Sandbox Space Sim: SPAZ

By Shamus
on Jan 27, 2014
Filed under:
Game Reviews

Made by a two-person team, Space Pirates and Zombies is very obviously a labor of love. I mean, look at the new game screen:

How can you not find that heartwarming?
How can you not find that heartwarming?

It does for mainstream space sims what Terraria did for Minecraft: It distills the gameplay down to the elemental, focuses on combat, and does it all in an accessible 2D retro style. I played it way back in 2011. I liked it and got a couple of days of fun out of it, but it suffered from the same restrictive approach to character progress as Freelancer, which eventually turned me off the game. I suppose I should get my long-overdue Freelancer rant out first:


That tag line pisses me off.

In Freelancer, the mechanics are a slave to the plot, which I think is an ass-backwards approach to things in a sandbox. Each area of the game has a hard level cap. If you hit it, you can’t level up again until you do a story mission. Worse, ships require licenses to fly, and licenses are level restricted. (You can be a pirate if you want, but apparently driving without the proper license is a taboo you just won’t break.) So maybe you saved up enough money to get that awesome fighter ship, but you can’t fly it until you level up and you can’t level up until you do the story mission. And the story mission is (of course) very combat-focused.

The story mission would be a pain in the ass, making me wish I could use that shiny new fighter I wasn’t allowed to fly. Once I beat the story mission it’s time to go back to trading, so I don’t need the fighter anymore. And by the time I get to the next one of these damned story bottlenecks the fighter will be obsolete and I’ll be looking forward to the next fighter I’m not allowed to use yet.

To rub salt in the wound, it doesn’t even bank your XP for later. If you do anything XP-worthy while you’re at the cap, those points are lost. So the game is actively punishing you for trying to do anything sandbox-y in the ostensibly sandbox world. Sure, I suppose I could do more trading to earn more money, but what would I spend the money on? All the good stuff is locked away behind the level gate, and after the level gate I’ll be able to make money twice as fast in the next zone. There’s no reason to revisit old sectors and I’m not allowed to explore future ones. The only freedom you have is the freedom to waste your own time.

I suppose the genius designer behind this mess figured they were “improving” the game when they created this system that made most of the game space irrelevant, made a lot of the ships pointless, and made sure that every player had the exact same experience with the exact same difficulty. It’s like the mechanics of Freelancer were designed by someone who hates games like Freelancer. I can only hope this person is off somewhere designing linear corridor shooters and will leave future sandbox games alone.

EDIT: It’s been years since I saw the game, and apparently I’ve forgotten some stuff about the leveling.

Anyway. Back to SPAZ.

Pew pew pew!

SPAZ isn’t quite as bad as Freelancer, but progression is still overly restrictive and needlessly lashed to a story that isn’t nearly funny or interesting enough to be at the center of things like this. The best upgrades are the upgrades to your ship size, and those are story driven. The second-best upgrades are unlocking ship designs and subsystems, and those are unlocked by random drops and random shops. This turns out to be fairly grind-y. That “hydra” ship design might look pretty interesting when you first see it, but you’ll need to kill a ton of them before you can make your own Hydra, and by that point the novelty will have worn off.

There’s a skill point system, but you don’t have much freedom in how you spend your points. If the shops are only selling beam weapons, then putting points into missiles is a waste. And you don’t want to spend your points ahead of time, since you don’t want to find the ultimate torpedo launcher at a shop and realize you’ll need to spend the next three levels upgrading that skill before you’re allowed to equip it. So your skill point allocation is going to be reactionary, and trying to min-max will only increase your risk that you won’t have the skills to match the equipment available to you.

Pew pew pew!

I found myself constantly running into arbitrary caps. I’m not allowed to carry more than X minerals. I can’t have more than X crew. I can’t have more than X ships of Y size. And the only way to raise any of those levels are by doing story missions. In SPAZ, you can never have more power than the designer intended. You’re never allowed to get ahead, you’re only allowed to make some blunder that will make you fall behind.

Note that I’m not talking about making the game “easier”. You can turn the game difficulty down if you want, but making the game easy isn’t the same as earning the power to crush your foes. I spent days with the game, and I never once had the feeling that I was empowered or that any of my hard work was making me stronger. I never felt like there was any strategy to spending my skill points.

