This is the sort of game you -want- to like: an indie Kickstarter darling that wants to bring back the space-shooter with style. Unfortunately, it's just not very good, in many different ways.
A quick overview of SSZ: obviously it's a space-"sim", or what I call a space-shooter. It is not, as you might expect, a game based on the old X-Wing/Wing Commander/Freespace style of games, but rather a 50/50 blend of Japanese space shooters and Freespace. Your aiming reticule is not fixed in the middle of the screen, but floating around, and some missile weapons allow you to 'multi-lock' by sweeping over multiple targets while holding down the missile button. Aesthetically, the anime influences the music (think Ghost in the Shell, not anime schoolgirls). and your transforming ship/suit . Wing Commander/Freespace influences everything else, with capital ships that use both torpedoes from Wing Commander and Beam Weapons from Freespace.
To begin with, even starting the game leaves a bad impression. The game's menus are very poorly optimized for mouse control, and its design suggests the devs at some point were trying very hard to prepare to the game for a console release that never happened. In addition, the game defaults to 720P, and inexplicably will change to 720P if you alt-tab to a different window, regardless of what setting you had it on before. The control rebinding is also very clunky, needlessly splitting up the keys into multiple categories based on the state your ship is in. It allows you to have the same key bound to multiple actions without warning you, and this is exacerbated by that fact that some actions will not conflict with each other (e.g. movement keys in the different ship modes) but others will. Which is which is up to you to experience and be frustrated by.
Second, the writing is a complete throwaway. The space-dogfighting genre for whatever reason, has a history of having good writing, or at least interesting plots. From Wing Commander to Tie Fighter to the eternally classic Freespace, they all had writing to keep you interested. Not so here. The devs had exactly two ideas: to create a space shooter, and that it should involve a Macross-style transforming space-jet-fighter. There is no interesting dialogue; only one of the characters are even given the barest of characterizations (and he disappears after three missions). Even the backstory to the war in the game is vague and illogical, and contradicts itself in some of the loading screen expository background information texts.
Third you get to problems with the gameplay- to put it succinctly, it's simply not fun. The game bounces between far too easy dogfight sections and extremely tedious destroy-the-torpedoes capital ship protection sections. The console heritage is noticeable here, with none of the weapons/shield energy systems management from classic space shooters. There's even a lack of targetting buttons to cycle through targetting enemy ship subsystems. It's all much simpler than fully Western-influence space shooters. Unfortunately, the Japanese influence on the game doesn't add much either. The transforming jet that is so poorly justified in the writing is also poorly justified in the gameplay. You need build up 'flux energy' to even be able to transform into 'mech mode', but the power of it isn't even so impressive. Essentially you use it to be able to spam infinite missiles at Capital Ship hardpoints while you have the transform meter, and to allow yourself the ability to turn much faster than in jet mode. It's not at all exhilarating, which is pretty damn disappointing for a game's central gimmick.
A note on the game's Freespace 2 inspirations: when Freespace 2 was released, it was highly praised for how exciting the capital ships made combat, with flak shells exploding around you and massively powerful beam cannons being traded between capital ships. SSZ superficially copies all of this, but completely fails to capture any of the emotion. The sound design is completely lacking, so you barely notice any of the capital chips around. Flak Shells make feeble buzzing on your shield. Completely missing is any of massive weapons rocking your small fighter around in the battlefield. Capital Ship Beam Weapons also lack both a sound effect punch and the actually gameplay punch. They may light up between capital ships, but the damage is actually still done with lots and lots of torpedoes. In essence, all of the aesthetic are 'cargo-cult' ish: capturing the appearance but none of the essence.
Lastly, something so terrible it deserves a section it's own, the game's final mission. The developers responsible for creating the final mission should never be allow to design anything again. They should not even be able to voice opinions about other games. The very existing of this game's final mission is a crime against gaming itself. The final mission unfolds as follows: instead of the gameplay from the previous 95% of the game, you find yourself suddenly just flying in a narrow tunnel. Your only objective is to avoid hitting the walls, which will drain your shields and armor, eventually killing you if you scrape the walls too often. The tunnel makes frequent 90 degree turns just so it's not too easy. In addition, all the tunnels look alike, and it is very easy to bounce off a wall, and get turned around without realizing it. This goes on for a minumum of 6 minutes, even if you're holding the thrust button down the whole time, and this is =all without checkpoints=. At the end, you get to make a choice about whether to destroy something for 1 briefly narrated ending, or to flying through more tunnels (timed!) to destroy something else for a different briefly narrated ending that isn't any better.
If you are a decent human being, the last mission of the game alone should be reason enough not to pay even one cent for this game. Seriously. Go play something else.
Posted: January 5th, 2014