One of my favorite real time strategy games on Steam, oddly enough, was a WWII bomber simulator called Bomber Crew. It was centered around logistics and planning, rather than real time dogfighting, and emphasized strategic use of abilities each crewmember had, from gunners, to radiomen, to engineers. It was all put together very well, and with a simplistic, voxel based artstyle it held a lot of appeal and charm. It was also a roguelike, and ridiculously hard at points, as you lost equipment on death, and might have to spend hours grinding to replace it.
But through that, it became one of my most played games on Steam, second to only TF2.
To compliment it the developers, Runner Duck, released a sequel to the game, Space Crew in 2020. It had a lot riding on its shoulders, as the sequel to a successful indie game can often make, or break a studios reputation. Would it hold up, like Hotline Miami 2, or be ostracized, like Metal Gear Survive (#FuckKonami).
In the near future an alien race called Phasmids attack Earth, and to save humanity the heroes of the rather boringly named United Defense Force gather to protect humanity (Very generic I know). You’re the crew of a spaceship and are tasked to go on missions varying from search and destroy to search and destroy but also maybe save an astronomer this time.
This game is absolutely lucky I didn’t review it at launch, because the first version of the game was an absolutely dull experience. Only two gunners overall, an even more repetitive mission process, and unbalanced enemies would have me raking it over the coals.
In fairness they had to remove a lot of the bomber elements to the game to fit it all in, and I feel as if they didn’t exactly know how to translate it into a space sim. A big issue I have is the lack of complexity. There’s no bombing mechanic anymore, or putting landing gear down, or even really moving people between stations except the security officer and engineer occasionally. It feels a lot was crammed into the combat sections, and everything else was completely removed
The missions themselves follow the same pattern the whole game, mark a portal jump, go into a new area, fight a wave of enemies for each jump point, sometimes two,
One in every three missions hack an alien space station, drop off/ pick up/ kill the objective, and jump back portal after portal. Rather than pressuring you to perform a successful bombing run, now you just hover over an icon, and the situation solves itself. So this leads to boring repetitive mission design.
Sometimes there’s an enemy ace like in Bomber Crew, or escort missions (yay!). But the objectives weren’t what made Bomber Crew fun, they added stakes and tension to it. The minute to minute gameplay was where the strength of the game lied, and I feel as if Space Crew both expands it in certain ways, while also taking away from it at the same time.
The biggest issue I have with the gameplay, as stated above, is the fact that Space Crew takes away some of the more complex elements of Bomber Crew, and replaces them with hordes of enemies, and long drawn out battles, which just become tiresome after a while. It strips out things like landing, fuel, and even ammunition, and dumps such huge hoards of abilities, and button presses on you to the point you have to change the gameplay around, and .
In the previous Bomber Crew game, you had to manually target enemy fighters within a scope, which would then allow your turrets to shoot them down, but in this game I ended up turning that feature off, in favor of auto tagging. There’s just too many things to keep track of now, from switching piloting styles, to boosting turret accuracy that I just gave up to allow myself some breathing room. Eventually I got the hang of it, and found the combat pretty fun. However, that’s the only thing that has a bit of complexity and strategy to it. When outside of combat you’re either trying to get your ship to waddle the next jump beacon, going at the speed of a Walmart shopping scooter that’s over its weight limit by twenty pounds, or staring at a hacking minigame. The hacking minigame has its uses, but results in me staring at a computer screen for twenty seconds, and guessing which icon is which.
It can be worth it if you get lucky and get the one that activates the self-destruct on nearby ships. But usually it is just boring. So you get either spikes of frantic action that makes you feel as if you’re drowning , or you get flat boring sections that kill the pacing by having absolutely nothing going on.
It’s even worse on longer missions, as it becomes a war of attrition as you play 15-20 minute long levels, hoping that you can survive being shot at in 15 directions with no end in sight. With no fuel mechanic this kills a lot of the tension and pace of the game, as you can just kind of wait out the recharge of your abilities.
The game’s complexity weighs entirely on the abilities, and occasionally repairing everything with the engineer. There is one more wrinkle to it though: close quarters combat. Now every once in a while (as in every thirty seconds) a dropship containing alien marines boards your ship, and you get to fight them off, provided you notice the small ship attaching to you in between the explosions, lasers, and panicked button pressing. I like the idea in theory, but it proves too annoying, and unexciting. One thing I will say is I like that when you arm yourself with a plasma rifle in the equipment area, you simply press a giant green “Attack” button. This takes away the possibility of the already janky movement controls becoming unbearable, and allows you to focus on the dogfight instead. Thank God, I say, because the last thing I want when fighting an exciting space battle is to zoom in on my boring looking ship interior to play a game of XCOM for five minutes. Just slap a rifle into the hands of the onboard security officer and hurl him into the line of fire to curb stomp the aliens, and then go back to switching reactor power to shields hoping that the aliens haven’t swarmed over you in the brief time you were gone.
