Monday, 15 August 2011

Review: Space Pirates & Zombies (SPAZ) v1.0

Developer: MinMax Games
Available via: Impulse, Steam
Game Website: http://www.spacepiratesandzombies.com
Demo: Available here

Considering my preview of SPAZ back in May this year, this review is going to feel somewhat awkward as I feel I will be repeating a lot of what I've already said. 

What is SPAZ? 

Space Pirates and Zombies is a story driven, 2D top down shooter with additional layers of tactics, research and resource management to add some depth to the whole affair.  Multiple enemy types, managing the balance of power within star systems and experimenting with a wide variety of different star ship hulls awaits anyone willing to venture into space.

MinMax Games did a better job of elaborating on this than I did. Read any of the press release stuff that is on places like the Steam Store page for SPAZ for the marketing details.


Gameplay

The game starts off with a basic tutorial which gives you a flavour of what to do and how to do it. It is very brief but this is not to it;s discredit, it provides you with all you need to know and the game will drip feed you other, more advanced tidbits when the time arises.

Your final job in the tutorial is to break out of the Earth solar system by destroying the guards at the jump gate. A challenging task but once complete, you are unleashed onto the rest of the universe and are allowed to do as you please. You have a mission indicator to tell you which star system you need to aim for next to progress the storyline but you can choose to collect blueprints and gain experience/resources along the way. Jump gate blockades can be tough but there are multiple routes into most systems and if all else fails, you can boost your relations with the UTA contingent in that sector by doing missions or giving them goons and then bribe your way past the guards.

Collect the escape pods from destroyed ships. They're your source of Goons
Resource management is simple to do. You have Rez (minerals with which to purchase blueprints or construct ships, and Goons, which are crew from destroyed ships which you pick up and turn into slaves to help repair your ship, fight off boarders and use as a kind of currency. Run out of goons? Destroy more enemy ships. Run out of Rez? Destroy enemy ships or harvest some at a friendly Mining Station. Rez collection can be done whilst AFK if you set the AI ships to do it for yo. With a handy option which lets the game run in the background, your AI ships can mine Rez whilst you do other things on your PC.

The weapon types, Cannon, Missile, Beam, Bomb, Mine and Drones add a lot of flavour to the game and with the wide variety of ship hulls (33 with more planned) then there's a lot of scope for changing things around and playing through multiple times to experience different methods of having fun.

Despite being 2D, SPAZ shows off some quite attractive action shots
MinMax have also incorporated a nice little bit of physics into the game, most notably you will see your ship slow down and become sluggish as you pick up Rez. It's a neat touch and can be awful in extended combat situations.

The allied AI is much smarter than it was in my preview in May and tends not to frolic into the wake of an explosion, oblivious to it's obviously destructive effects and they live longer as a result of that. Enemy AI is reasonably good, often ganging up on ships to finish you off more quickly rather than spreading their armaments over your entire force.

Graphics 

Not much has changed since my preview in this regard.
Indie titles are not usually known for their graphics. Simple 2D design built around game play and being different, using a unique art style that most mainstream companies shy away from because they do that mass market thing. SPAZ is an exception to this rule.

I play SPAZ on a 47" LCD HDTV at 1920x1080 and all graphics options turned on. Whilst it may not win any awards for throwing DirectX 11 Tesselation at us, it does a fine job of looking pretty whilst remaining functional and feeling great.

Most PC's will have no issues playing SPAZ at adequate frame rates and even laptops should be a viable platform for SPAZ play.

Some huge ships carry some very fearsome weaponary.
Sound 

Same as with my earlier preview. Nothing has changed significantly here.

The sound is quite a satisfying aspect of SPAZ. Your ears are filled with a multitude of space age noises ranging from the satisfying zap of laser beam and the 'thunk' of your missiles reloading to the pounding of explosions as large ships die and some background intercom chatter.

I love the intercom chatter. Like a nod to the Fallout 3 and Grand Theft Auto's radio system, intercom chatter comes over your speakers sporadically and provides another immersive feeling to the game as well as some lighthearted humour. There are some very memorable lines in there. My only gripes here are that sometimes the battle noises cloud some of the voice chatter which can be awful when you hear the start or end of your favourite line and the lack of content here, the lines becoming repetitive quite quickly.

The Other Stuff

The interface is clunky in certain areas and could do with better notes or icons to indicate what they do or how they should be used. Also, with the random Blueprint and random research bonus system, it can make certain builds very ineffective or awkward to work with especially in the early game.


The developers had a gem of a game back in May. They have polished this little diamond, making an enjoyable and playable game. Whilst it has a few minor issues and quibbles, it doesn't appear to have any noticeable bugs, it loads smoothly and quickly, plays well and gives the player a lot of options as to how they want to play the game.

Space. The Final Frontier.
It is clear that MinMax Studios have listened to the play test base about issues. The AI for the most part has been turned from a suicidal liability to something rather useful, weapons have been toned down/buffed up to reasonable and usable levels, new side missions, new dynamics such as Specialists, Missile targeting priorities and additional weapon effects... all suggested by players on the Forums. On top of all of this, the Main Menu lists several items which are soon to be implemented in the game


The large development companies could learn a lot from SPAZ and MinMax Studios. Too many of them have forgotten how to make a good game.

Conclusion

Space Pirates And Zombies on the face of things is a pretty 2D shoot em up with a rather cliche name, throwing together two popular categories of bad guys and putting them into the less familiar setting of space. If you sneak a peek under it's rather simplistic top layer, you will see a deep and addictive game which almost anyone will find fun.

It's very well polished in most areas and is very simple to use but could do with additional documentation or better in-game descriptions with some of the tactics options and when it comes to Specialists.

A fantastic game which will keep you for hours.

ElcomeSoft Score:  9/10