As per tradition every time a Humble Indie Bundle is released I attempt to review the games within, continuing the other traditional I have, it seems that I won’t be able to review all the games in the bundle. Purely because the unfortunately named Space Pirates and Zombies (S.P.A.Z) is so damn long.
Space Pirates and Zombies (And Bounty Hunters) is a top down space fairing adventure; you control a group of pirates, in space, on their quest to become rich. Space travel is enabled by the mysterious element 126, aka Rez. Rez is found in greater qualities’ the closer to the galactic core you travel so using a cobbled together Mother-ship we set out to find the mother-load. Only when we finally start to get close to the core we find a virulent disease that consumes people, ships and anything else that stands in its way.
At first you’ll start out with a tiny little ship; taking pop-shots at other tiny little ships. However there are four types of ships to use which will be unlocked as you progress, they are: Small, Medium, Large and Huge. As you advance through the game though you’ll amass a small fleet of four ships; some larger than small space-stations. The game’s true focus at the start is to find better ships; to gain access to better ships you’ll have to defeat them, several times. No mean task when you’ve got to attack them with ships vastly underpowered in comparison. Once you do get a ship of the right size it becomes easier to take on ships of the same weight class but getting over that first hurdle is a real challenge.
As mentioned the game is a top-down shooter. You control a ship and you have to destroy other ships, defend space-stations, find missing cargo, collect Rez and many other things. You’ve got a selection of armaments; beam weapons, projectiles, missiles, turrets, mines, fighters and anti-missiles. Along with: shields, cloaking, engines, scanners, tractor-beams, armour, power-boosters, crew size and reactors to consider. You get to decide the configuration of your ship but each ship can only hold certain types of weapons and will determine the placement of those weapons. You can create several different ships at the same time; those not controlled by you will be under AI control and will assist you. So you may choose a large ship that has lots of weapons but they will only face forward and it has a slow turning rate; without good support craft that ship won’t last long against smaller craft that can dance around your weaponry, whittling your health down. Also each weapon will be a drain on your power so you’ve got to be careful not to overload your ship with weapons…unless you only want to fire once before running out of juice.
As you progress through the game you’ll find and unlock new weaponry and more importantly you’ll collect data, which acts as this game’s experience points. As you level up you can upgrade various systems: from the strength of your armour to the effectiveness of your crew, from the damage caused by beam weaponry to the speed of your engines. Each level up gives you 3 points to spend on whatever you want. Each upgrade will cost the same amount of points; upgrading shields to level 5 will cost 5 experience points for example, meaning you’ll have to level up twice before you can upgrade it.
Every star system has two factions: the UTA; the military/border control and the Civilian populace; who are constantly fighting against the UTA. The UTA control the space-gates (the only way to travel long distances in the galaxy) while the Civilians control all the mining, research and population control. The player when entering new systems then have the option to be friendly to the UTA or the Civilians, or both…or neither. To increase relations with each group you’ll have to go on side-quests that’ll raise the infrastructure of the area increasing the local power of the faction. Or you can just bribe them with some excess crewmen. This in turn means they become more active in the local system and are more likely to have ships around to help you out. Good relations also mean you can trade items, buy goods (and in the case of the UTA) bribe them to let you travel through one of the many space-gates.
As mentioned this game is long. It’s also extremely tedious. Levelling up takes forever and systems are based on levels. Those near the edge of the galaxy have ships at around level 10, those in the middle start getting up to 30 while those close to the core are 60+. Farming low level areas won’t net you much experience points so you’ll have to tackle the higher levels. Only higher levels will have larger and better ships than you and so will be constantly destroying your smaller ships. This forces you to go back and farm for Rez in low-level areas so you can re-build ships. Also when you do get a large ship don’t you ever risk having it destroyed because without having a larger ship to carry all the Rez it’ll take ages for you to get enough Rez to build the big ship again, so you can collect the Rez, before finally risking having to fight in a high level area.
So either you painfully farm low level areas for experience or you risk having your ships destroyed in the pursuit of better ships and more experience points. In addition to that items bought from trading stations cost a lot of Rez (as does bribing fractions) so you’ll have to collect a lot to afford the item and possibly do a couple of side-missions to get the guys to sell it to you in the first place. In short the game feels like a massive ever-lasting quest to do one thing; but you’ve got to get 1000 Rez first, or you’ve got to level a skill up to 8 to use that weapon, or you’ve got to get that ship first before you can even attempt to go any further. Case in point; according to the achievements on steam under 30% of the people that bought the game ever got to see the titular zombies. That’s because the universe is so big and it takes so long before you’re even allowed near the core of the galaxy.
It’s a shame too that so many people never saw the big change in gameplay. Around a third of the way through the whole game changes from lone space-pirates trekking across the stars and morphs into a massive war among the stars! The player suddenly gets allied with the forces of the universe to help tackle the zombie threat. You get given resources and back-up ships but in return you’re expected to defend systems from zombie attacks and manage the space-stations so they can produce more needed resources or defend themselves from zombie incursions. A very nice change of pace so late in the game which helps keeps your interest after the plot-twist.
Okay so this game is massive, there really is a lot to do here. It took me 50 hours to complete this game and even then I didn’t bother with visiting every system, liberating every system from zombie control or completing every side-quest. Quantity however is not quality and there will be long stretches of boredom and frustration; while the bulk of the game is often doing the same thing over and over again. The game is rather addicting and there is always something enticing you back to keep playing but my God does it take a long time to do anything. If you’ve already bought the Humble Indie Bundle 6 (and I hope you have) then download this game and give it a go, it might keep glued in a perpetual loop of “just one more level” for hours. If you haven’t got the bundle then you can pick it up cheap on steam (or try the demo) and you can’t say it’s not good value for money.