Monday, June 13, 2011

Space Pirates and Zombies (SPAZ)

This past weekend I was away from home and all my usual gaming accoutrements, and thus limited to my non-gaming laptop for any sort of electronic entertainment.  I don't really keep many games on my laptop and nothing I had really appealed to me. I ended up browsing and came across a game with the unlikely title of Space Pirates and Zombies (SPAZ).

I was intrigued enough by the screenshots to give the game a try.  It's not what I expected, I would have been better served by checking out this video first. However, what I found quickly ensnared me and I ended up playing it every free moment I got over the weekend.  I think the fastest way to give an idea of what the game is like would be to call it a cross between Star Control II and Starscape, with the bonus of allied AI controlled ships allowing for fleet battles.

Each game consists of a randomly generated universe populated with a configurable number of star systems.  If you choose a low number of star systems each one will have more resources, but the difficulty ramps up faster.  If you choose a high number of star systems there are fewer resources per system, but difficulty ramps up more slowly.  I've been playing in the middle, with a measly 250+ systems to explore.  You start with a mothership (that you can't control) and a pathetic little ship with which to gather resources.  Once you have enough resources you're able to build some slightly better ships, then start interacting with the neighbors, earn more resources, learn new technologies, and so forth.  Over time you build up a bigger and bigger fleet, the mothership gets improved, and you research upgrades that make your ships faster, stronger, better.  Each system contains two factions, Civilians and UTA.  The UTA is a paramilitary faction, the splintered remains of a once pan-galactic police force.  When you first enter a system you will have a certain reputation level with each faction, and by performing certain tasks you can increase reputation with one while decreasing it with the other.  Having a positive reputation will allow you to buy blueprints from that faction's space station, so improving relations is an important part of increasing your power.  Of course, one of the great things about the game is that you also have the option of simply blowing them up and taking what you want.

Combat is very action-oriented which came as a surprise when I started up the game (I was expecting  something more strategy-like).  You can control your thrust direction with the standard WASD keys, but the direction your ship is facing is controlled by the mouse.  This makes piloting both more complex and more flexible than many games of this type have been in the past.  Accelerating backwards while shooting at a target is easy, and strafing and similar maneuvers can play a big part in survival for the smaller, more agile ships.  Even if an NPC is allied with you, friendly fire is a risk, and if you hit them enough times they'll eventually get tired of it and turn hostile.  This is an important part of the game, because sometimes you WANT to attack a friend.  They might be piloting a hot new ship you don't have access to, and destroying them will let you loot the blueprint for the ship.

Overall I found the combat satisfying (I especially love the beam weapons) with enough challenge to force smart play without being overwhelming.  Of course, if I found the game too easy I could push faster into more dangerous star systems, so to a certain extend the level of difficulty is player controlled.  I suspect it might all start to feel a bit tedious after 20 or 30 hours, but the game will have more than earned it's price by then.

There are a lot of things I'd like to see added to the game, such as more factions, more mission types, maybe a new campaign where you play as the UTA and try to rebuild civilization.  How about some aliens?  That's a tall order though, because the game is being developed by a company called Minmax Games, an independent developer almost as small as it can get - it's two people essentially working out of their garages.

Which is a big part of why I decided to make this post.  I think the game is fun, and while it certainly won't be for all, if you were a fan of Star Control II or similar games you owe it to yourself to check this one out.  If you can help out a small independent developer with a sale, then even better.

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