Few genres feature quite as much variety as the space sim. It’s really to the point where you need to specify what you mean when you talk about one of them – are you referring to a hardcore economic/betrayal simulator like EVE Online, perhaps, or a more straightforward shooter like Freelancer? What about something like X, which offers both varieties of gameplay to different degrees based on what interests you? Is something like the starfighter mode in Star Wars: Battlefront even a space sim? Who knows?
Let’s add another question to the pile by talking about Space Pirates and Zombies 2 (which, for the sake of mercy, we’ll abbreviate as SPAZ), the sequel to the classic indie space sim (?) slash space piracy slash zombie killing adventure..
Most of the galaxy over the past while has run on Rez, a mysterious mineral that does all sorts of fantastic stuff; namely, you’re not going much of anywhere in space without some Rez, so it’s kind of important to spacefarers of all stripes. Well, the events of the original SPAZ led to most of that Rez being destroyed on account if it actually being a sort of anglerfish lure attached to a cosmic horror. Now everyone’s in a bad way at the moment thanks to a shortage of the stuff. Piracy and raiding are rampant and it’s up to you to discover the mysteries of the universe while making sure your fuel tanks stay topped up.
While initially you’re given a single crappy ship that’s held together with duct tape and glue, it’s not long before you’ll start building up into something respectable. Exploring the galaxy will yield resources that can be spent on repairs, traded with space stations for goods or ship parts and eventually used to build and fortify your own starbase. This game doesn’t necessarily adhere to modern game design rules that state that everything needs to scale to your level because losing isn’t fun, so you should probably be careful when exploring the galaxy lest you run into something you can’t handle. In a touch that’s reminiscent of classic space strategy games like Space Rangers 2, there are plenty of other captains throughout the galaxy who are capable of doing pretty much everything you are and who will need to be dealt with as you progress.
Much like your garbage-tier starter vessel, the duct tape and glue that holds all this together is SPAZ 2’s combat, though fortunately that’s a little higher quality than the aforementioned dinghy. The ships you control are constructed using a modular system that allows a great deal of creativity in piecing together designs. When enemies come a-knockin’ your chances will largely come down to how well you prepared your ship in advance; battles are real-time and play out somewhat like the naval combat sections from recent Assassin’s Creed games, so many ship configurations will find themselves jockeying for position and trying to line up deadly broadsides. That’s not a hard and fast rule, though, as other setups like sniping ships are entirely workable if you’re willing to take the time to mess with them.
SPAZ 2’s presentation is surprisingly solid for an indie game, with crisp, colorful graphics and a setting-appropriate soundtrack. It generally runs well enough, though I did find the early game stages to be somewhat buggy; I had to restart the tutorial a couple of times to get through it. Once that was done, though, I proceeded through the majority of the game without any technical problems, merrily assembling ships and using them to blast the hell out of other ships.
While it might initially seem overwhelming in its complexity, Space Pirates and Zombies 2 is actually a fairly simple game about maximizing your resource intake and building the best possible ships – everything else feels like icing on the cake. That’s a perfectly workable way to deal with this genre and it kept me coming back for more. If you’re looking for a hardcore space spreadsheet simulator then this isn’t it, but arcade aficionados with a creative streak are likely to have a good time with this one.