Strike Vector was originally released in early 2014, as a dogfighting game for PC. The title was well-reviewed by Gaming Trend, but unfortunately never took off, with fewer than a thousand players at any time. Strike Vector EX brings the experience to consoles more than two years later with more maps, multiplayer modes, and an all-new single-player campaign. Strike Vector EX is all about giant shape-shifting jets blowing each other apart using hull-mounted shotguns, hovering explosives, and loads of missiles, while electric guitars wail in the background. It’s every bit as over-the-top and awesome as it sounds, even if it’s held back somewhat by its single-player campaign, poorly explained mechanics, and various gameplay issues.
Strike Vector EX is about what you’d expect from a dogfighting game, for the most part. You avoid obstacles, shoot enemies, and, of course, dodge enemy fire via barrel roll. The primary twist is that you can toggle between the standard spaceship mode, and a hovering stationary mode that’s better-suited for combat. Each mode has strengths and weaknesses, and utilizing the best of both you can master the skies, seeing your enemies rendered before you in beautiful, beautiful explosions. While in hovering mode, you can quickly spin around and take precise aim at your enemies, but you’re vulnerable to enemy fire in this mode. On the other hand, while in the spaceship mode you are able to travel rapidly, dodge enemy fire, and pursue fleeing targets. Learning when and how to utilize each of these modes in quick succession requires practice, but is a rewarding experience once you get the hang of it.
In addition, you also have a ton of weapons, gadgets, and abilities to master before you’re able to dominate the enemy. For weapons, turrets and missile launchers are good at mid-range combat, shotguns work well at close-range, and for the more practical pilots, there are long-ranged sniping options. Gadgets include stalker mines that follow ships around and explode, nanotechnology that repairs the user’s ship, and much more. Each of these tools drastically alters gameplay, and gives you plenty to experiment with.
Surprisingly, despite all of Strike Vector EX’s complex gameplay, there is very little tutorial to be found. Rather, players are left to figure out the extremely complicated mechanics themselves, and the game features no “controls” menu anywhere to figure this shit out.
Yup. Seriously. This is a point of constant duress when first playing Strike Vector EX, and continues to be an issue hours into the game, as you see other players do things that you didn’t know were possible.
The new campaign mode tells the story of a rookie vector pilot, Marv, who fights alongside the army, and then some pirates, and then, um, these dudes from a group called the Syndicate…in order to, ya’ know…save the galaxy, I guess? Okay. Real talk. The story in Strike Vector EX doesn’t make any sense. The overview is that you meet some characters, then later fight those characters, because of the reasons that are totally a thing in this game, and I think maybe it has something to do with the characters turning out to be one another’s father and stuff. It’s all very difficult to follow, because the narrative moves so quickly, and is told via corny dialogue while spaceships float on-screen.
The single-player gameplay in Strike Vector EX is only slightly more bearable than the story. Each level you fight a barrage of ships that are piloted by brain dead AI, then listen to some dialogue, then maybe fight one more wave of slightly more difficult enemies. It’s not challenging, it’s not exciting, and it forces you to endure the narrative, which is nearly nonsensical. That said, the campaign features some gorgeous set pieces, and also serves as a pretty decent place for newcomers to learn the basics of piloting (which is another major failing of Strike Vector EX).
Multiplayer is Strike Vector EX’s strong suit, and with fifteen maps and seven game modes, it has a ton of content to offer in this regard. Going up against living opponents is tense and thrilling, where going against AI was dull and predictable. There are a few objective-based game modes, like capture the flag and king of the hill, but most modes amount to blowing the crap out of enemies, and those are the fun ones. You will fly through (and often crash into) some truly breathtaking environments, try out (and be killed by) all kinds of weapons, and die a whole lot.
Although the core elements of Strike Vector EX’s multiplayer are solid, there are still some annoying quirks, like the fact that friendly fire is always on, and completely unavoidable in many cases. Your own stalker mines will kill your friends, and maybe even yourself, your missiles will blow up your friends at the last moment, and everyone will hate everyone by the end of matches that are filled with these upsetting errors. Friendly fire makes sense from a realism perspective, but it’s not a fun mechanic in this case, and for a game that so freely dispenses reality on various other arenas, there should be an option to turn that bullshit off.
Strike Vector EX also features a Skirmish mode, which pits the player against more AI bots. I don’t have much to say about this mode, except that bots are really dumb, and not very interesting opponents.