Space Pirates and Zombies Review: Fight the Undead in Space

By Nicholas Krawchuk

Few things beat commanding a fleet of battleships into combat against both humans and zombies.  One thing that does is doing so with a fleet of custom-built ships. Space Pirates and Zombies is a top-down space sim RPG where every ship is customizable and every part matters. The game has been developed over the past few years by a two-man studio, MinMax Games. In SPAZ, you are in charge of a band of space pirates on a ship called The Clockwork. Aside from yourself, the crew of the ship contains three bickering lieutenants who must have the last word. Your main goal in the game is exactly what you would expect from pirates: loot. Somewhere in the restricted Core Worlds is supposedly a colossal pile of rez, which is black market currency. Being a pirate, you’ll stop at nothing to find it.

Almost Nothing

The plot seems pretty simple when you start.  Your first several objectives revolve around finding the Titan Beam which will open the warp gates into the Core Worlds. As soon as you step through the gate, you find (surprise surprise) NOT a huge pile of rez, but a huge pile of zombies, and they all want to eat you. Suddenly your motivation changes: find out what these things are and where they came from. One strange thing about this plot point is that throughout the entire game there are references to zombies, from billboards stating “Say no to zombies”, to an empty ship covered in purple goo attacking you, and yet everyone seems shocked by the discovery of zombies. The game manages to set up a very lonely atmosphere with a couple of mechanics: there are two main factions, the civilians and the UTA. You can do missions for either of them which allows you to gain reputation . Each star system is isolated and so if you attack a UTA base in one system, the UTA a few systems over won’t have heard about it and will still befriend you.

I found myself strangely immersed in the game, especially when it came to the struggle between the two main factions.  Many times I would do missions for civilians, but sometimes the UTA had ship parts I wanted for sale. Not being powerful enough yet, I had to turn on my civilian allies and build up reputation with the UTA.  You will spend little time completing primary missions and most of it leveling up your ships, traversing across galaxies and completing the many secondary missions the game has to offer.

A Pirate’s Life For Me

The game is played in a 2D top-down view of space. When you start the game, you are given a galaxy creation screen where you choose the difficulty (rookie to insane) of the galaxy and the size (150 – 300 stars). You control a fleet of three ships with the ability to switch between them at will. They each play a different role, and for most of the game you will be using one medium-sized ship and two small ones.

There are three types of currency: rez, goons (used on ship crews and as trading currency), and data (which is used as experience). The controls feel solid for the most part and the combat feels fresh and fun. You have a wide variety of weapon types to choose from: beams, cannons, launchers, drones, just to name a few. Every weapon handles differently and each one can be mounted on a turret so it can aim in a direction other than whichever direction your ship is facing. Without turrets, combat can feel a bit clunky due to the slow speed at which most ships turn but it makes sense for such huge spaceships.

You will find the primary missions will be exciting with plenty of dialogue and combat.  Secondary missions are just fun little events that are funny or interesting, but not enough to incorporate into the main story.   The faction missions include eliminating patrols, destroying toxic waste, escorting ships through ambushes, and collecting artifacts from asteroids. These missions are all a lot of fun, but every level range has the same missions. So each star you go to at a certain level will have all the same missions and each of those can be repeated many times for rez, goons, and data. Designing unique missions for every single one of the potential 300 systems would be a daunting task but some more variety among similar level systems would be nice.

Each time you level up, you get three upgrade points that can be used to increase the power of each type of ship part. With each level, the cost of the upgrade grows so it takes a lot of time to max out a part. When you finally get to fight zombies, a new mechanic is introduced: some zombie ships will infect your ships. When they attack, a new counter will pop up under your cargo, showing how many invading zombies are aboard. It is up to your crew to fight them off. There are tons of strategic options as well. When you pause, there is a map of the system and you can order your ships to do anything you can imagine.  Ever wanted to feel like you were in a sci-fi movie and say things like “divert all power to main lasers”, you can do that. Whenever a ship is destroyed, you lose some rez and it is rebuilt at the warp beacon. If you keep losing, you eventually run out of rez and you are forced to go to a planet where you won’t be attacked, create a free and near useless ship and mine rez until you can afford a better ship. This is a mindless and lengthy activity which is a fitting punishment but it can be very frustrating. But that’s how you’re supposed to feel, right?

Space Oddity

SPAZ looks great, especially for a game made without teams of artists working on it. The ship models are all very nice and the backgrounds are very realistic and alive. There is constantly floating debris behind the action that adds to the space atmosphere. The art itself is very well done and contributes heavily to the lonely and isolated atmosphere I mentioned earlier. One minor complaint is that whenever you warp into a new area, there are a lot of flashy lights and noises occurring and it is hard to tell if you’ve warped into a peaceful area or in the middle of an enemy fleet. When the game is started, it runs a launcher with many graphics options that will help this game run on older computers and look awesome on high-end ones. While the options and launcher are nice, it is a bit irritating that you can’t change any from inside the game, including resolution and full screen. The game loads all art assets at launch to reduce loading times while playing the game which is a nice feature that adds to the immersion.

In Space, No One Can Hear You Scream

Music in a game set in space should sound exactly like it does in SPAZ. It isn’t anything special, not loud or intrusive, just some creepy noise in the background. The music is full of random spacey noises and though it isn’t something I would listen to on a regular basis, it fits the game and that’s enough. The audio is all very good too; weapons, warping, menu click noises, all fit the setting and sound great. There is some spoken dialogue in the game but none of it is story related.  While out in space, you will often hear voices say things like “say no to cannibalism” and various other lines related to zombies. For the most part though, this dialogue can get annoying as it seems to be the same 5 or 6 lines playing over and over again.

Is It Worth Your Money?

Short answer, yes. Long answer, a million times yes. SPAZ is a gem rarely found these days offering something unique, innovative and fun. Space Pirates and Zombies is full of extra things to do, from leveling up your ships, doing side missions, collecting parts, or just going around causing chaos in either civilian or UTA bases. The sheer size of it will keep you occupied for quite some time in one playthrough.  MinMax is still developing more content for the game with an upcoming features window on the main menu of the game.  If for some reason you’re still not sure about the SPAZ, a demo is available on the official site.

Space Pirates and Zombies Summary

  • Time Played – 15 hours
  • Widescreen Support – Yes
  • 5.1 Audio – No
  • Bugs – None
  • DRM – One-time online keycode activation
  • Control Scheme – Customizable Keyboard and Mouse
  • Game Acquisition Method – Review Copy
  • Availability – MinMax, Steam, Desura, Green Man Gaming and GamersGate  

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8 thoughts on “Space Pirates and Zombies Review: Fight the Undead in Space

  1. I can’t imagine how my life would have gone on without stumbling across this game. It’s the perfect time-wasting/ heart-stopping/ space-shooting/ zombie-slaying/ ship-building/ pirate-popping/ back-stabbing/ laser-ripping/ cannon-blasting/ missile-launching/ mine-laying/ cloak-creeping/ … Well you get what I mean. 😛 Don’t spend another minute without owning this game. I actually think MinMax is getting ripped off by the low price they are selling this game for.

  2. I’ll admit, at first I was judging this book by it’s cover and it didn’t seem like much to me. I’m normally not into RPG’s or strategy games but the shooter aspect of the game piqued my interest. I downloaded the demo because I was on the fence about it and was immediately blown away with it’s overall presentation(And doubly so when I found out about the duo that made it). It always amazes me how these small teems of independent developers can come around with a gem like this. I can’t wait to see where these guys take this game.

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