I don’t have any real interest in the new consoles or any of the big titles at the minute, so I’ve decided to take a few more punts on smaller-scale/indie games instead. Hopefully this will expose me to more genuine creativity and new ideas and, who knows, I may discover a few little gems along the way. It also means that I’m not just throwing my opinions out into the over-populated sea of reviews of triple-A titles…
Anyway, I recently spotted an intriguing game called ‘Space Run’ in the Weekend Deals page on Steam. It seemed like an interesting premise and so I decided to check it out…
The game takes inspiration from Tower Defence games, but puts a new spin on the idea. You are in charge of a transport ship and the goal is to load up your vessel with cargo and get it to its destination, fighting off enemies and asteroids along the way. You begin each level by loading up your delivery ship, which as a different layout for each mission. The cargo could just be containers of various shapes and sizes, but it could also be passengers (who need power and to be placed on the edge of your ship – giving them a nice view, but getting in the way of placing laser turrets), hazardous materials (which explode when destroyed, damaging the tiles around them) or weird alien crystals (that drain the power from nearby objects).
Then you click ‘go’ and, once your ship is in flight, you begin placing towers, shields and generators. Most weapons have a limited angle of attack, though some can be repositioned during flight. Warning markers give you about 30 seconds warning of approaching enemies and hazards, telling you where they are going to be coming from and giving you a chance to prepare to defend yourself. On top of all that, you are graded not only on whether all of your cargo survived the trip, but on how fast you deliver it, meaning that you to balance defending yourself with installing new thrusters to get you to your destination quicker.
The game is split into five different companies, each offering six different ‘delivery contracts’ (missions) and there are two pirate bosses that you will encounter during each set of contracts. As you progress, you use your delivery pay to unlock better weapons, but these are usually larger and require more power, forcing you to think more carefully about their placement.
[cryout-pullquote align=”right” textalign=”center” width=”33%”]These are small, niggling issues with the design though. The game still feels unique and fun…[/cryout-pullquote]The game is quite a lot of fun, but I have two main problems with it. First, there is something of a lack of variety; every mission is a linear flight from A to B. The different cargo, ship layouts and enemy attack patterns add some variety, but you are ultimately flying the same, straight line route between two space stations. The backdrops do not even noticeably change, which is perhaps the most obvious way in which they could have made each mission different (at least cosmetically).
Secondly, I felt a strong need for trial and error. There is no ideal layout that you can use to beat all missions, which I suppose is a good thing, but it means you are placing towers on a purely reactionary basis. You end up having to place towers in a way that covers as wide an angle as possible, but in response to specific threats. This is fine, except when a new ship appears from a different angle and you don’t have defences facing in the right direction. I often found myself restarting at this point and saving some materials/placing extra turrets to defend from these extra threats, rather than trying to adapt my design. This becomes more of a problem in later missions, when you have more powerful but larger and more expensive weapon combinations to juggle. It is probably possible to pass each mission with a 1, 2 or 3-star rating by ‘winging it’, but I usually found myself playing a bit of the mission and then restarting it in order to place towers in the best positions, playing a bit further and starting again until I completed it.
These are small, niggling issues with the design though. The game still feels unique and fun, and includes some genuinely tense and rewarding moments when you fight off or finally destroy the boss pirate’s ship.
There isn’t a great deal of story to the game, to be honest. You are Captain Buck Mann (no, seriously!), a man who wants to be Jim Raynor from Starcraft so bad (but never manages to achieve it)! Buck has an android sidekick who gives you hints and instructions, each of the five corporations has its own leader/representative and there are two pirate characters; one who will attack during one of your normal runs and a second who is the ‘boss fight’ for each set of missions. There is some banter (and several questionable attempts at humour), but it is limited and soon gets repetitive.
The pirate Captain Black is probably the most interesting character, if only because there is a juxtaposition between what you expect of him (based on his appearance) and the way he actually acts and talks. He also has a pretty good reason for why he got his name too, but this is most of the creativity and originality of character design went! Ultimately the ‘story’ isn’t all that important, but it would have been nice to see them but a bit more effort into it.
Presentation is pretty good on the whole. I quite like the mission interface and the conversation screens etc., the character designs and pretty nice, even if they aren’t animated or anything (which isn’t a major issue at all). There are very few options to alter the game’s settings, but it ran fairly smoothly for me most of the time. There is a lack of control customisation as well, key commands can be remapped but you cannot change the way you alter the orientation of a turret, for example (which is done with the mouse wheel and is very cumbersome and inaccurate – I know this could be a problem with my specific mouse, but that is why it is necessary to provide alternative control options!).
One really nit-picky thing is that the dialogue doesn’t always match the text in the speech bubbles. It’s a trivial thing, but it happens a lot. The game has been out for four months and this is the sort of thing that should be very easy to patch and would make the game seem more polished.
Space run is a cool little game that has some interesting ideas. I’d love to see a sequel where those ideas are developed further. I’m not honestly sure it’s worth its full £10.99 price tag, but if you can pick it up in the sale for £6, then you’ve got a bargain on your hands.