I like a lot of the new classes on offer, specifically the Security class, however I feel as if the responsibilities aren’t fairly laid out between the crew members. Call me a commie but when the security officer is in charge of shields and regeneration, a gun turret, and beating back alien boarding parties, while the comms officer simply presses a button to summon reinforcement fighters, and work the map, I feel as if we need to distribute the labor more equally. I wish there were four gunners rather than three AND the security officer, as it would be slightly less of a headache when dealing with the interior movement controls in a hurry. Which sounds like an oxymoron, me complaining about lack of complexity while complaining about things being hard, but it would allow you to use all your abilities at once, as the security station also controls shield regeneration as well as the turret station which protects the whole front area of the ship, so it can be a game of “guess when to move your Security Officer” rather than strategic planning.
So there’s a lot wrong with this game overall, but here are some pretty good things in this sequel.
Space Crew is excellent when it comes to the ship customization and all the attachments to it, The weapons are also far more balanced, and remove the “the game sover once I get a 50. Cal machine gun that can load itself automatically” feeling.I also liked the new holster mechanics that give a crewmember a boost, be it in self defense weapons, or engineering tools to boost repair time, this allows you to specialize certain characters into different roles.
The weapons are also far more balanced, due to the Bomber Crew basically turning itself off after you get the autoloading 50. Cal gun turrets. I also liked the new holster mechanics that give a crewmember a boost, be it in self defense weapons, or engineering tools to boost repair time, this allows you to specialize certain characters into different roles.
I find Space Crews overall to not live up to its previous successor, as it leans far too heavily on the long winded, simplistic missions. But I would recommend it as a podcast game, something fun to play while you listen to your favorite youtuber, or an audio book or whatever.
I’ve heard a lot about the artstyle to this game, and how it’s terrible and generic. But I disagree with half that statement: Generic, yes but terrible, absolutely not. The game goes for a voxel based aesthetic, which I feel is much smoother than the original game, and has a much better color palette, with darker more vibrant colors, rather than the pastel flavor of the OG game. I love the vibe and feeling of the game, and its use of light and color. If you’re weird like me, and you love the aesthetic of Disneyland Space Mountain, then you’re gonna love this game, because it captures it quite well, with blue ambient lights, old school space station design and lots of retro futuristic aesthetics.
The music is hit or miss. The battle music drags on and on, feeling extremely repetitive and dull, while the musical flourish upon exiting a portal is pretty great, and adds a star trek vibe to it.
The background artwork, especially the planets are given a sense of immense scale, which a lot of games have trouble with
I do have a bit of a problem with the ship in that it is pretty vanilla, not bad, just kind of basic. Think of a box with two engines on its side and, Voila, you’ve got the ship design. I feel as if adding a few variations to the ship would’ve helped, like adding new turrets, or additional engines to improve the ships style in addition to a gameplay boost, to make combat more interesting. However, the combat s already fun, because seeing your gunner shoot slowly moving energy blasts at far away targets, and seeing enemy ships explode is immensely satisfying, and why the game is as fun as it it.
If I had to compare the two in a short sentence it is this: Bomber Crew was a well designed and planned game, that was constrained by its World War 2 setting, and tended to frustrate due to difficulty, while Space crew has a much wider scope of potential but lacks the boldness to embrace the Star Trek adventure theme, and let loose with its ideas. Space Crew tends to both be in the shadow, but also tentative to leave said shadow of the first game, in order to make itself unique in fear of changing the formula too much, hopefully providing a good jumping off platform for future updates.
To Running Duck:
I’m not gonna lie, I really want to love Space Crew and get lost in it for hours on end. So here are a couple of things I think would help smooth out some of the issues i listed above.
First, add four gunners and keep the security officer at his station, as this allows the security to do security things, such as taking on incoming enemies.
Second, make the comms officer get up and have an assigned task outside communications, as they mostly stay at their station, maybe put their hacking console across the ship, or where the ejection controls are.
Third, (maybe) add more stations and crew, and give the something to do when there’s a lull in the action, off the top of my head would be like a shield operator, where they solely focus on that, and security just focuses on ship intruders and the emp system. Though that last one is completely optional.
Overall, good starting point, great for podcasts and generally just relaxing, and with updates and potential DLC (Which i’ll hopefully review in the future) I feel this game can absolutely live up to Bomber Crew