking or other passive abilities, whilst a “special action” is bound to the Q key - offering another single choice from a selection of deployable mines, short-range area of effect pulses, health regeneration fields and others.

That’s pretty much it. There’s no progression to speak of and minimal stat-tracking outside of the session you’re in, and structurally, Strike Vector is barebones. There are around seven maps available at launch that play host to any of four different game modes with up to 32 players in total. Don’t even think about joining a server with more than ten other players until you can accurately barrel roll and glide your way around on your own however, it’s utter carnage.

Motion blur accentuates the pace

Although Strike Vector is enjoyable to play then, its current range of content hardly represents stellar value at a launch price of £18.99 - even if it is all available up front. RageQuit is promising frequent, and entirely free updates over the coming months however, so if you consider that lump sum a gamble on a lifetime membership to a subscription service then it becomes a little more palatable.

Whether or not they follow through with the content remains to be seen at this stage, but Strike Vector’s launch is a promising start that deserves a larger player base than it’s currently got. Once the initial learning curve is hurdled, this is a pick-up-and-play game of frantic, twitch-based action with a distinctive old-school shooter tucked behind its pretty visuals. Once you’re there, this is a fast, unforgiving, graceful and exciting experience.

Best Game Moment: Actually killing someone.

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