Space Pirates and Zombies: Impressions

Space Pirates and Zombies is obviously a labor of love, even if you don’t know the story behind the two man development team who brought this game to life. From the rather beautiful backdrops to the smallest detail, the game is alive and glowing with the love the developers bear for this style of game. Radio chatter will spill over your comm from lonely space travelers like so much CB chatter from bored truckers. Floating signs with speed limits, health and safety reminders, and scrawled messages lazily float through fields of asteroids and debris. Even the on-board computer will make quips as you learn new things, “maybe you should read this,” and “I sure hope you’re paying attention, their will be a quiz later,” to denote new features or abilities. Little details like these are where the passion a developer has for a project really sparkle through, the minor window dressings that make something as barren as space feel populated and lived in.
NO what?!

The signs are nice, but I want that Dyson Sphere.

That story about the developers I mentioned is a simple one, but it does make obvious why the game plays the way it does. It starts like so many other conversations among gamers: two dudes hanging out lamenting The Game That Could Be. Unlike most of us, who talk about every feature we would love to see in our ideal game, they started a two man team and made the game they wanted. The Space Games they remembered with fondness from years gone by were the inspiration as they put everything they wanted into a dream game. It took them 22 months but here we are, with SPAZ in beta for me to experience and report my finding to you, dear readers.

The game opens with a voice over explaining the setting, and, as is the standard fare for space exploration and combat, earth is a wasteland following warp technology and the discovery of a super valuable element for humanity to become dependent on. A governing body appears to do its best to police the galaxy, and the civilians do their best to not be hammered underfoot. You, meanwhile, are the castoffs of humanity. Riffraff in space who band together along the garbage rim of Earth to salvage parts and make your own way in this crazy mixed up universe aboard your patchwork station “The Clockwork”. What this means for the player is that you need to get lots of that valuable element while working with and clashing against the two factions in the Galaxy, and gathering the tech you need to expand your fleet. A greatly simplified retelling of the games opening, but I wanted to give you an idea of the space in which we fly.
I like it when one enemy ship tries to take on ALL the other ships.

My kind of fight, one bad dude and three lasers blowing him up.

From the get go the game has much more meat to it than I initially expected. I went into it anticipating something along the lines of Flotilla, a game I love dearly. The space faring humor is abundant, like I mentioned before with the road signs and comm chatter, but the characters play it straight and so too does the story. The three characters who represent The Clockworks captain and officers banter back and forth about the situations they are in, and about making it to the core to make it big. It works in my opinion, they contrast well with the slightly sillier background elements of the game. The mechanics go deep, as you level up you can research multiple levels of advancement for every aspect of your fleet; ships can have every part of their load-out changed from engines and armor to weapons and tractor beams. As you learn the ins and outs of the game you slowly augment your fleet to represent your play style and better suit the situations you encounter. Which is important, because the game can be mercilessly unforgiving at times.

The tutorial comes to a close and I find myself free to explore and tackle the galaxy in whatever fashion I see fit. So me and my little fleet plot a course for a mission that will gain me favor with the UTC (the government), as that would be helpful to have on my side in this particular system. We come screaming out of warp and merrily engage the enemy forces, high off the successful encounters of the tutorial missions. The smiles fade as my ships explode and I watch in horror as hard won resources go burning up in the vacuum of space, including the ever precious resource of crew members. Crew, in a rather dark turn for the game, are gained by picking up the escape pods of destroyed enemy ships. Any of those poor souls who disagree with being press ganged into your crew are jettisoned out the airlock where your computer controlled ships will take potshots at them. Darker still, any extra crew you have can be sold or traded as slaves for money or to curry favor. Life is cheap in the darkness of space.
Do you need a jacket? Looks cold outside!

"Hostages that complain go out the airlock with the rest of the trash!"

After capturing some new totally willing crew members and mining some more resources I rebuilt my fleet to its former glory. Which is to say three piddly ships, as I am still only about four hours into a 20+ hour procedurally generated experience, and optimized my gear. It was at this point that I learned caution, jumping out of hostile space the moment things went pear shaped and harassing lower level areas to gain experience and outfit beforehand. Once I feel confident in my setup I make the jump and see what the frenetic havoc of space combat has is store for me, to see if I have the edge I need over my enemy in this particular encounter. Combat is thrilling because of how fast things can change, with ships spiraling around beams of energy and missiles exploding all around you, any second could be the turning point for you or the enemy. I never quite know what to expect when I arrive at a mission location, and that suits me just fine, I like being on the edge of disaster as I try to scrape together a more formidable armada.

At this early stage of the game I have yet to experience the titular zombie aspect outside of a minor moment in the story. Things are slow and small scale for now, my fleet is a tiny handful of ships and the number of enemies in any given encounter isn’t much bigger. I have seen the trailer however, so I know I can expect large scale encounters later in the game, and the promise of a spreading zombie menace that effects the galaxy and the decisions I have made is very exciting. At this point I can honestly say I very much enjoy the game, but I am eager for it to pick up its pace some, and to expand in scope. Right now I am still in the scrappy ragtag team make a fleet stages, but I am ready for the pirate armada to clash with large fleets and zombie scourges’ part of the story.


My god... it's full of stars!

Part two of my impression to follow, wherein I explore what happens as I get deeper into that massive ball of star systems! For now, check out the game’s site, and if you think you would like it, give it a go! Also be sure to check out part II of my coverage here!