Space Pirates and Zombies
Space Pirates and Zombies, a product of two-man team MinMax Games, is a throwback to space shooters of old. There’s simplicity to the gameplay along with a familiarity to its classic roots, but there’s also depth to it as well. Couple that with a giant, randomly created galaxy and there’s a lot of content for any game, let alone a budget indie title. A lot of time and effort had gone into creating a system that would allow versatility in creating a fleet of starships, along with a galaxy for them to roam and pillage. There’s even a plot to motivate your destruction, factions to negotiate and (eventually) zombies. Sort of.
The plot follows the crew of the Clockwork and their expedition to the center of the galaxy. They’re searching of treasure, as any good pirate should be, and their basis that the center would contain the mother-lode is based on empirical research. It is a known fact that the star systems closer to the center of the galaxy are more technologically advanced and abundant in a mineral called Rez, the primary currency in the galaxy.
Like any worthy trek, there is no straight shot from the outer rim to the center, let alone from one star system to the next. Every star system is instead connected to each other via warp gates, all of which had been taken over by the United Terran Alliance. Destroy the gate keepers and travel between the stars is yours. In order to maintain your voyage, and military dominance, you will have to make pit stops along the way, whether it be gathering resources to support your economy, or taking on side missions to gain favor with the local factions.
It’s on these side missions that the game finds its way into repetitive territory. Much like the original Assassin’s Creed, there are only a few different types of side jobs. Escort the friendly vessel by destroying the attackers. Clean up trash from the star system by blowing up forty to fifty crates. And then there are the side jobs in which there are bad guys on patrol, and it’s up to you to blow them up. This missions are performed for multiple reasons, as they provide resources, data (the game’s version of experience), and faction gain.
There are also random events that occur throughout the galaxy as well, in an attempt to diversify the regular grind. Comets, bountiful in resources and dangerous to approach, are just one of the different events. These events also can be specialized missions that serve to forward one of the many subplots in the game. These are also more difficult than the regular missions, forcing you to send your meager fleet against near impossible odds, at least in the game’s early stages when you’re limited to only three ships.
While the mission design is very repetitive, it is supported by a surprisingly deep structure. Every star system within the galaxy hosts two major factions, those being the civilians and the UTA. The UTA control the warp gates, so battle against them is inevitable, but otherwise it’s possible to build or ruin your reputation with each one on every system. Because the UTA made restrictions on space travel, each system is disconnected from the other. This means that you can go into one star system and ruin everything for the UTA only to go into the next system and spend your time destroying civilian ships. All the while you’ll be collecting resources and schematics and experience to build, modify and customize your fleet of ships to your style of play. That way, when you enter combat, you’ll be prepared for anything.
The combat itself can be tactical and strategic, especially when you go up against tougher foes. You send in a small fleet of ships, and although you have only direct control over one of the ships, you can still assign orders to the others via a map screen. From there you can assign waypoints for the AI ships to travel, enemy units to attack and friendly units to follow. Having that kind of control helps even the odds a little bit against the toughest foes.
For a title that offers equal billing to both pirates and zombies, the latter get left backstage for a large portion of the game. Certainly they make a few cameo appearances, but for the most part the zombie horde lies deeper within the galaxy. Their role in the game is to change the rules, forcing you to change your tactics in order to succeed. And maybe, if you persevere beyond the repetitive mission structure and the countless warp gates that require to be individually cleared, you’ll find an indie gem that’ll keep you busy for a long time.