Posted on 09 Jul 2016 by Stephen Haselden

Space Run Galaxy

The Defence

Developer: PASSTECH Games
Publisher: Focus Home Interactive
Genre: Indie, Strategy, Tower Defense
Platform: PC
Review copy: Yes
Release date: 17 Jun 2016

The Case

Space Run, the 2014 game by Passtech Games, filled a niche that no one knew existed. It took traditional tower defence mechanics and warped them into a spaceship building and race against time. Space Run is a unique game, a great experience, and it leaves you hungry for more. So the questions is: can the sequel, Space Run Galaxy, deliver an experience equal to its predecessor and still innovate enough to make buying a sequel worthwhile?

The Trial

The mechanics in Space Run involve placing ship components to build, upgrade your spaceship and shoot down asteroids and approaching enemies. Typically for a tower defence, the more targets you destroy the more “money” (Hex Nuts) you have to build new components with. Space Run isn’t just a glorified game of Asteroids, it’s also a race. Each ‘job’ you take up requires you to transport some cargo from A to B. Part of the challenge is getting your cargo to its location intact, part to get it there faster than the competition. Your progress through each mission is displayed in the bottom right of the screen, along with the progress of three other craft. To complete a level successfully you must finish ahead of the slowest ship, while finishing before the faster ships will give you more rewards. And this brings us back to the ship building. One of the most important components you can build on your ship is an engine; building more engines makes your ship go faster, just as adding defence components makes you better protected and adding guns gives you more pew pew.

In space, they serve super-size calamari.

Ship components do have a wide variety of uses beyond the basic shield/guns/speed upgrades. There are some that increase overall ship strength, some that repair components, some that shoot down missiles, some that upgrade nearby components (also unlocking new abilities), and some that even slow down time. Weapon components especially come in a wide variety and will keep you entertained with all manner of sparkly death dealing. As expected not all components are available at the beginning, but as you complete ‘jobs’ and gain XP you can unlock more powerful parts that can eventually turn your humble space truck into a low rent Star Destroyer.

Why am I explaining the details of Space Run to you? Because all of these mechanics so far, are almost identical to those in Space Run Galaxy. Don’t be too shocked at this, when you have a winning formula it doesn’t pay to deviate much when making the sequel. Indeed, apart from most of the game mechanics, SRG also has: the same art style, many of the same assets, a similar premise (‘make it’ as a freelance space trucker shipping dangerous cargo) and it even has the same humour. All of these areas however, worked brilliantly in the first game and I’m still enjoying them a second time round.

So what does Space Run Galaxy do differently to Space Run? The biggest difference has to be the addition of the “Galaxy”, this is not the actual Galaxy fortunately, because even that can get dull after a while (just ask Elite Dangerous players). The Galaxy in SRG is its new method of arranging mission and story progression, and it’s a big improvement. The “Galaxy” consists of five sectors, each with a group of locations linked by various travel routes. Completing the story led missions is what allows you to progress from one sector to another. Some locations are also locked by XP level and others by secret travel routes. Although SRG has a story and an actual ending, you don’t have to stick to the planned routes or even any kind of time frame, the Story simply progresses when you’re ready to push forward. If you’re struggling with a particular mission, or even if you want to just replay a route you enjoyed, you can set your own travel plans at any time. You can even leave cargo from assorted half-finished jobs, at various locations until you’re ready to go back to them (there is a limit of about half a dozen jobs at once). Whether you’re retracing your steps or just exploring a sector, the more jobs you complete the more XP and money you earn, this in turn leads to more upgrades, better ships and a better chance with the next mission you undertake.

Never let making money, put you off making more money.

The next biggest change with Galaxy, has to be the ships. Instead of being given a predesigned ship for every mission, you get to keep the same ships across every mission. However, as you progress, you get opportunities to buy or discover new (and usually larger) ship styles. On top of that, each new ship “template” you unlock has the potential to be altered, upgraded and even repainted to your liking. Although this is a simple feature, it’s definitely one that I yearned for when playing the original game. I have to congratulate the devs for limiting the templates to certain styles rather than just “X” number of hexes, as the limits this imposes makes designing ships more of a challenge, and keeps fresh the prospect of discovering new ship templates.

