Space Rangers HD – A War Apart’is a remake of Space Rangers 2 which came out in the mid 2000s. If you played the original, this new version brings with it a heap of new stuff, while sticking to the same basic story, gameplay and inherent wackiness.
I had trouble deciding on the genre because, basically, it doesn’t really have one. Or maybe it has several. And I call it wacky because one minute you’re escorting a cruiser to another system in top-down fashion, the next you’re traveling through a black-hole fighting enemies arcade-style. You can agree to a mission and find yourself in a text-based adventure, or in an RTS mini-game building robots to capture enemy bases.
You start your adventure in RPG mode, where you get to choose your character’s gender, and one of five races and careers. Whichever you decide will determine what ship you have when the game launches, and how much starting money you get. This gives enormous scope for you to make Space Rangers HD the type of game you like to play, whatever your gaming style. This might involve re-starting a few times to try different characters out, but eventually you should find one you like.
Starting out, it’s a good idea not to be too ambitious, whatever character you’ve selected. Your ship has a paper-thin skin and pop-gun weapons. Taking on practically anyone is tantamount to suicide.’The galaxy will have been randomly generated when the game started and’initially’you can only explore the local systems until you find someone willing to sell you a map (for an extortionate fee), which opens up a new sector. Don’t explore too far too soon, though. Things get tougher the further out you go.’You need to do some trading, build some cash and improve your ship.
If trading doesn’t appeal, you can go out into the system and mine ore for free, or you can take on government missions, which pay well, but can be a little risky (fail, and your reputation with that race will drop, making it harder to work with them in the future). And failure is a real possibility. In one of my games I took on what sounded like a simple job, transporting medical supplies to a planet in the next sector. I had two months to do it. Easy. Except I didn’t have a big enough fuel tank, so I had to make regular stops. Plus there are opportunists and pirates out there and, even when I survived an encounter, I then had to repair (and refuel) my ship, all of which takes money, and valuable days off the clock. In the end, I missed the deadline – to the chagrin of my employer with the inevitable plunge of my reputation in their buggy eyes.
Some of the missions involve helping the local government retake one of their worlds, which has been invaded by either pirates, or the main threat out there: Dominators. These missions take the form of real time strategy. You start by building robots, which must be made from a dwindling supply of parts. Meanwhile your enemy is doing exactly the same thing. I found this to be one of the more frustrating elements of the game, because my robots rarely did what I told them to, running around like headless chickens while enemy turrets turned them into glitter. Again, fail at this, the government is less than pleased with you. Fortunately, you can always decline these missions if you don’t want egg on your face.
Even trading isn’t always as straightforward as it seems. Assuming you actually get to your destination, look out for the ‘thumbs up’ sign on trade items, which hint at good deals. Prices are always fluctuating, so you need to visit a business center now and again for a database on which planets are selling low, which are buying high. It only takes a few bad deals to put you out of business, without even the credits to fuel up and leave the system. To make money you should’always fly with goods in your hold, so you have something to sell when you reach the next stop over.
Traveling to a new system isn’t always a piece of cake. In the time it takes you to reach it, the new system might have been overrun by pirates, or taken over by Dominators. You could find the system buzzing with pirate dog-fights – a good opportunity to gain experience, especially if you’ve managed to upgrade your ship. You have the choice of helping fight off the pirates, or joining them. Switching’allegiances’comes with both benefits and problems. You can switch back again, though, if you find piracy doesn’t suit you.
The main story, which runs in the background whatever role you take, is that the machine-based Dominators are moving through the galaxy, taking over systems and exterminating organic life. If you should happen to reach a destination and find it populated by Dominator ships, you’re in big trouble. Since you’re the only organic life form out there, the entire swarm will converge on you. Assuming you even have fuel to get to another system, you have to travel to a jump point to leave, and chances are you won’t make it. It’s game over and 10,000 credits to your relatives in compensation.
The graphics in this HD version are much improved over the original and are set to encompass modern screen resolutions and frame rate. The backgrounds for each system are nicely-rendered, though they’re basically just that, backgrounds. While they and the ships you encounter appear sharp and modern, the graphics can’t hide the fact that this is a top-down space game with point and click interactivity. I did find the gameplay frustrating at times, as combat is turn-based and you’re often out-numbered, meaning the enemy gets several hits on you before you can either’retaliate’or run.
My main beef with the game has to be the lack of hints or tutorials. Perhaps the developers assumed everyone who will be playing it knows the game from its former incarnation? Since it was not only a new game to me but a new concept, I found the learning curve huge. There’s nothing to tell players how to use the hud, there are no instructions about combat. First time I played it and landed on a planet, I believed the game had crashed because nothing was happening on the screen, and I was expecting the ship I could see through my viewport to open up and a little guy to walk out. I finally figured it out, but it wasn’t obvious to someone who’d never played this type of game before. Similarly with combat. What button do you use to fire the mining laser? I stabbed every button on my damned keyboard before I figured out you just clicked on an enemy for an auto-battle to ensue. A little disappointing, since that meant interactivity during a battle was limited. Maybe that’s why the black holes and their arcade-style battles?
Having said that, the game is compelling and the open world (universe) format offers the potential of hundreds of hours of making your fortune while kicking alien, and eventually Dominator, butt, as well as building your ship to bad-ass proportions. Things are always in flux out there in the galaxy, meaning even when you’ve been to a place, you might return to find a lot has changed. How you play it is largely up to you and once you find what works for you, you’ll begin making headway. Until then, there’s a lot of re-starting new games, and a lot of relatives being compensated.
Overall, once I got the hang of it, I really enjoyed (and will continue to) Space Rangers – A War Apart. It’s a game that can whittle hours away without you noticing and, while frustrating at times, I found it mainly fun and a little addictive.