9 Apr

Space Pirates and Zombies

Filed under: PC Games No Responses

Massive scale engagements in the late game can get pretty frenetic.

I bought Space Pirates and Zombies mostly because Tom Chick gushed about it extensively and this game’s setup reminded me of Star Control 2. I really, really loved Star Control 2. Plus this is a game made by two guys who quit their day jobs and mortgaged their homes to work on for two years. I just had to support that. After some 60+ hours, I’ve finally finished it. My opinions on it are mixed so it’ll help to list out the things I didn’t like first.

The Bad

  • The balance is all over the place. I started by using beams as weapons and was frustrated that I couldn’t kill things ten levels lower than me. So I hit the forums, saw that cannons were where’s it at and decided to restart. I could have used the respec option, but that eats data (which is basically XP in this game) and I wanted the experience of flying cannon-equipped ships right from the start. When I got back to where I had gotten stuck, I found I could now fight enemies ten levels higher than me. I guess this is why game companies hire testers.
  • The pacing is pretty bad too, though this is linked to balance. One moment you’re breezing across the galaxy because your guns do so much damage the bad guys just melt. Next thing you know the enemy brings out ships of the next tier and you’re reduced to scrambling for survival until you get that tier of ship designs for yourself. Similarly, there are way too many grindy sequences. The last chapter was a seriously cool twist but much too tedious to actually play out fully.

The in-system map where you select missions to do. The idea is to do missions until you level, then assault a warp gate to get to the next system.
  • Due to all this, the difficulty of various encounters just doesn’t feel right. The final endgame battle, despite all the build-up, turned out to be a total cakewalk. Many of the zombie attacks on your mothership on the other hand, which happen regularly and over which you have absolutely no control, can be brutal. I think depending on the random composition of the invasion fleet, some of the battles may actually be unwinnable. If the zombies bring three Manta Rays (ten large beams each!)  your Mothership is dead, dead, dead.
  • There are a lot of ship configurations to play with, depending on how you specialize your tech levels and which components you pick. Unfortunately many builds, such as cloaked drone carriers or long-range missile snipers, don’t work well when you need to stay in a position to defend an objective and these tend to be the hardest missions anyway. So that really cuts down on your options. And some systems are just too silly work. For example, boarding enemy ships sound cool but you need to spend goons to do it and goons are easily the scarcest resource. As one QT3 poster put it, why would you want to shoot your money at the enemy?
  • I had high hopes for the overworld but it is sadly a static affair. The galaxy can be huge, but the universe exists only as a collection of missions for you to do and there’s no AI-controlled traffic of any kind. Basically the whole universe revolves around the player. Even the added strategic layer in Chapter 4 feels flat and tacked on. This game needs to learn some lessons from Space Rangers 2. While there are actually a decent variety of missions, I’m also mildly annoyed that each mission in the same system offers the exact same reward in terms of material resources, and differs only in how they affect your faction standings. This causes you to only play the most straightforward combat missions and avoid the troublesome ones, which might require stealth or scanning systems to detect stealthed enemies.

The all important hangar screen where you pick hulls and choose components to fill them up with, the most enjoyable part of the game!

The Good

  • I was initially dismayed at how simple the 2D space combat is but it grew on me. The arena system in the new Bounty Hunters update helps highlight the wealth of tactical possibilities. At first I thought that the best ships and component configurations are obvious but when I visited the official forums and saw all sorts of opinions, I discovered that this merely reflected my personal playstyle. It’s great that such a simple system can support such a variety of designs. My favorite Huge ship is the Hammerhead. The twin turrets mean the computer aims for me while the decent speed and maneuverability mean that I can dodge around the fixed emplacements of bigger ships and even kite swarms of enemies to regenerate shields.
  • At heart, Space Pirates and Zombies is a straightforward action RPG. Build ships, fight enemies, collect loot, gain levels, invest in better ships, fight tougher enemies and so on and on. It’s a very old and familiar design so it’s very annoying that it’s so addictive. Hey, look new specialist! Let’s see what slotting him into my fleet does. New ship blueprint? Can’t miss out on fitting out a new ship and testing it in a mission. Ding! New level and points to spend on tech. Time to switch to Overcharge Reactors and replace my Reactor Boosters with other stuff. It’s pure gaming crack.
  • I really like how the devs change up the game every so often even if their implementation is somewhat off. At first, you’re roaming around the galaxy as pirates, then you crack the core and encounter zombies and then in the last chapter it almost becomes a strategy game with you needing to liberate infected systems and build up their defenses.
  • The main story isn’t anything special and you can see the twist coming a mile away but I really liked how it’s so honest. I really dislike how some games try to distract you with a convoluted plot that is hard to follow and in the end just makes no sense.

Scrounging the battlefield in the aftermath of a battle. Gotta collect all the resources before they disappear!

Overall, it’s a neat game with a lot of character. It’s got the usual polish problems associated with not being made by a big development team and evidently is still a work in progress what with some major features to be added on later, but I think it meets its creators’ ambition of being a fun and neat game that the big-name companies won’t make anymore. Great fun and highly recommended.

Written on April 9 2012 and is filed under PC Games. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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