It’s not a bad game. I liked it a lot more than Freelancer, anyway. But I eventually lost interest when I realized that while I was surrounded by a vast galaxy of systems, I was ultimately stuck in the box the game designer had created for me.

I recommend the game even if you’re like me and you hate the story-bottleneck approach to character progression. It’s cheap, it’s fun, and it’s completely unique.

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From the Archives:

  1. ian says:

    Everything you say about FL is true.

    And yet … I get more dogfighting pleasure out of it than any other space sim I’ve ever played (including Freespace 2*). Every few years I’ll reload it just for that. I’ll spend a couple of days working through the story (including the incredibly frustrating unskippable cut-scenes), then a week or so hunting out all the hidden stuff – of which there is a great deal.

    * If you like FS2, you should definitely try Wing Commander Saga ;).

    • aldowyn says:

      re: Wing Commander Saga

      Fans are amazing. It’s a full, fan-made sequel to Wing Commander (actually, it might be a prequel, I don’t remember) made in the Freespace 2 engine.

      • Hydralysk says:

        It’s actually a story that takes place alongside the story of Wing Commander 3, and yeah it’s pretty damn great. Definitely the most polished and most fun total conversion of Freespace 2 that I’ve seen to date, especially in regards to the voice acting (though the bar’s pretty damn low).

        Only complaint I had was the way the final mission was handled. I ended with a mission timer of around 45 minutes and 180+ kills, it just turned into one long shooting gallery.

    • ACman says:

      Wing Commander Saga? Do you mean that pay-to-win match-3 game?

      I’m so confused!!!!!

    • One thing that is sad about Freelancer is that they cut a number of scenarios and a lot of the other material to make it fit on one CD. As a result, many of the things that were in the beta (e.g. the HUD displays, etc.) did not make it into the game.

      There was really enough material for a decent expansion, but the game was dead on launch, so all of that was lost.

      Between that and the level cap mechanic you got the feeling that the lead designer was really a total jerk who hated the genre.

      • I also disliked their effort to change the Privateer game play where you did not have to fight, you could hit a jump point and escape — they intentionally designed against that — and against autopilot.

        By golly, you were going to look at all the artwork whether you wanted to or not.

        An interesting game with hideous flaws.

  2. Erik says:

    I liked SPAZ for a while, but at some point something about it began to annoy me to the point where i stopped playing. It may well be what Shamus describes here.

    I did notice that the big cool ships that you encounter you never encounter enough to be able to get your own, until they are mostly irrelevant.

    • ET says:

      Yeah, I also got kinda sick of the game.
      Really fun for the first half hour, but after that…well, pretty much the reasons Shamus outlined above.
      I would worry about players steamrolling the later story missions if they grinded early on to get super powerful, but I guess that would mean they were either having fun with the grind, or were already punishing themselves for going beyond what the campaign deemed necessary.
      So…yeah, no story-capped things would probably make this game a lot better for me.

      • Adeon says:

        The “getting super powerful and steamrolling story missions” thing actually happened to me when I was playing it. I was having fun just steamrolling through lower level gates and smashing UTA stations until I was full of Rez and Goons at which point I would go to Civilian stations to trade them for tons of Data and level up. Pumping these points into armor/shields/hull along with some weapons made for some really tough ships.

      • Sleeping Dragon says:

        This is the bit that I don’t understand. What’s wrong with players being able to work to the point where they can steamroll a challenge? Especially in a sandbox game? From where comes this idea that only facing an obstacle at a certain challenge level is fun? Personally I’ve always found the levelled lists, improving the enemmies’ stats with player level and such annoying.

        If they want some extra motivation or reward for people who enjoy the struggle put in an achievement system for higher difficulties or for doing certain objectives without a given resource (such as “beat a given mission without certain unit” or “beat the game without raising a skill above level y”).

  3. Daemian Lucifer says:

    This is a test,ignore it.

  4. Daemian Lucifer says:

    To be fair,this kind of restriction is still better than level scaling.

    Ah,spaz…Maybe I should go back and finish that one.Though that would require me to start from the beginning again,since I completely forgot how to play it.Well,maybe,sometime after homeworld hd hits the shelves.

    • ET says:

      I hope the remake would fix some game balance stuff, instead of just redoing the art assets.
      Like the auto-scaling enemy fleet difficulty; Or was that in HW2?
      Either way, the game really ought to be balanced like crazy, because otherwise it’d be better to just play the original. :)

      • Lovecrafter says:

        Considering the survey mentioned in that article Daemian linked to is just about the trinkets in a hypothetical collector’s edition, I really doubt Gearbox has their priorities on game balance.