As mentioned, the various ship components in the sequel all work in pretty much the same manner as those in SR. However, they are all still subtly different. The biggest change for components has to be the need to craft every component individually, but don’t worry, you won’t be doing that in the middle of a mission. Components are crafted by the mechanics found in most space stations. To craft each item the mechanic needs a variety of materials (generally red, green or blue) which you are awarded for completing a contract. There are four general component types, and it may be necessary to transport your materials to new stations in order to find a mechanic that can craft the item you want. You can transport materials yourself, as cargo, or you can create a “Contract” so other players transport the material for you (more on this later). As well as using materials, a mechanic will also charge a fee, and prices increase depending on how many components of each type you already have. The upshot is that, as well as being limited by what components you’ve unlocked, you’re also limited by how many of them you’ve made. This adds another fun factor for designing your ships. One notable component type is missing from SRG however – generators. Engines instead carry a dual role of adding speed and energy to you ship. Energy is a reusable resource that allows activation of the various special abilities components have.

One of the complaints levelled at SR was the sometimes frantic nature of missions, and the need to manually activate multiple abilities at the right time. While these features are all still present in SRG, missions generally have a less desperate feel to them. The available abilities have been thinned out slightly, while still keeping the most distinctive and powerful ones available. The biggest criticism levelled at Space Rrun was the lack of a pause button that would allow you to think carefully and stack up multiple orders when something unexpected happens. However this is not something the devs wanted in the game, and I respect them for keeping it out this time as well. Adding a pause button, essentially would turn the game into an entirely different game by removing the skill element. Once that’s done, it becomes more of a cerebral exercise, rather than a skill based exercise with the associated adrenaline rush. However, as I said, missions are slightly less frantic in SRG, and if you find one that’s a little too frustrating, you can often skip it, or just run some other missions until you have a ship/component combo that is up to the challenge.

Fortunately my paint job matches the plasma damage.

Multiplayer. This was not something I was expecting to see in a Space Run sequel. Although this is not a “true” multiplayer, the addition of a persistent “Galaxy” with player made contracts, is a novel idea and works really well. To encourage players to take up contracts, Passtech have added valuable rewards and unlocks for every player-made contract you complete. On top of that, it’s also fun to arrange contracts for others, and plan ahead how you will use your materials. Apart from crafting, ship templates and badges can also be sold or gifted to other players. Remarkably Passtech have succeeded in creating a living marketplace that will bring out the budding entrepreneur in you.

The Verdict

With only a handful of new mechanics and a few subtle changes, Passtech have managed to evolve their previous title into something with much more replayability, much more nuanced strategy and even much more draw. The addition of a persistent player driven economy is inspired and it succeeds in adding immersion and impact to your trading decisions. I’m thoroughly pleased with the addition of the new “Galaxy” and the flexibility it affords you for making your fortune. My inner Treky delights in the ability to design my own ships, as well as upgrade them on the fly. The core gameplay as excellent as it is, has virtually not changed at all. The mechanics have been tweaked for the better. If you struggled with Space Run, or lost interest halfway through, then Space Run Galaxy isn’t going to add enough new mechanics to make it interesting. However if you enjoyed SR and you’re hungry for more, then you will love Galaxy. If however you are new to Space Run, and you have a passing interest in Tower Defences, then get Space Run Galaxy, it has a lot to offer. Space Run was a game that could be completed in twenty five exuberant hours, but Space Run Galaxy is a game that you can easily sink an extra hundred.

Case Review

  • Something to Smile About: Funny characters and bright colours. Plus a bit more of a story than before.

  • Keep the Wheels Turning: A lot more replayability.

  • Trotter Incorporated: Move some goods, make some money, help your friends, and of course “pay” your taxes.

  • Shiny Beamy Death: adding more laser cannons never gets old.

  • Mostly the Same: If you disliked Space Run you probably won’t enjoy this.

  • Anti Anti: The graphics are bright, but not cutting edge. Could do with anti-aliasing option.

4 Score: 4/5
Build a spaceship; rebuild your spaceship; make other players work for you.

Evidence

  • Graphics: Not a huge range of options here, just the resolution, screen, vsync, shadows and selection of either windowed or not.
  • Sound: The basics are here, plus the option to turn off particular notifications.
  • Controls: While using shortcuts is not essential, it certainly helps when you’re under pressure. Fortunately the long list of controls can all be rebound to your liking.
4 Score: 4/5

Space Run Galaxy is a charming and unique take on the RTS/Tower Defense genres, mixing in some micro-management, base building and RPG elements. Players can modify their intergalactic “Truckship” along its journey in many interesting ways. You can upgrade its arsenal of multifunctional weaponry, such as missile launchers and plasma cannons, as well as its multitude of defense modules, like the shield generator, healing station and anti-missile defense systems. Players can also redesign their ship in many different shapes, sizes and colors freely, or with Blueprints purchased at spaceports for optimal placement opportunities. Everything on your cargo carrying space hauler is completely modular, upgradable and swappable, which can lead to silky-smooth trade runs or hair-pulling frustration depending on your designs.

