Review: Space Pirates and Zombies

I was up till 3AM again last night playing this game. A brilliant mix of humor, progression, and addictive gameplay guarantees the "just one more mission" mentality of epic late-night gaming sessions.

Space Pirates and Zombies was created by two dedicated and talented guys that wanted to play a game like this, but could no longer find anything like it. In these days of multi-national sewage conglomerates and business-at-all-cost media empires dictating a total lack of new ideas, such a do-it-yourself mentality should earn a medal. Or some money, and they happily got some of mine.

SPaZ is a mixture of Star Control and Homeworld, and is nothing short of excellent. You take control of a band of space pirates looking to make it rich. The mothership is sizeable, but a group of smaller ships accomplishes the missions. These start as small fighter-sized ships, then larger corvette and frigate sized ships as you level up. Each ship is extensively customizable, and there's rarely a choice of one being significantly better than another (they all have roles to fill).

Progression is fairly rapid, with each new character level allowing you to research better technologies. Want to focus on cannons instead of beam weapons? No problem. Want to use a cloaking device instead of drones? Specialize away. You reverse engineer new ships as you encounter (and inevitably destroy) them. Eventually, this unlocks the ability to build them as well.

Combat, and that's predominantly what the game is about, is kinda physics-based, similar to Asteroids. So it's like the ships are on ice, but they'll eventually slide to a stop. This is a little challenging at first, but very fun. Like hooliganing a car around a snowy parking lot. Not that I've ever done that. In the Natick mall parking lot. On Christmas Eve. 1998.

As you gain currency ("Rez"), you can purchase new blueprints for better gear to outfit your ship.

What makes SPaZ so much fun to play is that it's incredibly simple, yet has the depth to keep your interest over long hours.

Plus, the story is interesting, the dialog between characters is regularly amusing, and thanks to the universe being randomly generated, there's lots of replay potential.

The 2D, top-down graphics are attractive, if a little old school. I'm playing on my HTPC, and HD resolutions on the big screen do look great. The sound effects are a little video-gamey, but honestly that fits with the charm of this game. The occasional music is decent, too. You don't need a powerhouse computer, as I was able to play at 1,920x1,200 on my work computer as well (beats doing, you know, work).

I haven't played a game that was this much fun in quite a long time. Add to that its uniqueness in the market and the fantastic creativity on the part of the designer duo, and it's hard not to gush. I also love supporting people with the drive to put so much effort into something with merely the hope there's a payoff at the end.

Space Pirates and Zombies is only $15 (there's a free demo on the developer's website), and available via Steam, GamersGate, and a few other places linked to from their website. An absolute blast, pun intended.

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