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If there’s anything I’ve noticed in PC gaming over the last decade, its the steady decline of space games. While adventure games underwent a similar decline in popularity, they’ve made a big comeback thanks to companies like Telltale bringing the joys of adventure gaming back to modern gamers. Unfortunately space games haven’t quite had a similiar resurgence, but the guys at Minmax Games are hoping to bring the joys of space games back with their new indie title Space Pirates and Zombies.
Space Pirates and Zombies (Or SPAZ as it is called) is a mix between Gratuitous Space Battles, SPORE’s cell stage and open world space games like Elite. The game sets you as part of the crew of a space pirate mothership. In the opening sequence (Which has stellar narration by John Bane AKA Totalbiscuit of Youtube and general internet fame) it’s explained that your crew are beginning a voyage to the center of the galaxy and it’s up to you to help them get there. The story clearly isn’t the focus of SPAZ, but the mission variety is fairly strong and the missions range from the straightforward attack and defend missions to the more colorful missions like harvesting radioactive waste for a fast food company or disposing of waste containers by blowing them up.
When I played the SPAZ demo, combat seemed quite good but didn’t seem to have much depth. Thankfully this isn’t the case with the 1.0 release. Once you start really getting into the game, combat becomes much more fun and has a lot more depth to it than I felt it did in the demo. As you go through the game you gather more and more ships into your fleet and you unlock different ship designs by fighting and defeating enemy ships and this whole process is quite fun and addictive. Fleets can even be customized by hiring specialists which give special bonuses to the ships in your fleet. While you can control your fleet manually using the extremely helpful tactical view, a lot of the heavy lifting is done by the AI which is alright at times and downright terrible at others.
The customization elements in SPAZ are very well put together. You can build ships from various blueprints which you research by destroying enemy ships of the appropriate blueprint and then build them using a resource known as Rez. Once you have a blueprint, you’re able to fill the different slots on your ship with different attachments ranging from cannons and turrets to tractor beams and torpedos and mining lasers. The customization is huge and since you get to put together the composition of your fleet you definitely feel a certain attachment to your ship. It certainly helps that the various weapons in SPAZ work completely differently and you have to learn how to play and correctly use a new type of ship when you try out a new design.
While the combat turned out to be a much more crucial component of SPAZ than I felt was indicated by the demo, the mining elements ended up being almost entirely optional and underdeveloped.
In contrast to this, the faction mechanics in SPAZ work really well. In each system there are Civilians and the UTA factions and you can do randomly generated missions for each in order to earn money, resources, XP and positive reputation with that faction. One particularly cool thing that I found with the faction system was that the UTA and Civilian factions aren’t linked across systems so you can side with the UTA in one system and Civilians in another, allowing you to not fully commit to one faction early on and be locked into it. In fact, you’re not really locked into a faction at all since you can do missions to redeem yourselves with the any faction that hates you (The downside being that you become hated by the faction you’re currently allied with). The titular Zombies in SPAZ are actually the fourth faction and the closer you get to the center of the galaxy, the more prominent they become.
I’m a huge fan of Gratuitous Space Battles and I absolutely love the art style. The art style in SPAZ is similar, and it perfectly gels with the style of game that SPAZ is. Another thing that SPAZ shares with GSB is a sci-fi ‘spacey’ soundtrack. SPAZ also features some fantastic combat chatter, that adds a lot of character to the game.
An important part of SPAZ that makes it so compelling is that despite the universe being such a vast and full place, the game is not entirely finished and Minmax Games are promising more additional features, such as a bounty hunting system.
While the game mostly ran quite well, I did find a few niggling technical issues from time to time, such as freezing and some lag, but SPAZ runs quite well for the most part and it’s quite likely that Minmax games will rule these issues out rather quickly.
While Space Pirates and Zombies starts out somewhat linear, it quickly expands and presents you with a huge open ended game in which you make your own way throughout the galaxy. While some of the combat can get repetitive, the constant flow of new content and mechanics certainly evens that out. With it’s unique gameplay and fun mechanics, Space Pirates and Zombies is well worth picking up and if you’re unsure, give the demo a spin, you might be surprised.