It had been almost 4 full months since I have played the classic space-sim Escape Velocity: Nova and as a result I found myself going through a bit of withdrawal, craving to get into space again. Wishing to find a new game aside from EV: Nova (which I had played to a point of having a combined total of over 400 hours of gameplay), I spent a day and a half trying to get X3 working again. Nevertheless I eventually gave up until I received this game, Space Pirates and Zombies, on the list of perspective reviews. I did some research and I decided to take it on, because hey, zombies + space + pirates? Duh, easy choice.
What I expected this game to be going in was Left4Dead in space as a top down. However, the depth of the game was surprising in terms of its mechanics. To start with, there’s a decent amount of ships within the game, most of which pilotable by the PC. Your mothership, essentially your roaming home base, has different hangers, the number and size expands as you progress through the story. You start off with a few small hangars, and by the end of the game you have 4 hangars one of a massive ship, a large, a medium and a small. Each classification of ship will have about 6 plus or minus 2ish different varieties with about a total of 30 different ships, each of which are different enough that you will be able to pick a favorite. Mine happened to be the slower ships, due to the fact they carried heavier ordinance than the faster ones (my most loved ship was what I called the Beehive, a massive carrier rigged with 8 cluster missile [called SRMs in the game] and 5 boosters to speed up the launch rate of the missiles so it would fire them off in a constant torrent that would rip to shreds whatever I was attacking, aka, it was super badass). The customization goes beyond just the ships too in that you can choose to place the armaments that you want on the ships, so you can choose to have lots of missile ships, energy beams, cannons, bombs, hangars to send out drones, a la Starcraft Carriers, and even have your crew do the dirty work by sending out boarding ships to tear apart your enemies from the inside out. It’s not just weapons that you can customize, but you can change out the amount of armor on your ships, more armor means less speed, the shield strength etc. all with their own trade-offs.
Customization is the name of the game here in that it’s not just the hardware that you upgrade, but also there’s a neat little RPG element in that you collect “data” which is essentially experience points, and when you reach a certain amount you gain 3 upgrade points which go to one of twelve different categories, most of which have ten different levels, each of which improve that tech. Some of them improve the damage done by weapons, some improve the rate of fire, stuff like that.
That’s the engine of the game, time to get to what they did with it.
There’s a linear plot to the game, though what you do in-between the plot is pretty much up to you. It gives you a main story goal in a different system, and then you have to get there and do that mission in that system. The plot is decent, albeit a tad cliché, but it works because the game never takes itself TOO seriously. But it’s what outside the plot was what bugged me. There were very few missions of variety, and after a while the game simply turned into warp into a system, get money by holding down the fire button, rinse and repeat until I had as much money as I wanted, then go to a different system and do the same. The ending of the game switched this up a bit, but not enough. This is the one issue I found that separated SPAZ from being on the same level of X3 and EV: Nova. You only have one avenue in terms of what path you can take. You can only be a pirate, and there is little to no wiggle room, so if you get bored of being a pirate, there’s not much you can do. It’s not deal breaking, but it makes the game feel like there’s a lot more possible but it’s not giving out on you.
A problem with indie titles is that 2 people going back and forth with something that they did on their own they’re bound to miss something. Luckily, the title does well in that it avoids most bugs and the such. In my play through there were virtually no bugs that I encountered. However, there was an issue of performance. While my laptop can tear through Dragon Age II and Crysis on Ultra, my computer would struggle when there would be large numbers of enemies and projectiles on the screen. However, this was only encountered at the last stage of the game, I believe, due to the amount of effects carried by the zombies (though I still think the game is suffering from poor optimization though because my computer should be able to run this game smoothly without any hiccups on battery mode) the game engine would struggle to render everything.
The engine is a beautiful piece of art, with lots of possibility to it (and it was only created by 2 people in 2 months shy of 2 years! Mass props). However, the game has too little variety in it to raise it to the monumental level that EV: Nova and other great space sims are on, but the game isn’t really a space sim, but more of an RPG-Arcade-Shooter-In-Space-With-Zombies. Needless to say it’s a great game and got plenty of play time from me. I give it a 16 on the d20 for stellar gameplay, smooth controls, beautiful engine, but have to doc points because of the repetition within the gameplay itself.