Space Pirates and Zombies, or SPAZ as it is affectionately referred too by its fans, is a mix of Real Time Strategy, RPG and Space Adventure from the two man team at MinMax Games. Such games have been becoming increasingly more uncommon, so can this relic really stand up in the modern age?
SPAZ is set in a galaxy solely inhabited by Humans. Earth and the Sol System have been reduced to nothing more than a toxic waste land, with systems getting increasingly richer and technologically advanced the closer to the galactic core you get. Star Systems are traversed by entering Warp Gates, however these have been locked down and are highly guarded by the local military. With rumours of a secret Star System filled with unlimited resources (an Eldorado so to speak), it is up to a rag tag band of pirates and mercenaries to uncover the secrets of the Milky Way. The setup, whilst clichéd, gives enough reason to explore the galaxy and even has a few twists and turns along the way.
In SPAZ you travel from system to system completing missions, gaining resources, building your fleet and researching new technologies. Your base of operations is the Clockwork, a giant space station filled with hangars, crew, resources and covered in an array of guns. As you progress through the game, the Clockwork becomes larger, thus able to sustain a larger fleet of ships, hold more resources in its cargo bays and recruit more crew to man the station. The exploration side of SPAZ, whilst vast, is not exactly varied. Missions are repeated throughout the 300 or so systems that populate the galaxy, and there is very little interaction with anyone outside of the story missions. To offset the repetition you have two major factions: the UTA and the Civs. To get what you want in life, you are going to have to suck up to them both and play the politics game. Unfortunately the system is far too simplistic and once you get to a certain level, you don’t even have to care about it, since you can get what you want through brute force alone. Luckily, exploration is not the main focus here.
SPAZ’s combat is based around quick reflexes, tactics, preplanning and physics, and boy is it a good combination. Whilst you have a fleet of up to four ships, you only have control over one at a time leaving the others to the AI. Success, like all RPG’s is mainly based around your level in comparison to your enemies, but things like ship load out and movement in a 0G environment make a big difference. It is always satisfying controlling a small fighter craft and taking down a much larger advisory through clever movement and solid tactics.
To get the most out of combat you are going to want to level up, and there are several ways to do this. The first is to simply progress through the main story, which will inevitably expand the Clockwork giving you more toys to play with. Secondly you can gather Data (XP) and spend Technology (Skill Points) to increase your proficiency in a variety of paths such as Shields, Cloaking, Engines etc. How you spend these points greatly changes how you approach combat and what equipment you can bring to battle. Thirdly, destroying enemy ships grants you blueprints. When you amass enough of them (between 3 and 10 depending on the ship) you can add it to your fleet. And finally you have equipment. This can be bought at space stations, and naturally the closer to the core you get, the more powerful the equipment you can purchase. These range from advanced shielding to tiny drones to be deployed through docking bays. Individually it is not much to look at, but together it makes a game that at a first glance is Asteroids on a larger scale, incredibly deep and very rewarding to play.
Your fleet is your lifeblood, and how you kit out each ship will greatly affect your chances of survival. Do you want to go all Klingon on your enemies and formulate ambushes to defeat your foes? Do you want to sacrifice mobility for impenetrable armour plating and hyper resistant fortress shields? Well you can. How you want to play the game is up to you, and the SPAZ comes with the tools to satisfy any space farer.
Graphically, SPAZ is quite the looker. Whilst entirely 2D, the art is outstanding, with bright vibrant colours taking centre stage and packing some fantastic special effects to sweeten the deal. Energy cannons tearing through hulls, laser beams tearing through quantum shielding and atomic explosions shattering the space time continuum (well…not quite) all look the part. The ship design is great with quality being found in the smallest fighter and the largest battle barge. Whilst the limited voice acting is poor and somewhat repetitive, the sound effects and sound track do more than enough to make up for the minor short comings.
Overall, SPAZ is a fantastic package. Whilst it does have its short comings in terms of repetition and some overly simplistic mechanics in some areas, you can easily forgive its failings as the things it does right are done amazingly well. If you have a space itch, then look no farther as SPAZ will gladly give you 20+ hours of joy. And when you are done, you can even create another galaxy and do it all again!