Space Pirates and Zombies

The epic Steam Sales have a weird effect on me. I put lots of games in my wishlist, and when it goes on sale for what feels like pennies, I am pressed to the point of buy or don’t buy. I don’t know whether it is the coming Guild Wars 2 launch or summer doldrums, but I didn’t buy that many games off my wishlist. I did stumble on Space Pirates and Zombies (“SPAZ”), a game made by the 2-man Minmax Games. It had never been on my wishlist.

The game is a lot of fun. Steam tells me I’ve put in a dozen hours, and I feel like I have tons of game left to go. Read on for more thoughts and discussion about their take on death penalty.

At its core SPAZ is a 2-d space shooter where players (and AI friends) control a small fleet of ships on mission instances. Think Asteroid where players can outfit their ships with all sorts of lasers, cannons, missiles, drones, etc. Yet the action-y part is wrapped up in a persistent and progressive RPG layer where tech is unlocked, staying reputations are made, and of course, experience levels go up. Finally there is a touch of sandbox as players are free to do just about anything including blowing up once-allied outposts, fighting arena-style at the local bounty hunter’s outpost where the player’s wanted poster hangs, and simply sitting next to an asteroid to mine the main currency, rez.

My current path is one of power to the people. I fight for the civilians of each star system while making sure to punish UTA overlords. It is one I chose, and to be honest I break the self-imposed rules almost as much as I keep it. In most star systems I seek to up my reputation with the civilians, and I usually go on the offensive against UTA. I rarely pay off UTA-hired bounty hunters, choosing instead to earn their respect by blowing them up. And, I love my lasers.

All my ships are outfitted to the teeth with lasers. Most have supplemental missile bays, to help take down the hull of a ship. I don’t deal with drones, bombs, or (energy) bullets. Yet, in a moment I can re-outfit each ship by changing their hull, adding on new sub-systems, and re-configuring their weaponry with a simple slot-based design. If one ship seems to be faltering against current aggressors, I usually head back to the drawing board for a design touch-up. I can even do this mid-combat where the ill-designed ship stalls out for a few seconds to warp back to my mothership to be rebuilt.

At each newly arrived star system there are a number of things to do. My reputation precedes me with the UTA faction and the civilian faction each giving me a good, bad, or neutral stance. I can adjust their like or dislike of me by running instanced missions for them. For example, civilians might be trying to dispose of their garbage in space. UTA doesn’t like this. The mission might ask that I go destroy the space garbage while dealing with UTA police. After that missions the civilians will pay me a bit and like me a bit more, and the UTA will probably strongly dislike me.

I can also build my wealth or experience. Asteroid fields provide lots of rez. Each ship has a cargo hold that can fill up with rez. Once the cargo hold is full I can head back to a warpgate to send it to my mothership coffers. Experience transmits directly back to the mothership in the form of data. Junk fields are filled with data. There is another currency too called goons. Goons are people captured from destroyed enemy ships or bought from civilian outposts. During combat they can more quickly heal the ship, but they can also be sold off and used to increase faction. Blown up enemy ships contain a combination of all three main currencies.

Finally there is a main storyline that I am following, which starts me with rebuilding my mothership. The storyline happens every 5-10 star systems so there is plenty of action between each story instance. In fact I’ve been so happy buying tech from civilians and discovering new star systems that I seem to be a bit overleveled for my next storyline area.

I promised discussion on the death penalty. At the beginning of a mission instance a warpgate solidifies my presence in the area. This warpgate can be destroyed by enemies effectively pushing me out of the instance. Player ships will get destroyed mid-combat, and the rez currency is used to re-make ships on the fly. The new ships are warped through the warpgate.

The death penalty, or perhaps a better definition is death credit, is based on the amount of rez in the coffers at the beginning of a mission. With a large amount of rez, I can destroy that heavily-armed UTA outpost because I will keep throwing ships (and rez) at it. With my coffers low, I might be able to rebuild one ship during a mission instance. After that I would have to make do with the surviving ships or start to lose.

At about a quarter or a third of the way through the game, I find I am starting to have to make those decisions. There is a tough mission that will raise my standing with the civilians so I can buy that piece of tech, but my coffers are low. I don’t have much death credit against the mission instance so the chance of wholly failing the mission instance increases. I can go mine for a bit, which can be calming or boring, as an ever-present source of rez, but then it becomes a balance of how much death credit to bank.

The whole while I retain the ire of the bounty hunters, who I refuse to pay off, which also results in many of my ships becoming space dust. They make sure my death credit never gets too high, but I have started to become smarter in avoiding bounty hunter monitored star systems that I don’t need to visit. I’ve also started to fiddle with saved ship builds so that if my 800-cost rez ships explodes, but I only have 500 in the bank, I can switch to a build I like at a lower cost and keep another body on the field.

As an MMO blog that often discusses MMO death penalties, I find this to be a great mechanic. It feels like a poker bet rather than a pure penalty. How much am I willing to risk on this instance? How much do I have to lose? It lets me get away with stupid, expensive things like trying to blow up a bounty hunter’s base, and it lets me choose my balance of risk vs. reward. I might have to go mine for a few minutes to make sure that I can attack a UTA fleet.

Overall, the game is highly recommended. Definitely try out the demo available on Steam and elsewhere to see if the game is to your liking. The developers are continuing to add new support for the game (bounty hunters were added post-launch and mods are next), and I’ve already started to plan my next run through the game as a UTA-thug.


4 thoughts on “Space Pirates and Zombies”

  1. Yeah SPAZ is a great game. It’s not quite Star Control II but I like the 2D space combat a lot and the “death penalty” and related mechanics allow people to pick their difficulty without dumbing down the game or making it too hard and unforgiving.

  2. Haha this and stacking are some my most recently finished steam games, what’s next.. atom zombie smasher. Both are quite good, Spaz has sum nice customisation options to change your playstyle but can feel a little too prolonged..

  3. I enjoyed SPAZ at the beginning, but about half way through it just started to feel blah to me. It was the same thing over and over again: go in, get access to the gate, do a few missions if I wanted the upgrades from the base to get some favor, wash, rinse, repeat. I got to the second stage of the game, to the core planets, and the additional element felt like it didn’t really add any depth to the game, just a few more annoying attacks.

    It’s a shame, because the first several hours were brilliant for me. I loved the game. But, eventually the game just felt a bit shallow. Not sure what could fix it. Perhaps upgrades coming a bit quicker? Some shortcuts so that if you regularly sided with one you’d get a bonus in other galaxies? Something to break what felt like monotony after a while.

    1. I decided to fire the game back up to see if time had made the game any less weary. I see they patched in the bounty hunter faction since I last played. We’ll see if that adds in any of the spice I was missing. Although feels weird to come back to the game with such a major change since I last played.

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