        • Daemian Lucifer says:

          One of the pages of the survey lists some of the changes:

          “HD Improvements
          – Updated high-res textures and models
          – New graphical and post-processing effects
          – Animated cutscenes re-created in HD by the original artists
          – New and re-mastered music by the original composer
          – Steamworks matchmaking and achievements
          – Additional support for user-created mods
          – Plus other improvements! (TBD)”

          So maybe they will tweak the ai and balance,but its not their priority.

      • guy says:

        It was the second one where the auto-scaling difficulty was broken; the first game had it but it was generally fairly reasonable and rather necessary on account of the persistent fleet mechanics.

        The huge balance problem in the original was famously salvage corvettes because the AI couldn’t deal with it properly and you could steal all their capital ships. That also led to the one famous autobalance screwup; in the second-to-last mission you run into a ton of ion cannon frigates that are basically sitting ducks for salvage corvettes. Then you go to the last mission and are faced with a proportionally-sized enemy fleet that has bombers.

        • Exasperation says:

          The first game also had some broken autoscaling instances too. The first time I played it, I got quite a ways in before hitting a wall that I just couldn’t pass. I thought to myself “OK, I can see where I’ve made some mistakes along the way; I’ll start over, make fewer mistakes, and do better this time. Apparently I learned a little too well, because this time through I found myself outnumbered about 10:1 in the second mission due to the scaling and couldn’t beat it.

  5. Olly says:

    You have fostered in me a desire to play Freelancer once more. From what I recall, I really enjoyed the combat in the game and found it to be one of the better examples of space combat at the time. The progression path was needlessly linear and restrictive though.

  6. Mephane says:

    The “XP” in Freelancer actually worked a bit differently than described in the article. Money = XP, and the levels alternated between reaching a certain net worth (cash + sell value of ship, equipment, cargo) and completing the next mission of the (100% linear) story. When you complete that story mission, your net worth is recalculated and it may happen that you immediately gain one level (or maybe you needed to do a random mission to trigger the recalculation, not sure any more), thus again being in the position for the next story mission.

    Everything else Shamus says is spot on and exactly my own critisizm. I played Freelancer *a lot* however, im multiplayer, where it really shone. There, levels are a mere indicator of net worth with very little effect on gameplay (nomad guns would only drop for your level is above a certain threshold), and you are basically free to do what you want. The storyline is deactivated and it actually becomes a (limited) sandbox.

    What made multiplayer so great, however, were the many mods and even total conversions made by fans once someone had found out how to decode the game files, which actually were just plain INI files run through some kind of encryption/compression algorithm.

    (What was funny was that the game did not care whether the files were in encrypted or plain text format, which lead to an inofficial “modding SDK” which was basically all the INI files pre-decoded so you don’t have the hassle of doing it yourself, and no one ever bothered to re-encode their changes.)

    • aldowyn says:

      Yeah, freelancer had a big MP community. I never got into it myself, but I’ve heard there were people playing it for years, if there aren’t still.

      As for singleplayer, the campaign is overly-restricted and long (although I thought you could go almost anywhere once you got out of the starting 4 systems?), but once you *finished* the campaign (at level 20, I think), it opened up entirely with quite a bit left to explore and find. You can even find the fifth lost colony ship, I think :D

  7. Jabrwock says:

    I’m trying to remember if Escape Velocity (or it’s EV Nova sequel) had level caps. I don’t think it did, except for the demo (and then a high-powered bounty hunter would show up to kick your ass).

    The story mode was all combat as well, but I think you could play for ages before ever having to even look at a story mission. It was almost a sidequest.

    There were “ship licenses” for purchasing the more powerful combat classes of ships, but if you got in with the pirate faction, you could purchase “forged” ones. They had a small chance when you encountered Galactic PD of being detected and then they would attack you.

    • TheAngryMongoose says:

      If there were levels or licenses at all, they were introduced in Nova. I played a lot of Override back in the day, and the more powerful ships of each faction just needed good reputation or advancement with their story missions, and there were generally equivalent ones available from the start of the game.
      How does Nova compare to Override and the original? I’ve been thinking about playing again recently but it seems like a lot of effort to find a mac emulator to run the older ones.

