Space Run – Review

Title   Space Run
Developer  Passtech Games
Publisher  Focus Home Interactive
Platform  Windows PC
Genre  Strategy, Construction, Tower Defence
Release Date  June 13, 2014

Did you ever watch Space Truckers? It’s an old ’90s sci-fi comedy starring Dennis Hopper as a space trucker, shipping space stuff down the space highways… in space. Eventually it all goes a bit sideways when Hopper, who has fallen on hard times, agrees to carry a mysterious load that turn out to be killer robots. I only bring this up because Passtech Games and Focus Home Interactive seem to borrow maybe a little too heavily from this concept in their take on the tower defence game, Space Run.

You are Buck Mann (that’s Mr Mann to you), war hero, daredevil, and now one of the last independent Space Runners, transporting goods from one corner of the galaxy to the other with your trusty android sidekick. As you progress through the story you will meet the various employers Mann has to deal with such as the sleazy ‘garbage collectors’ (read – Mobsters) of the Nuclear Star corporation and the Richard Branson lookalike Brandon Richards who wants to allow his customers to see the stars, for a modest fee, through his company VIP Travel.

There isn’t a huge amount to say about the story in Space Run. Every time a new employer is unlocked you will get a small text and hand-drawn art scene which establishes why you are bothering to work for that particular company. There are some fun little interactions to be found, particularly between Buck and some of the pirates, but beyond that don’t expect much in the way of storytelling. All you really need to know is that you are taking on space runs for each of these organisations and each one has a slightly different delivery need. VIP Travel requires you to build the rooms on the outside of your ship, reducing your ability to defend them, while Nuclear Star runs require you to carry highly explosive cargo which, if left undefended, could prove disastrous.

As the game progresses, Mr Mann unlocks new space runs for even stranger employers. As you complete runs you gain a number of rank tokens, used to unlock new runs, and some space cash, which is used to purchase new ship components and abilities. Each mission can score five tokens and you effectively have to ensure that your run is the fastest, while space cash is generated by getting to your destination with all of your cargo intact.

Runs start in the hangar as Buck builds in the key components of his ship, and this is generally the cargo itself and a single thruster. This is enough to get you on your way, and as you move towards your destination construction of new ship components becomes one of the fundamentals of the game. After a few seconds the sensors pick up dangers heading towards the ship from any number of directions. The runs themselves are essentially just a straight shot with enemies attacking you from set paths.

Now I’m not a huge fan of the tower defence game, generally I find them a bit boring and not very challenging. However Passtech have created a completely new twist. Your ship is under constant attack by pirates, drones, and even the odd asteroid to the point where the game becomes a balancing act between building more thrusters for that speedy delivery, building defences to keep your cargo safe to earn space cash when you finish, and building weapons to keep the enemy at bay. As enemies are taken down by your laser turrets and rockets they drop hexnuts, allowing you to build more components. Hexnuts will collect automatically over time but the easiest way to gather them is by taking out large numbers of enemies.

Where the game really comes in to its own is during the boss battles. On a few runs you may be intercepted by pirates and others who want your booty. They tend to drop in, deploying anchors that cut your thrusters and slow you to a stop. This can be devastating for your time, but not only that… pirates are typically armed to the teeth. Boss battles then become a bit of a race against time as you try to re-orientate weapons to take them out as they circle you. It’s incredibly challenging and even a little fun. The pirates are all well voiced and the game doesn’t take itself very seriously at all. My only complaint, and it’s one I have with all tower defence games, is that every weapon fires automatically. There is no way to pick a target, pick a particular ship system to shoot, essentially you build the weapon, point it and hope the AI decides to take out the enemy ships’ weapons first, before targeting their engines.

Between missions you can go to Engineering to buy and upgrade the equipment using space cash. Laser turrets can be upgraded to include rapid-fire abilities or passive buffs to damage. Each piece of equipment has three upgrades varying from the player-activated to the passive buff, such as the missile launchers’ wider-arch ability or the laser cannons’ high-energy shot, which passively increases damage. There are a huge number of items to add to your ship and it soon becomes apparent that to unlock and upgrade them all would require a huge amount of replaying through the various runs.

Aesthetically, Space Run works well, with a very simple UI that is clear and easy to follow. The ship models and components are very well produced, detailed, with bright visual effects that follow the comic book style of the cut scenes. All of the characters are hand drawn and there is none of the inky blackness of space during runs. The only real drawback visually is the inability to zoom in on your ship and get a better look as you blast through space.

As I’ve said, the game doesn’t take itself too seriously and at times it all feels like you’re playing through an old Wild West adventure in space, with Captain Buck Mann as the grizzled cowboy who has seen it. The variety of weapons and ship components, combined with the six unique companies and their challenges should keep you interested the whole way through, but the lack of any proper story makes it feel more like you’re just completing a series of random maps. Ultimately, it feels like just another time sink and that is really disappointing.

  • Frantic action that will keep you on your toes
  • Simple and easy to understand mechanics
  • Great visuals
  • Space pirates
  • Solid mechanics that work incredibly well
  • Lack of any salient story
  • Combat is completely automated

As tower defence games go, Space Run is a very decent example. Its unique take on what I personally find a very static and dull genre is refreshing and one that I could really connect with. Buck Mann and other characters are well voiced and the soundtrack feels like it’s been pulled straight from Firefly. This is Passtech’s first game and it’s really good, the mechanics are solid, the art is great, and it can be a lot of fun. Sadly though, it does what many indie titles tend to do and forgets about story over cool gameplay. I don’t feel any need to play through the missions beyond getting a high score and unlocking the next one.

There’s currently no price point for the game on Steam so I can’t tell you if it’s worth the price of admission like I’d normally try to. If it’s less than £15 and you enjoy a good puzzler / tower defence strategy game, pick this up. If it’s more and you’re not, then I wouldn’t recommend.

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