So I’ve been playing around with Space Pirates and Zombies (SPAZ) for a while now. You may have read the two part beta impressions piece I did a while back (Part 1 and Part 2.) But now the game as officially launched, and I’ve been spending some quality time with the release build. So let’s see how it stands up why don’t we?
Honestly not a whole lot has changed since beta, but that’s not a bad thing. The game was already very solid and fun during beta. The main changes added in the release build were the Specialists and an adjustable difficulty setting. Both were great additions in my opinion, but I’ll get into them more in a bit.
The basic premise of the game is pretty simple. You play as space pirates, scavenging and looting across the ‘verse trying to make it rich. You’ll run missions for either of the two main factions of the game, the ‘Civilians’ and the ‘UTA’ as you will, or you can just blow them all out of the water as you see fit. Naturally doing so will affect your faction standing with each, but fortunately the faction effects that take place in one system don’t carry over to other systems. You can kill UTA ships and stations for days on end in one system, then fly over to the next and the UTA will love you. It seems like an odd system, but in the end it keeps you from completely shooting yourself in the foot too badly I guess. And it’s actually explained in the story of the game as well, so at least they didn’t just leave you sitting there thinking “well this makes no sense."
Gameplay and Controls
SPAZ takes place in randomly generated galaxies, with up to 300 systems. You play in an overhead top-down 2D view, much like most of the aforementioned old-school space combat games like Star Control. The controls are solid, and very well done. They definitely fall into the ‘easy to learn, harder to master’ category, as player skill definitely has an edge over equipment when it comes to combat. Unless of course you limit yourself to just fighting enemies lower level than you. But once you get good at combat, you’ll be able to take down opponents who are higher level and better equipped than you. You also have a small fleet of AI controlled ships helping you out, and for the most part, their AI is ok. Quite often they’ll charge in headfirst at a station or ship they have no business taking on without you, but that’s really my only complaint about them so far. As for the controls themselves, the ‘select different target’ keys don’t always seem to work the way I’d like them to. Sometimes I’d hit the key and nothing would happen, other times it seemed like I’d have to hit it 5-10 times to eventually cycle to the ship sitting right in front of me blasting my armor into Swiss cheese. Other than that one small complaint, the controls felt very natural and intuitive and worked well.
Specialists and other Gear
The recently added Specialists system was a very well needed addition to the game. Basically, you’ll find crew members around the ‘verse who are, well, specialists, in certain fields. Aptly named eh? These folks are randomly generated, so they can provide bonuses to any number of stats and items. You have a limited number of slots you can place them in on your Mothership. There are even restrictions and/or bonuses on them that come into effect when paired with other specialists. Some work better when paired with women, others are completely antisocial and work best alone, etc. It adds an almost, albeit very limited, Diablo-esque loot system to the game that’s always fun. They can be found anywhere; just randomly pop up around the ‘verse, from killing random ships to completing missions, etc. It’s always fun to see what kinda stats you can find on them. My only complaint would be how limited the number of slots you have is. And I don’t mean active slots, naturally that should be limited. I just mean how many you can tote around with you that aren’t being actively used. I’m currently limited to three, which means every time one drops, I have to choose one of my existing guys to jettison into space if I want to see what the newly dropped Specialist does. Or at least let me mouse-over the poor guy floating around space in his pod to see what he does and if it’s worth kicking one of my existing Rare Specialists out of the airlock to make room for him. In all honesty, I wish this system extended over to actual equipment as well. It’d be really cool to come across rare engines or shields that have special properties or elevated stats, etc. Even if you still had to find all of the blueprint pieces like with regular gear, that’d still be fun. It’d be kinda like finding the unique equipment sets in Diablo… *hint*hint* Minmax guys. ;)
Graphics and Sound
Being a 2D game, you can’t expect Crysis level graphics here naturally. What you are presented with work well in my opinion though. The action is laid over a colorful and well done backdrop of planets and stars and other space-related items. There’s even a fun sense of humor with assorted signs and messages scattered around space. There’s a good variety of different ship designs to choose from. Different ships work well with different play-styles. There’s even one called the ‘Right-Hook’ where all the weapons are on one side of the ship. It definitely plays quite a bit differently than say, the ‘Tug’, with its huge cargo bays and turrets. As far as the sounds go, the sound effects and ambient noises are well done and serve their purpose. My real complaint comes from the random radio transmission voice-overs you hear from time to time. Don’t get me wrong, they’re very well done and funny, there are just not enough of them, so it doesn’t take long before you’ve heard them all… over and over… and over and over…
Sure, if you take the individual parts of SPAZ, it doesn’t stack up well. There are better strategy titles out there, better action titles, better RPG titles, etc. But when you add it all together, the sum of the parts is definitely greater than the individuals. Everything works extremely well together. It’s a very solid game that is obviously made out of passion and is a great example of the indie renaissance we’ve been experiencing lately. In my opinion, it’s one of the best things that $15 can buy. The devs have been very active in the community, addressing issues brought to their attention and adding things the community wants to see. The game is solid and fun now, worth every penny of the price tag, and only likely to get much better over time.
+Great old-school space combat.
+Fun story with great humor
+Good levels of customization
+Great community interaction from the Devs
-Very repetitive sound clips
-Gameplay can get a bit repetitive over time