    • Nytzschy says:

      None of the EV games had experience, let alone level caps. It was all about the guns on your ship, the money you have, and your standing with the various factions. Doing storyline missions for a faction would allow one legal access to certain ships and missions, but ultimately if there’s any ship you want to fly you can capture one if you try hard enough. Keeping your captured Confed Cruiser or Polaris Raven is mostly a matter of being able to fight off the ships of the faction you just alienated.

      There were arbitrary caps and punishments for players of unlicensed copies past the trial period (All three EV games were Shareware), but that wasn’t technically a part of the main game. Fighting off Cap’n Hector could be entertaining, though.

  8. Bonedancer says:

    Coincidentally enough I just finished SPAZ a couple of days ago, and I’d disagree slightly with the above. Whilst it’s true there are quite a few seemingly arbitrary limits to ship size etc. which are unlocked by story progression, I usually found I was coming across enough new tech and ships to keep me interested. And if I was capped on minerals, I could go to a colony and trade those for crew. Capped on crew, go to a science station and trade them for XP. I did run into a couple of situations where I felt like I couldn’t make any progress, but then I went away and levelled up a couple of times, maybe picked up a new gun, and suddenly I was dangerous again. I also liked that none of the weapons really become obsolete – at the endgame I was still using the basic beam projector in some mounts, and not because I had to but because I liked the balance of stats.
    The story gates also significantly change the universe each time you pass one – you don’t have to deal with zombies to begin with, for example, but later they become more and more threatening.
    Anyway, I found it fun and I’d say it’s worth a go if you’re at all interested in top-down vaguely Asteroids-ish space combat.

    • Sleeping Dragon says:

      The few things I sort of disliked was how some story events, in particular unlocking the final stage, invalidated my previous impact on the galaxy. Also, by the end of it the final stage did feel a little bit tedious with farming for resources and system control/development. Though that may be because I decided to play the whole game over the span of a few work-free days.

  9. Guildenstern says:

    That Freelancer box art is trying to be Firefly so hard it’s not even funny.

    What’s even less funny is that it’s actually making me consider giving it a look. Dammit, Joss.

    • aldowyn says:

      It’s from before firefly, though.. or, actually, it looks like they were mostly concurrent. Freelancer came out in ’03, and firefly aired ’02-’03

      • Guildenstern says:

        Interesting, though I feel like there has to be some influence there. The brown coat, the drop leg holster set up, and even the angle of the ship’s “neck” is pretty much all identical to Mal/Serenity. If Firefly started airing in ’02 and since box art is generally one of the latter parts of a game to be finalized, then I’d say it’s a fair bet that the artist was one of the original faithful.

        Or they Googled “space cowboy” and picked the first thing that wasn’t Spike Spiegel.

      • Thomas says:

        So what you’re saying is Firefly was out and freshly popular when the box art was being designed?

        If the horse shaped ship is actually in-game I’ll let it be a coincidence, else that’s an awfully familiar design especially since the brown-coated man with his wild-west style holster just so happens to part his hair like Malcolm Reynolds

        • Humanoid says:

          I don’t know the first thing about Firefly and only ever played the Freelancer demo (I was one of the many offended by the mouse-only controls), but it’s not improbable that the brown coat look is just a natural follow-on from Privateer.

          • Thomas says:

            I doubt it’s actually a coincidence. Given that the ship looks really similar to Firefly’s ship and the guy has the exact same holster as Mal, I think we’re talking about at least inspired here (it’s not exactly the same an actual Browncoat is longer but it’s close)

  10. adam says:

    Agree completely with Shamus’ assessment of SPAZ. Good game that missed out on a chance to be great by a few poor decisions. I’ve played for a while and quit four or five times now, and every time I go back and play it I remember pretty quickly why I stopped the last time. There’s this very attractive illusion of freedom undercut by the inability to really dictate what you want to do, and instead you’re stuck, like Shamus said, reacting to what the game is willing to give to you. That’s fine, in moderate doses, but not across the entire game. Too bad.