You play as a space courier, who’s been hired by the most famous and skilled space runner of the last twenty years, ol’ Capt. Buck Mann himself, to help launch his fledgling intergalactic courier company to new heights. You’re tasked with hauling valuable cargo over four unique solar systems filled with hundreds of humorous missions, contracts and challenges, along the way meeting a plethora of wacky characters. You’re rewarded with XP, building materials and space bucks from successfully completing contracts and missions, with minimizing cargo loss and speedy delivery being the key to victory. Also for greater rewards are online multiplayer contracts that players can create or ask for assistance and share valuable resources. The core of the game revolves around the increasingly difficult real-time battles from spaceport to spaceport. Enemies can, and will come from literally all directions, forcing players to think on their feet during these hectic skirmishes, maneuvering weapons around and building components as needed with the use of Hexnuts, gathered from defeated space pirates and blasting through the many asteroids barreling down on you during your journey.

Visually beautiful at times but having a lot of cut n’ paste travel segments, worlds do differ from one another and the backdrops are quite nice to look at, as well as many unique and colorful character portraits throughout. The audio was hit or miss, I found the music generic and uninspiring at times, and the sound effects lacking in variety, however, the voice acting was top notch, and very well done. The controls were extremely tight and simple to master, you could virtually play this game with one hand, and everything you need is at your fingers command. My only gripes would be the woefully lacking anti-aliasing options…those jaggies can poke an eye out! The difficulty was terribly unforgiving at times, forcing me to try again if a single mistake was made, having a cannon aimed at the wrong direction can, and in most cases, lead to utter failure within seconds of a mission. All in all though, for its $19.99 USD price tag, fast paced challenging battles, and it’s unique gameplay, combined with plentiful content to keep gamers occupied, I highly recommend this to all those masochistic RTS/Tower Defense lovers out there who are just itching to try something different. You won’t be disappointed!

3 Score: 3/5

Space Run Galaxy combines tower defense and real-time strategy with a science fiction arcade twist and improves on mechanics and gameplay from the first Space Run. Set 20 years after the first game, Captain Buck Mann has started up an intergalactic courier service and has offered you a job to aid in the delivery of valuables all over the galaxy. This time round in Space Run Galaxy there are 4 solar systems, 50 zones to explore and hundreds of different runs that will range from the introductory prologue up to the difficult fast paced end game missions.

Due to the lack of a pause function, the Space Run franchise garnered quite a number of fans that were upset at the real-time aspect of the game whilst liking most of the other feature. Having a pause function, although making the game easier, can ruin the charm of this unique experience. The challenge of Galaxy rests on its fast flowing and frantic gameplay and constant micro-managing, organizing your offensive structures and defensive utilities whilst focusing on how to deal with the dangerous environment and constant onslaught of enemy ships. A new twist to gameplay is a persistent multiplayer feature, you can go on contracts set up by real players or you can trade many resources with them. Having this new feature is vital for later stages in Space Run Galaxy as the difficulty will ramp up and will require some important decisions to help you survive the challenges that await players. There are many utilities and gadgets to help you in your job as a ‘space runner’ this includes laser weapons, explosives, repair stations, plasma cannons, shields, ship boosters and much more. Another aspect to gameplay is the goal of getting to your destination as quick as possible, Space Run Galaxy will reward the player with extra resources, XP or credits based on how quick you can deliver your cargo to a target destination.

Due to how Passtech Games have designed the game there are only a limited number of builds that will help you successfully complete a contract. This restricts much of the freedom within the game, maybe in a DLC we can get a challenge mode, albeit it is still much improved over the previous game’s limitations. Visually Space Run Galaxy is a colorful and cartoony with most NPC interaction being with 2D art but it is complimented with brilliant voice acting. Space Run Galaxy isn’t for everyone but there is enough content here. With an asking price of $19.99 USD, that there is enough to hold many people over and even interest people who are not fans of RTS or tower defense games. Unfortunately due to how the gameplay is designed some fans may not want to tackle the sequel this time round.

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