Game name: Space Crew
Release date: October 15, 2020
Available on: Steam
Developer: Runner Duck
Publisher: Curve Digital
Back in 2017 a small development team named Runner Duck released one of my favorite games of that year, the exquisitely punishing bomber manager Bomber Crew. Apparently, I wasn’t the only one who fell in love with its cartoonish graphics and genuinely addictive gameplay, as the team is back at it again, this time with a spaceship management game, the aptly named Space Crew. Of course, after having loved its WW2 predecessor, and being a fan of campy sci-fi movies, I jumped at the opportunity to take a look at this new title, and what follows is my review after spending almost two weeks with it.
If you have played Bomber Crew, you will instantly feel at home with Space Crew‘s gameplay, as it’s an evolution of the theme, and not a full departure from everything that made Runner Duck‘s WW2 bomber manager so addictive. There’s still two main gameplay areas, with the airfield being replaced by a futuristic space station full of tiny details, and spaceships taking the place of our good old Lancaster. We are also still managing the crew of a warship, and while our enemies might not be Nazis, they are definitely a threat that must be dealt with (and one that will leave endless trails of bodies in their wake as we advance through the game’s campaign).
The way missions/upgrades work is also very similar, with a mission board offering different jobs, which pay more or less depending on the expected difficulty, and as we progress through the game, we unlock main quests that must be completed in order to progress to new sectors (and unlock new tech, which has to be bought with the cash we earn from doing missions). This also means that the same potential for things going horribly wrong in a late game mission, and then requiring the player to grind through lower threat scenarios in order to reacquire their gear is also present here as it was in the previous game, but at the same time that was sort of an important part of the experience, so I understand why it wasn’t removed or changed significantly.
Crew recruitment is also mostly the same as before (and there’s even an option to import Bomber Crew shipmates which is just lovely). Just like in the previous game, our compliment of space officers requires a specific number of positions to be filled, and those are: Captain, Comms officer, Security officer, Engineer and two Weapons officers. As expected, since this is a management game, there are extra turrets that can be manned by other members of our crew (at reduced efficiency, compared to the Weapons officers) and there’s always stuff to do during missions as well, as the alien invaders will often make big enough holes in our ship that crucial components must be repaired, or fires extinguished, etc. Crew skills also return, and losing our little astronauts is as heartbreaking as it was when they were tiny WW2 airmen. You might think that their cute little toy-like faces would quickly fade from memory, but they don’t, and even if they do for you, then the experience lost with each death will end up haunting you as you try to rebuild your tiny spaceship’s crew. Thankfully, there is an escape pod system where you get a chance of recovering part of your crew if your ship blows up, but it depends on the player’s ability to predict a catastrophe, as by default there’s only one escape vehicle onboard (and even if you fully equip the ship with the little buggers, there’s always a chance to lose them in the blackness of space).
Just as with Bomber Crew, we also need to carefully consider each crew member’s specialty before equipping them with new gear, as for instance, the Engineer needs to be a lot speedier than a Weapons officer, so one will benefit from lighter armor (or even radiation resistant equipment) while the other should be wearing the heaviest armor possible, as they are a lot more exposed to enemy fire (and don’t need to move around so much). Equipment racks also return, and it’s our job to keep Med Kits, phase rifles, fire extinguishers and space suits handy, should an emergency require their use (and yes, the space suits will be required for extra vehicular activities such as fixing a leaking engine in mid-flight).
Combat is still a mix of manual targeting and automatic fire from our turrets (the player must “paint” the targets, just like they do for waypoints, and if there’s any gunners on the ball turrets, they’ll start firing on the marked enemy vessels).
The customization options aren’t limited to stuff that has a discernible impact on gameplay, and you can totally name your starship “Flying Coffin” if you so choose (I did, and I could swear that it improved my crew’s ability to react to dangers tenfold). Sadly, there are a few options missing compared to the previous game (which had period-appropriate decals for the bombers) but overall, I’m still satisfied, since I could still paint my vessel with the River Plate colors, and that’s usually all I ask from customization systems like this one.
Of course, so far it would seem that I’m reducing Space Crew to “Bomber Crew but in space” which is something that wouldn’t just be wrong, but it would also be an awful way of treating the fine people working at Runner Duck after they spent countless hours creating new systems and finely tuning the stuff that was already there. Make no mistake, this isn’t a simple expansion, or a rebranding of an old title. There is enough new content to warrant a full price purchase (US$19.99 in this case) and we’ll go over the additions to the formula and how they fit with my Bomber Crew experience over the next few paragraphs.
Perhaps the most obvious change would be the energy system, which functions similarly to the one present in older space combat simulators (or the recently released Star Wars: Squadrons). A basic ship reactor generates enough juice to power all of the ship’s systems (shields, engines, weapons and artificial gravity) so if the commander wishes to boost shields, they need to shut down one of the other systems, which, in turn, creates a new problem that must be worked around (turning off artificial gravity makes the crew move slower, turning off the weapons’ energy supply means that energy weapons won’t fire, etc). It’s a careful balancing act that can get you out of tough spots if you know how to do the power dance correctly (or if you planned ahead, for instance, bringing autocannons instead of plasma guns). If that wasn’t enough, hyper jumps to different sectors require all the power a basic reactor provides in order to charge the engines, so there will be many brown alert moments when trying to escape a hostile sector under a tight deadline.
Another interesting addition is the boarding system, where certain alien ships will forcefully dock with your vessel, dropping a cargo of deadly invaders who will attempt to murder your crew and sabotage your equipment. While our valiant astronauts will attempt to fight off boarding parties with the power of their fists, the correct (and far more efficient way) of dealing with these pests is to order your Security officer to grab a Phase rifle from a wall rack, and send them packing with a few well placed shots.
Aside from those two (pretty important) additions to the formula, there are other less obvious changes, such as the hyper space system we’ve briefly described above, or the introduction of asteroid fields (which add a lot more danger and excitement to otherwise boring transport jobs). Ace pilots make a welcome return in the form of Bounties, and just as before, there are many different side objectives that can be accomplished mid-mission, should we feel lucky enough to spend time on them instead of hightailing it back to base.
There is still no tactical pause, but you can slow down time during combat, and it can be a real life saver when there’s too much action on screen, believe me. A fast-forward button is also available when we are outside of combat, and it’s a very welcome feature, as this is usually a somewhat boring part of the game (unless the RNG gods decide to “bless” us with a random malfunction).
Tech-wise, Space Crew looks prettier than Bomber Crew, and there’s a lot more detail on stuff like the space station that serves as our home base, or the areas of space that we’ll visit along the way. I’m once again not exactly sold on the soundtrack, but the astronaut chatter makes up for any musical deficiencies, so there’s that. As expected, the game runs like a dream even on modest hardware.
Overall, Space Crew is a competent sequel to Bomber Crew, and not just a palette swap, as it introduces new elements into the mix while at the same time refining what made the first game so good. There are still a few rough spots, but nothing that truly manages to detract from the experience.
8/10 – Very good.