  11. Thomas says:

    I never got far with Spaz which I always put down to it’s very samey gameplay. It also didn’t feel like a world so much as a series of interconnected chores. But I wonder if the upgrade path was smoother (I do tend to grind) then the faster flow of ships might have made it feel more varied

  12. Paul Spooner says:

    I don’t know if this is still the case (what with balance patches and such) but when I played SPAZ the mine-field weapon was super OP. I played around with different weapon load-outs and absolutely nothing could hold a candle to laying a minefield, luring the foes into it, and watching them explode. Flying around to avoid enemy fire while laying mines also works well. The advantage is even greater when you realize that the foes will attack the mines when they spot them, which means that your mine-field can also tank for you while your smaller armed ships whittle away the enemies health. I thought about playing through the game again with a different focus, but I knew it was going to take a lot more skill than the rampant minefield tactic.

    I did finish the game, but I never “cleared the galaxy” of the zombie infestation. The end-game power level isn’t high enough to make the task easy, and I never saw the attraction in slogging through all the systems doing the same thing over and over again.

  13. Volfram says:

    (haven’t read past the Freelancer rant yet)

    The “You can’t gain more than X experience in a single level even if there is plenty more available” problem is also a huge black spot on the otherwise fantastic platformer, Iji. The developer, having apparently used all of his creativity on story and level design, also took the incredibly ham-handed approach of making increased difficulty levels lower that cap.

    The net result is that while the hardest difficulty levels are VERY difficult, there is absolutely no reason to play on them short of the bragging rights reward. My philosophy is that in exchange for the increased difficulty, higher difficulty levels should provide some other tangible reward, like in the Halo series, where Sgt. Johnson’s quotes would vary by difficulty level(If God is love, then call me Cupid!) and certain endings and Easter eggs are only available if you’re playing on the hardest difficulty.

  14. postinternetsyndrome says:

    While Freelancer definitely suffers from the problems you mention (except for the XP misunderstanding) – and many others on top – it remains one of my greatest hits. I didn’t even play that much multiplayer, or use a lot of mods. I just plain liked the game. The dogfighting was really enjoyable, and after you finished the game there was plenty of stuff to explore. My single greatest adventure was following the trail of raids and pirate patrols that eventually led me to the almost-mythical actual physical homeworld of the dreaded Corsair pirate faction. This is something that is hinted at in various lore pieces but never mentioned in the story.

    I blew up a lot of bounty hunters to become friendly with the pirates, and worked my way through a whole series of “hidden” pirate-controlled systems (without trade lanes, sigh) until I finally was allowed access to that strange planet that is the source of the dreaded drug cardamine. It’s also there (or it might have been a space station in the vicinity) that you can buy the biggest, baddest ship in the game: The Titan.

    There’s also a couple of even more hidden systems where you can run into aliens and other strange things.

    There’s plenty that could have been improved in that game, but I found the world-building and associated exploration to be fabulous. I don’t really know where I’d find an experience like that again.

    • aldowyn says:

      Maybe in Star Citizen, since the basic idea of Star Citizen is that it’s supposed to be the game Chris Roberts was *trying* to make when he made Freelancer ;) (Or they could totally ruin it with focus on stuff that isn’t space. Who knows.)

      But yeah, I enjoyed the game a lot myself, and there was a TON left to explore after you finish the campaign. A bit more of a focus on combat than I’d like myself, though.

      • postinternetsyndrome says:

        I’ve not kept myself updated on SC, in fear of being disappointed. :P What I’d really like to see in a game like that though is actual 3D space and orbits, so it’s not the same static “space highways” you travel every time. Stuff like that could make a trading game set in a single solar system quite interesting I’d think. Now I’m imagining a space trucker game where you need to plan your routes carefully to make the most of your fuel etc. :D

        • X2Eliah says:

          Then Star Citizen won’t really hit the mark; it won’t simulate any orbits etc, the space will be the typical ‘areas connected via loadscreenjumps’.

          If you want real-space feeling, Elite:Dangerous might be worth looking at.

        • Mephane says:

          The idea of “space highways” is stupid anyway. The most interesting systems in Freelancer were those without them.

          On the topic of fully 3D universe and actual orbits, have a look at the upcoming Elite: Dangerous. They promise just that, an entire galaxy procedurally filled with star systems, planets, moons, asteroids etc. all going their way in their orbits. No space lanes, no jump games, but actual jump drives and freedom of movement.

          • postinternetsyndrome says:

            Yes. The most exciting adventures was definitely had when you were off the beaten track, exploring exotic asteroid belts and finding previously unknown pirate stations and jumpholse. The existence of the “highways” did contribute to making the wild lands more wild and interesting by comparison though.

            Maybe I should keep an eye on Elite: Dangerous then.

