Space Pirates and Zombies: Impressions Part III
When last we met, I anticipated the game becoming rather zombie centric. I expected to change up my combat tactics to better face large zombie fleets and to jettison many poor sprite people into the void. What I did not expect was for a massive shift in the game play and a widening of the game’s focus. I won’t be going into plot, but obviously I’ll be talking about this shift and its impact on the last act of the game. So if you want to keep this game a total surprise, then perhaps this isn’t something you want to dive right into. But if you don’t mind surprising mechanics being revealed to you, then read on. Well, alright, some smaller elements of the story will be revealed, but I promise to be vague for you.
Shortly after some twists and turns in the games story, and some harrowing stealth and hijacking missions, I found myself with a completely retooled fleet. I headed off to wipe clean a zombie infestation that’s blocking my progress, and jump back to civilization. What I find is a galaxy in ruin and panic–in my time stranded close to the galactic core the zombies had been busy little monstrosities. The war between the Civilians and the UTC is on hold as humanity bands together to resist the all consuming zombie infection. Travel is heavily impeded thanks to infestations in the galaxy, and this impediment is preventing humanity from building a fleet to drive back the zombie scourge. That’s where I come in, the small gathering of Humanity I found informed me: I’m the most intact hope for humanity.
The game cheerily then proceeds to explain the shift in game play to me. No longer am I scavenging and making my way to the core, doing what I can to get by: the stakes are higher now. I need to burst through infested regions, clean out star systems, arm and fortify space stations, and do what I can to hold the line. If I liberate a section of space, I can’t just move on. I need to make sure they are well equipped, because if they aren’t the bordering star systems infections will spill over and reclaim the territory. Where once I was worried about outfitting four measly ships, I’m now looking at entire swaths of space. All the while I’m repelling attacks on my mother ship and trying to build a big enough fleet to take back the galaxy with. It was shocking, to say the least, to go from a relatively narrow focus on my fleet to the decidedly macro focus of all humanity.
Once again, SPAZ let me get comfortable before pulling the rug out from under me. My comfortable rhythms and strategies were now devastatingly counter-productive. After a cursory glance at my star chart I decided on a direction and made my move to wipe clean the local infestation so I could make my jump. In a storm to face the swarm, and begin the battle with the undead. The battle raged on for what felt like forever, every time I cleared out the enemy ships I noticed more on the horizon, and I was frequently having to jettison whole crews to prevent my ships from going over to the enemy. The things were breeding, massive pulsating sacks in space were erupting and spewing out new threats to my life and prosperity. So, already suffering heavy loses and running low on REZ, I panicked and told everyone to attack the heart of the infestation and ignore the hulking bio-mechanical horrors ripping them apart. One by one my ships exploded against the foe until the last ship, and the last of my resources, succeeded in blowing the damn thing up.
I congratulated myself on my victory and begrudgingly set off to begin mining the materials I would need to rebuild my fleet, mining that would require time and various jumps between planets and star system. Mining that meant the infestation had all the time in the world to devastate the surrounding areas. It was a mess. I was constantly on the run trying to make enough money to rebuild, faced with zombies in all the richest locations. Eventually, I found a relatively safe zone to rebuild, but if the NPCs on my ship were real, a mutiny would have happened six times over during these dark times. I had to be far more careful then I was used to: the killing power of short range weapons abandoned on most ships in favor of long range weapons, and crew was now precious thanks to the suddenly friendship among all mankind. My kidnapping and slavery days were firmly behind me.
This is what makes SPAZ such a unique experience. Sure, you will find other games that change things up on you, but SPAZ is downright brutal about it. Minor changes in components, weapons, and strategy happen constantly, and massive changes come anytime you find yourself in a rhythm. The difficulty, meanwhile, is content to just progressively increase. It can be unbearably frustrating at times. Some missions will just seem impossible, but I have never encountered a situation that actually was. It always just requires some careful planning and consideration of the task at hand, a break from the game to have a drink and change your outlook before returning to the commander’s seat. It took me many lives lost and hours getting my head around how to successfully liberate and hold locations, and took me even longer to seriously prepare for attacks on my mother ship. I have said this before in the previous entries, but this game wants to push your limits and test you, and it makes no apologies for its difficulty.
In many ways this was the most satisfying section of the game. I enjoyed the ragtag outlaws fighting for their way in the harshness of space, but becoming the beacon of hope that rallies humanity is more enjoyable. Instead of opening a map and seeing the trail you blazed and thinking about your next step towards the core, you are now looking at enemy and liberated territories. You push forward before falling back to collect resources and crew from your friendly territories and strengthen their defenses. You scramble to beat back incursions and make judgment calls on which sections to liberate, knowing that the ones you don’t choose could overwhelm a bordering star system. It’s just so much BIGGER now. This scale does bring to light a few minor annoyances though.
SPAZ is a long and involved game that I very much enjoy, but being as long as it is some of the things I liked so much in the beginning can start to grate on the nerves. The CB radio chatter that makes the universe feel populated and alive isn’t as diverse as it should be for a game this long. The same woman has been looking for a strip-club to work at over the radio frequencies for literally years in game. I have heard the same jokes and comments and opinions of the same space-denizens possibly a thousand times now. The lines also don’t reflect the changes in the galaxy, being as sweeping and consuming as they are; it would be nice if they change to reflect these events. Go from idle talk to determined spirit-raising comments on fighting back, warnings about lost sectors or cheers for liberated zones. In an ideal version of the game, the chatter would reflect even smaller changes earlier in the game. Pro-UTC propaganda in UTC owned regions gives way to victorious Civilian banter upon control switching, the frequency of mysterious or zombie related messages increasing the closer to the core you come. Changes like this can really add a great deal of dynamic life to the experience. Of course the game is still being worked on, so perhaps more background chatter will come with it. I would gladly record a few lines of space dialogue for them if that’s what it takes–SPAZ has won my heart and my mind, and I would like to see it keep growing and evolving as a game.
It feels strange wrapping up this experience for you all. I have commanded a ragtag bunch of people just looking for profit to being full on saviors of the known galaxy. The journey has been hard, it has tested my patience, my abilities, and certainly my morality when faced with tiny pixelated lives. I don’t know if I have passed all these tests. Some tiny sprite families would probably have some things to say regarding that question, but I damn well enjoyed these tests. The game in unrelenting, and you should be too–don’t be afraid to really change your style up when you get stuck, to do something crazy when in a seemingly hopeless situation. I know this isn’t technically a review, but if you have read this far and haven’t balked at the stories and many failures I have listed here, then consider this a glowing review of the game.
This certainly isn’t a game for everyone, but for those of you who have laughed along with me as I lost my humanity in an effort to save it, those who read along as I got stuck and had to improvise and just itched for the chance to do it better, this game is for you. It’s new, but it’s built on a foundation of love for the older and more unforgiving space combat experiences of the past. It’s like some version of Escape Velocity on awesome steroids. I haven’t played anything quite like this before, and its been years since I played anything that’s anywhere near it. Bringing this to a close, I can’t help but fondly recall countless crazy moments in this game. SPAZ let me be every kind of space captain I could ever want to be. I was a ruthless pirate, a cunning and dependable captain, and a craftily dubious rogue countless times. I felt like I was Mal on the Serenity as I slipped out of a hopeless situation by the skin of my teeth and other times I was Picard laying my head in my hands under the weight of the decisions I was forced to make. It generates stories outside of the main narrative, and to me that is the mark of a great game worth your curiosity and attention.
Direct such curiosity and attention to the games website, HERE.