Do you like the smell of adventure…in space? Of course you do. See that big ship up there? That’s the Clockwork. New ship, good ship, gonna get us out of this backwater mess of a Sol system and explore the universe, it is. All we need is some ore, a good crew, and data to keep upgrading her. What do you say, son, are you ready to become a…space pirate? (dun dun DUN)
Listen up you primitive screw heads. Because after the jump, it…is my boom…ship…?
I don’t know what it is about science-fictiony spaceships that makes me all aflutter. Ever since I first saw the original Enterprise when I was four, I’ve just dove into nearly every type of sci-fi I could get my hands on. When I got my first DOS-based PC at thirteen in the mid 1980’s, it was like mixing chocolate and peanut butter, and I am proud (or sad, depending) to say I’ve played nearly every PC game with a spaceship since. My latest affliction is a game called Space Pirates and Zombies — everyone’s jumping in on the zombie thing aren’t they? Even helicopter flight sims for chrissakes — also known as S.P.A.Z. (don’t worry, I won’t be calling it that). What makes this game special?
Several years ago, on the sadly discontinued Sega Dreamcast, there was an amazing game called Armada. It deftly mixed the visceral action of a shoot-em-up (also known as shmups) with both tactical depth and RPG elements in ways few games since have been able to. Games like Escape Velocity Nova came close to the mark (while other games like Starscape and Flatspace missed it completely for various reasons), but since Armada, few games of its type have balanced combat with depth so well (before you mention Space Rangers 2, it’s a turn based game, so lacks some of the visceral thrill of its real-time counterparts, in my opinion).
However, in Space Pirates and Zombies, combat is a thrill each and every time (even with some known balance issues). The action is fast and furious, the graphics delightful and the sounds…oh the sounds. One thing I love about this game is when a ship explodes, you nearly feel it through your speakers (and the screen seems to shake a little). Since this is a beta, mind you, things are a bit wonky. Your comrades don’t always follow the best course of action (often flying too close to splodey things for their own good, for example), but a fairly clear tactics screen helps with that.
You will see a lot of this screen, as you will be fighting quite a bit in this game. To move onto another system, you have to either bribe the local military faction that controls the gate (there are two factions, military and civilian) or fight your way through, and each blockade point is easily marked so you’ll know if you’re leveled up enough for the challenge. I’ll be talking about the RPG elements in a future entry, suffice it to say while there is some grind in this game, it’s not gotten to me yet in a dozen or so hours of gameplay, and the rewards are plentiful.
Besides exiting through a gate and seeing more of the randomly generated universe, combat also yields several valuable resources, usually goons (crew) and data, which are worth their virtual weight in gold. Goons can not only be used to trade for Rez (currency, mined from asteroids) but also for bribes. What they’re most valuable for is for your own use though, such as repairing your ships or repelling boarders. Data is what you gather not only to level up, but to research other ships as well (since their black boxes give you bits of data about the ship itself).
So with a game this combat heavy, are there other aspects to it? You bet your bippy there are son.
Tomorrow, factions: how you’ll love them, how you’ll hate them, and how you’ll use them to get what you need.
Brian Rubin is currently an underemployed freelance search engine optimization consultant sharing an apartment with two cats in sunny Los Angeles. You can read more of his inane rants at VonGeekenstein.