    • Too, too many factions and reputation groups, though.

  15. Zukhramm says:

    I know I’m an idiot here, but: The name. I can’t play a game with that name.

    • Adeon says:

      I don’t blame you for that. It bugs me a lot as well which is why I almost always refer to it as Space pirates and Zombies rather than SPAZ.

      My understanding is that that is mostly a British thing, it’s less offensive in the US (no clue where you live, just an observation).

      • Shamus says:

        Yes, in the US “spaz” just means “impulsive / energetic / clumsy / doesn’t think before they act”, and in the scale of “offensive” words it’s no worse than “jerk” or “nerd”. Which is to say: Completely tame and not offensive at all.

        I understand there are similar problems with the word “fanny”.

        Language is funny.

      • Thomas says:

        Yeah apparently Hasbro made a ‘Spastic’ transformer once. I don’t really know what it means in the US though for them to have chosen the name in the first place

        • Humanoid says:

          I don’t know if it’s just me or a general Australian thing, but I’m pretty much fine with the shortened form “spaz” but am weirded out a bit by the full word.

          Can’t say I’ve ever heard the word “fanny” in conversation outside the context of the film “Fanny and Alexander”, or indeed “Fanny Hill”. No idea how it’s perceived here.

          • Thomas says:

            I would say spastic is a more full on horrible word, spaz is like a nastier version of retard in terms of intensity. But just like people would like to eradicate retard, I don’t think you’d really hear spaz outside of a schoolyard around here

        • Volfram says:

          “Spaz,” short form of “Spastic,” describing one whose behavior makes them appear to be gripped by constant muscle spasms. Does it mean something else outside of the US?

          It’s not really an insult here, it’s usually used to refer to someone jittery, or who is prone to sudden, unexpected outbursts.

      • Zukhramm says:

        I was thinking of the “Space Pirates and Zombies” part, actually. I don’t keep much tract of the relative offensiveness of terms in different dialects of English.

  16. X2Eliah says:

    Ah, SPAZ. Bought it, tried it, really didn’t like it.
    The top-down twin-stick-shooter framework of the gameplay just doesn’t work for me, at all. In a space game, the first, the MAIN requirement I have is that the space should be, you know, a SPACE and not a plane or a line. A space-themed game without 3D gameplay environment… no. That’s a complete miss in my books.

    By all other accounts, I know that I should really like this game. But I can’t get past the fundamental aspects of it. And that’d relate to my verdict on it – try it if you like bullethell top-down shooters / twinstick shooters. Because it sure as butts is NOT a spaceflight combat/sim game.

  17. William Friedman says:

    So, with regards to EV Nova: I don’t remember the earlier ones all that well, but I really liked Nova’s position: On the surface, it looks like Freelancer – in order to get cool ships, you need to advance the plot, because only the governments are willing to sell top-end military ships and they’re only willing to sell them to their own loyal people – except for two factors:

    First, you can buy pirate ships from any pirate shipyards. If all the pirate shipyards hate you, you just bribe your way into them. The pirates are willing to offer capital ships almost as good as what you can get from the major factions, provided you can offer them absurd amounts of money far beyond what you’re expected to have. On the other hand, some of them come with illegal weaponry, which means you’ll either need to avoid Federation scans or sell the illegal (but awesome) stuff.

    Secondly and more importantly: You can build Q-ships, buying trader hulls, converting them into warships using legally available self-defense weapons (or foreign imports), and then unleashing the wrath of an absurdly powerful juggernaut while appearing to be a cargo hauler.

    The result is that I normally spend most of the game with my ship as either a Leviathan cargo transport equipped with more railguns than the Auroran fleet, or as a “Pirate carrier”, despite the fact that I’m on the career path that eventually leads to running the Federation.

  18. WWWebb says:

    Can anyone compare SPAZ to Fusion: Genesis on XBLA? They both look like top-down, twin stick shooters set in space with leveling and something of a plot.

    I thought F:G was really good and I’d recommend it to anyone with a working XBox (sorry, Shamus).

  19. Scipio says:

    Have you ever played Space Rangers II? It’s best modernish space sandbox game I’ve played. You have almost complete control over what you want to do. You can be a peaceful trader shipping goods between systems with a big fat bulk freighter. Just watch out for the pirates. Or, you can be a pirate, ripping off helpless bulk freighters. Or, you can be a pirate hunter, chasing down those nefarious ner do wells. You can also focus on courier missions or even be a smuggler, running small, high risk cargos. It’s a lot like pirates of the Caribbean, except in space. But instead of building up a fleet of ships, you can upgrade your ship in a ton of different ways.

