Saturday, September 10, 2011

Space Pirates and Zombies Hands On

Space Pirates and Zombies (SPAZ) is a pc indie game that I wrote some impressions about in mid August. I liked it a lot initially for it's unique features and enjoyable space combat and since then I've played the game another 10 hours, now I have more to say about it. Let me say that even though I've played the game fifteen hours or so, I don't feel like I'm anywhere near the end and I've maybe explored 20% of the large galaxy that was randomly generated for me when I started the game. If you want to read about the basic's of the game head over to my initial impressions and read the first couple paragraphs, but I will go into it a little bit here.
This game is made by MinMax games and it's all about space combat, exploration, fleet strategy, factions and leveling up. The combat in the game is something you would expect from a top down shooter, controls are simple and all you need is the W,A,S,D keys and your mouse. You control one ship at a time and the other ships in your fleet following you around and assist you, but you may give them orders and you also have a tactical panel that can give very specific orders, orders like drop cargo, repair, retreat and a few other tactical options. SPAZ does not take itself too seriously, it knows that the game often has a comedic tone to it and it shows that constantly throughout the game, whether it displays that tone through conversations or by showing what kind of place the galaxy is, especially through some side missions. SPAZ is essentially an action rpg, but the rpg elements aren't transparent. What you feel right off the bat is the action and adventure, but underneath all that is data (experience) that you use to level up all of your technology (skills). You also get specialist, crew members that give you various bonuses to one or more skills. Specialists have rarities, green, blue, yellow and red (red being the rarest and best). They also have levels and rank up, when they rank up they improve the skills they already have and sometimes add new ones, but they only rank up a maximum of three times.
By the point I am at in the story of SPAZ, I finally have unlocked the ability to build the biggest and best ships, but alas I don't have the blueprints for any. The story, so far, has been about upgrading your mothership so you can get deeper into the galaxy, because there are gates blocking anyone from traveling to the core planets. Each time you upgrade your mothership through the story it get's bigger, more powerful, more capacity and a bigger hanger. At the beginning of the game you start out with two ships, one small and one medium, but as the mothership upgrades you get more ships and bigger ships. For instance, right now I have the ability to make one very large ship, one medium and one small. I can speculate that later on the hanger will upgrade again and I will get even more ships and the ability to have more large ships. Ship's have quite a few options to them, because you get to design them and design your fleet. Each ship has various slots to it, various stats (stats like hull strength, shield, cargo space) and it all depends on what kind of ship it is. The various slots on a ship can be different fittings and there are so many different weapons/modules you can fit, items like stealth modules, tractors beams, various system upgrades (like shields or increased beam damage), beams, cannons, missiles, mines, drones, turrets and several other items. You can create all kinds of combinations depending on what the ship can hold, an example would be to have a ship with 5 fittings have two large missiles, one beam, one cannon and one grunt launcher (a little assault pod that latches to the enemy ship and hurts it). For each ship size there are around 5-8 ,33 ships to collect in total, ships that you can unlock and you unlock them by finding blueprints for them. You find blue prints by destroying other ships, malicious..sure..but at least they reward you for it. I feel especially bad when I go out of my way to destroy a friendly ship just because I don't have the blueprint for it. Blueprints aren't easy to collect either, the bigger the ship the more blueprint parts you have to collect, so for some of the super huge ships you need to destroy 6+ enemy ships to get a full blueprint.
Tech Tree
Throughout the galaxy there are two factions, and zombies, but the two factions are the military and the civilians. Every star system seems to have random alignment to you before you enter it, sometimes I enter a system to find that I am already friendly with the civilians already, but the military will hate me. They explain through the story, in the beginning, that each solar system doesn't generally contact eachother much, so what you do in one system doesn't affect your standings in other systems. The fun in that is that if you feel like hating the civilians, go for it, destroying their space station, destroy their ships, steal their crew members and then move on to a new system. You meet zombies once or twice in the first chunk of the game, but they are numerous and many in the core systems, hence the reason why the core systems were hard to get to. Fighting zombies is great, they change up the dynamic of space combat quite a bit. Normally, you have to worry about taking down a ships shields then destroying its hull, but with zombies there are no shields and you need to outfit your ships different if you want to be very effective against them. The two main weapons in the game, arguably, are cannons and beams. Cannons punch through armor and the hull of a ship, are awful against shields and beams are the opposite. Generally, I've gone through the game having a balanced loudout on most ships, having some anti-shield weapons and some anti-hull/armor weapons, but with zombies you can refine your weapons into all anti-hill/armor. Of course, it's not that easy, the seemingly simple zombie ships do eventually have other ships that have shields.

Space Pirates and Zombies: Trailer 1

I've talked a lot about SPAZ, but not so much about what it's like to play it. The galaxy is huge, well can be, it's up to you, but even the smallest galaxy is fairly large. The one I chose was about medium sized and I've spent the majority of my 15 hours exploring it, collecting blueprints, pissing off factions and leveling up technology. Out of those 15 hours, 2 hours was spent on the main story, so this isn't a game where you can just run through the main story and be content. The game is all about exploring and options, it makes sure that you at least do some exploring, since the game doesn't scale to you, so some of the story missions are quite difficult if you aren't strong enough. The galaxy is a blast to go through, each star system has randomly generated missions, some of which are repetitive and become familiar quickly, while others are rare and fresh. Space combat is diverse, thanks to the wide variety of ships and weapon types, so even though there is a massive galaxy to go through and a innumerable amount of ships to destroy, you can still keep it fresh by experimenting with different ships and weapons.  Blueprints are everywhere and one of the major driving points in exploring, other than obtaining data (experience). There are ways to go through systems peacefully, but you can do the opposite and destroy everything and everyone (star bases and all). The game is just challenging enough because it is based on your tactics, your level and your skill. Picking a star system above your tech level may be a bad idea, but it will certainly be challenging if you are tired of fighting easy engagements.
SPAZ does a lot right and it's hard not to recommend it, but for all of it's right there are still flaws that I can see keeping people away. For one, the UI is pretty ugly, but it is easy to navigate. Secondly, the randomly generated missions can be very repetitive and some of them aren't very fun (specifically the timed ones). Third, Zombies take a good while to show up, depending on how fast you are trying to go through the story. Fourth, weapons aren't balanced and fifth, it takes a long time to upgrade your mothership (I often overfilled all of my resources many times over because I didn't have any higher capacity). Despite all that, SPAZ is a ton of fun and it's the most fun I've had playing a space game since A.I. War. SPAZ does a good job combining strategy, adventure and an rpg. SPAZ is fairly cheap, $14.99, it has a demo on steam and it is pretty guaranteed to provide you a lot of bang for you buck. Someday I will review this game, but for now I strongly recommend that you try this game, especially if you are looking for something fun and deep to hold onto until November. Thanks for reading.
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 -Written by Sean Cargle 


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