|Min OS X: 10.6|
Mac OS X: 10.6 | CPU: 1.8 GHz Intel | RAM: 1 GB | HD Space: 500 MB
Not many space action games come to Mac of the non-sidescrolling variety. It's a genre that tends to be filled with the same ol' setup, however, where you just fly around with your spaceship fighting huge waves of enemies with the eventual goal of that one final boss. The levels tend to be a single scrolling background with enemies spawning on top at set locations as you progress. Needless to say, after you've played one of these games, you've played them all.
Space Pirates and Zombies from MinMax Games is thankfully quite different. The game puts a plot behind it and expands your options significantly. For one, you aren't just controlling one ship. Even from the beginning, you're at least ordering your other ships to perform tasks in a strategic view as you directly pilot your ship around destroying all in your path. The enemy variety is also reasonably good, as they're generated randomly based on technology level and your current place in the universe. You could end up facing a huge ship loaded down with armor-destroying cannons, a swarm of medium-sized ships that fire missiles from every side, or even a smaller brigade of cloaked ships with laser beams. The added variety is quite nice.
The missions are also a welcome break, even though they all fall into the same mold of killing every hostile target in sight. You at least can clear away hostile minefields, escort civilian ships, destroy dangerous artifacts, or just face a hostile patrol. The core gameplay doesn't change between each one, but the variety keeps it somewhat fresh. It also helps that there's a global narrative that you can continue by fighting your way to specific targets in the universe and completing storyline missions. This doesn't seem to do much at first, but it does change the entire focus of the game, significantly enough at one point to where it feels like a whole new experience.
The unfortunate fact is, though, that the larger galaxies you generate tend to feel like slogging through mud. Each segment requires you to go through the exact same series of missions to progress, and the only part that changes is the technology level of the ships you're fighting. It does force you to be more careful in fights to force an advantage, but you'll never feel like you're doing anything beyond grinding after your thirtieth gate to unlock. With that said, you at least do get new ship designs and sizes of ships to control, so there's always some fun in using your new toys in battle. The later toys are very entertaining.
Space Pirates and Zombies' only big failing is the boss fights. It comes down to your technology level and how many raw materials you've stored up. If you have a pretty high tech level, you won't even need to replace a single ship. If you have loads of raw materials, you can replace your ships more than enough times to win. If you have both, there is not a single boss fight in this game that is even the slightest bit difficult. The ships are giant, easy to blow away, and only provide challenge in the form of big guns or giant health bars. It'd be nice to see one of the fights in the form of a dogfight or something, even if just to break it up. You can get those dogfights at the bounty hunter stations' arenas, but that would've been much more epic as a special boss fight somewhere.
On the plus side, the game looks absolutely great on even an older Mac. It plays pretty fast in fullscreen and windowed modes, has loads of quality background textures, particle effects, ship models, and zombie alternates to the main ship types. If you get in a huge ship loaded down with weapons, it's very satisfying to watch. There isn't much visual clutter, either, which is very helpful. You won't have a hard time picking your target out of the background or out of a large wad of weapon fire, which has been a problem in similar games of the past.
The soundtrack is also quite nice, despite the limited song choices. There are the usual tracks of action-packed, peaceful, and atmospheric music to keep you in the mood as you fly around, and the sounds are excellent. You won't find a jarring sound in the bunch, and they all serve their purpose quite well. You've got humming beams, pew pewing cannons, booming rockets, whining warps, and the usual set of interface sounds. The only slight downside to the audio is the narrator for the game's story segments. He may be an excellent internet commentator (TotalBiscuit), but his narration unfortunately comes off as more boring than epic. It would've been nice to get more of the movie trailer style voice-over in this case.
Still, once you ask yourself the question "is it worth my money," you'll almost definitely come off with a resounding YES. For anyone even the slightest bit entertained by space shooters or games akin to Escape Velocity, Space Pirates and Zombies will surely satisfy. There are plenty of ships to fly, guns to shoot, and enemies to blow up. The research and upgrade system is straightforward and easy to use, and you'll definitely find yourself appreciating the latter half of the game when the gameplay shifts focus. Unless you absolutely hate space games, give this one a try.
• Plenty of ships, guns, and enemies to enjoy
• Nice mission variety
• Interesting storyline
• Large galaxies can be a bit of a "grind"
• Boss encounters not difficult or varied enough
Franklin Pride is a game development graduate and professional programmer/consultant for the Unity development engine. He's currently working on completing his first two computer games (The Farming Game, Uncle Fred's Deep Space Security) while consulting on the side.