Space Pirates and Zombies came out of nowhere from MinMax Games came out of nowhere to deliver a great take on top-down shooting in a persistent universe, with zombies to boot. Since the game’s release, the developers went dark to work on a sequel. Now with Space Pirates and Zombies 2, the developers are expanding on everything in the game and the early access version has a lot to like at the moment.
(This spotlight is based on the Early Access version of the game. Impressions and screenshots may not match the current version.)
Alone in the Void:
Space Pirates and Zombies 2 (or SPAZ 2 for the rest of this post) continues the story from the last game. After stopping the zombie attack, humanity is now left fractured in the void with the precious resource REZ now in short supply. You play as the heroes from the last game that are now stuck wandering around trying to fight the infection wherever it might show up.
As before, the universe remains persistent as various ships, factions and bandits are fighting for control of the area. In the last game, you had complete control over how you built your mother ship out and SPAZ 2 takes that a lot further.
This time, your ship is completely modular; allowing you to remove and add pieces as you see fit. How it works is that sub cores allow you to grow out your ship; different parts can only be fitted in certain directions, for instance, engines can only be slotted from the bottom part of a sub core. As you add in more parts, the combined total of stats from everything will determine your ship’s statistics and threat level, which is a measure of your abilities.
Because your ship is modular, it also means that you can shoot pieces off of enemies or lose your own during combat. Later in, you’ll find super-sized pieces that require more slots to fit and gives a whole new meaning to the term “inventory Tetris.”
As you level up, you’ll unlock the ability to equip more cores and in turn grow your ship and make it more powerful. The different modules come in different rarities and qualities that can be either found or bought at the various space stations. You can also hire strike fighters to join you in combat; switching between your ships or letting them do their own thing. In SPAZ 1, there was a sense of an emergent universe that moved without the player, and SPAZ 2 takes that even further.
Making Friends and Enemies:
In SPAZ 2, the void itself is made up of multiple factions and neutral captains trying to make a living. At the start of the game, you are free to explore at your leisure while the factions and other people make do. Factions and their captains will remember everything that you do and that will influence how they respond. Steal other captains’ scavenge or fight factions and they will come to hate you and track you down; be good and help others and you may get backup during battles.
As the game goes on, you’ll be able to join a faction, start recruiting people and try to carve out your own little slice of the Void. Different factions specialize in different ship modules; giving you a chance of acquiring higher quality pieces from them. The spaceports will most likely grow, change hands or be destroyed over the course of a play; not of course mentioning when the titular zombies make an appearance.
Once the zombies attack, the meta-game changes, as you try to create your faction and unite everyone else against the zombie attacks. Thanks to random places and the relationships of the captains, SPAZ 2′s overall play can change with each new game. SPAZ 2 is definitely an example of a sequel going big with its design changes, and even at this point in early access there’s a lot to like. With that said, there are some issues to talk about.
Putting it All Together:
From a design point of view, SPAZ 2 is already quite far along for an early access game; especially considering that they’re expecting at least a year to stay in EA. With that said, there are some issues starting with the UI side of things. There are a lot of numbers and icons that could do with better explanations for the player. Information such as what impacts reload time, comparing two different modules, what’s going on in the Void etc.
I would like to see more variety in terms of designing your mother ship; perhaps sub cores that have different positions and more weapons beyond just the modifiers from the various factions. Weapons right now are set in the game, with the chance of having random bonuses to certain stats based on rarity; I really hope we see more variety as the game goes through early access.
Moving modules around in a 3D space can be a bit cumbersome. They have added in a remove all option which helps, but it still can be a lengthy process to figure out how to build your ship or even what’s a good design. I honestly have no idea what parts are better than others and have simply been going by the star measurement for rarity; not a good sign in a loot driven game. Your threat level is a good rating of how strong you are, but the game gives you no idea of how to improve it other than to just keep piling weapons on.
As with the first game, SPAZ 2′s early game can be a bit of a grind. You’re going to be very weak and find that most captains can push you around. Until you can get to about threat level 20, your options are going to be quite limited. I found it was easier to simply get killed and reload the save, rather than fight a higher threat ship or pay out a bribe to keep them from attacking. Until you get yourself situated in the mid-game, the grinding for the needed resources and experience can be a bit frustrating.
In the first SPAZ, I felt that the game bogged down a bit too much once the zombie infection began, and the same can be said of SPAZ 2. Once you start the actual fighting of the zombies, the grind rears its head once again. You’ll need tons of scrap in order to upgrade your ports to the point where they can handle attacks and lots of experience in order to improve your ship so that it can stand toe-to-toe with the enemy. You’ll find that player skill can only go so far, and there isn’t much you can do against a ship who is higher than you in level by yourself.
There is also further grind built into dealing with the zombie faction. Every time a zombie kills a captain, that captain joins the zombie faction; making them harder to deal with over time. The problem is that there is no way to reverse this trend; in my game, I was constantly harassed by an ever growing number of zombies and couldn’t do anything about it or leave my area to do anything else. At this point, my suggestion would be to allow for more control or guidance of the AI; such as telling them to help you with attacks or team up against the zombies.
Space Pirates and Zombies 2 definitely shows dedication from the developers and features across the board improvements and changes from the original game. Most of the game design at this point is already fantastic; there just needs to be more polish and fine tuning to get everything firing on all cylinders. If the developers can clean up the UI and keep growing the game with more content and mechanics, this could be one very amazing game to play when it’s finally done.
For more on Space Pirates and Zombies 2, you can watch my playlist of it on theGame-Wisdom YouTube Channel.