    On top of all that, the game offers a ton of different kinds of content. You can run RTS missions, aracade mode missions, or even bloody choose your own adventure text missions. The amount of content is simply mind blowing. There’s an overarching plot that you should probably do something about eventually, but there’s plenty of sandbox to play in before time gets short.

  20. Strange guy says:

    Because of how much it made me think of SPAZ I’ll mention Starsector (formally starfarer) here. It’s still in development, and has a similar 2D space combat with the ability to order around multiple ships as well as controlling one to SPAZ.

    Not sure if it is just because it is underdeveloped or just because I don’t get it, but in the main game I find myself with a completely pathetic fleet (even on easy that gives you more) with pirates I cannot possibly beat swarming everywhere. Also autofired weapons appear to be doing more than I am manually and manoeuvring well is hard so my presence feel like a burden to my ships rather than what they need to succeed like in SPAZ.

    Still I can definitely see something very interesting and fun in it, and the missions at least give me a way to jump in fleet battles without whatever the hell I’d need to do to reach being meaningfully powerful in the campaign.

    • Rob Maguire says:

      (disclaimer: I’m a modder and moderator on the Starsector forums so I’m a bit biased)

      Ah, Starsector. It’s the game I imagined Space Pirates and Zombies would be from the previews, and someone recommended it to me when I mentioned how disappointed I was with SPAZ’s combat and artificial leveling curve. Starsector’s still in early development (combat is done but the campaign is mostly a placeholder), but it’s easily one of my favorite games of all time even in its current state.

      My advice: Go west, young man, and hunt the Buffalo.

      No, seriously. The smaller pirate fleets tend to have a Buffalo Mk 2 missile destroyer with them. The Mk 2 is a poorly retrofitted cargo hauler, completely unshielded and armed primarily with missiles (in Starsector missiles are highly situational and ammo-restricted). Just tank its missiles on your shield until it runs out of Salamanders and Harpoons (the yellow and blue ones, respectively), and it becomes a piñata stuffed with supplies and cash!

      Just don’t get too close; the Buffalo Mk 2 has a nasty antimatter blaster up front. That weapon is incredibly short ranged, but it’s spelled the death of many an overconfident player. ;)

      For newbie-friendly flagships, low-tech is the way to go. The Lasher – Enforcer – Dominator – Onslaught line is a good progression as you earn your way up the ranks. They are heavily armed and armored enough to take some serious punishment. The low-tech Brawler frigate is useless, but the similar-looking Monitor makes an excellent fleet escort.

      There are a few midlines that make good flagships for beginners as well, namely the Hammerhead destroyer and the Falcon cruiser. I’d avoid phase ships and high-tech frigates at first as they are both expensive and heavily dependent on player skill.

      I’d also recommend heading to the Tri-Tachyon station and buying an Omen frigate as soon as you can. It’s the major exception to what I said about high-tech ships above. It’s dirt cheap at 6600 credits, and its ship system (EMP Emitter) disables missiles and unshielded foes. This one ship neutralizes the majority of the pirate faction’s fighters and frigates. It’s fragile and useless at actually killing anything though, so make sure to always stick it on escort duty.

      Speaking of escorts, always ensure multiple ships are attacking any foe larger than a frigate. Flanking is critical to Starsector’s combat as very few ships have 360 degree shield coverage. With another ship engaging the same target you can easily slip around to get a shot in where the target’s vulnerable, and if one of you needs to retreat the other can provide covering fire.

      But the most important advice I can give you is that practice makes perfect. Starsector is definitely more reliant on player skill than SPAZ and you actually need to master the basic game mechanics to prosper. Learn the different damage types and their effectiveness against each defense. Know the difference between soft and hard flux. Get a feel for the different ships and hullmods in missions so you know what to aim for in the campaign. The game may seem complicated at first, but there’s nothing more rewarding than taking out entire system defense fleets with a single frigate when you failed the same task with an entire fleet of cruisers as a newbie.

      One last thing: you can hold shift to have your ship turn to face your cursor. This is almost required to pilot the more nimble frigates. You can also tick a box in settings to have piloted ships turn to cursor by default.

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