I have always found games loosely following genre definitions more appealing than conventional titles, because even a small thing like the RTS bit in Giants: Citizen Kabuto can add another dimension to a game and make one feel a part of and in control of a bigger world. Space Rangers 2, however, has lots of bits and many pieces from all over the place, but instead of being a mess of disconnected gameplay elements everything is coherently built and easy to use.
Dominators, self-sustaining robots capable of open conflict with other races and conquering star systems have begun a large-scale invasion assimilating one sector after another. The origins and nature of the Dominators is already known. The main objective upon starting the game is to simply rid the galaxy of their presence, or at least rather help do so. The player’s persona is one of many “rangers” given that demanding goal, and coopering with one another makes things much easier. Throughout the game, the whole universe grows continuously and independently of the player’s actions. For once, you won’t necessarily be the “hero” who has come to save the rest of human and alien beings from evil. Space stations will be built, battles will be fought, and alliances will be made. Your ships will travel to and fro star systems and star bases, trading, buying and selling, with or without you.
"For once, you won’t necessarily be the “hero” who has come to save the rest of human and alien beings from evil."
At the same time, whether or not the player decides to participate, Dominator and allied forces will keep exchanging sectors back and forth. No one waits idly for the human player to arrive and trigger the next set of events, as the game world is completely non-linear, with each participant an autonomous part. Best of all, the human player is not even in direct competition with other rangers but rather part of a team trying its best to defeat the opposing team much like in a sports game, contributing however possible to the overall cause. This, at first, seemed bizarre to me, as I’m used to being the center of attention in the majority of games, but I eventually grew to enjoy the anonymity and the freedom from being destined to do this or that. Instead, I was left in peace to pursue my own affairs, legal or illegal, and build up a reputation among the ranger community.
At the very beginning, you’ll have to select your race and initial profession and equipment – initial because as you progress and start making decisions, race relationships will change, your ship and cargo will change, and your available set of actions will change even more quickly. What the player chooses at the start of the game is not permanent; it simply determines his situation early on, and so different race/profession combinations offer different challenges for the first few hours. As soon as this step is completed, the player is thrown into a two dimensional overhead view of a solar system with his ship at the center, and with no directions whatsoever except the ultimate goal of defeating the Dominators. Scrolling through the system, you’ll notice everything to be frozen stationary in time. To advance time, one presses the End Turn button, at which point all the queued up actions actually take place. Whether to visit one of the planetary trade centers and load the ship’s cargo bay with supplies, ask a ship for directions, blow up an asteroid to collect minerals, or help the pirate and split the loot is ultimately your decision; unless, of course, someone else had already done all that before you’ve had a chance to. I liked the idea that even though we were all working towards the same goal, it was still a free-for-all game in most respects, and if I didn’t take care of myself others definitely wouldn’t.
Having multiple decisions to make in real time would leave me far behind the computer controlled universe, which is probably why Elemental Games decided to make a turn based world here. However, they slightly deviated from the standard formula, which usually lets one move around before it is the AI’s turn, to a semi-real-, semi-turn- based mode. Think of the End Turn button as a Resume button instead, since all action stops when a turn expires and the game goes into an auto pause mode where the player plans the next move and assign its, at which point he resumes the action and the AI’s as well as the player’s prior decisions are played out simultaneously. This method has a few advantages, the best being that you won’t have to sit and wait after your turn for the computer to calculate everyone else’s movement – in other words, it’s always “your turn.”
Other than a few more of these oddities the game has a very low learning curve. It is the exact opposite of dedicated simulations or complicated games which thoroughly cover one field, while Space Rangers spreads across a few genres yet remains very simple to play. Everything I did was perfectly integrated into the game and no action required more than a few mouse clicks. Once I got going I realized that it has the playability of a straightforward first-person shooter but many times its scope, which is the reason it can get so addictive.
"...while Space Rangers spreads across a few genres yet remains very simple to play."
Visuals / Audio
There is a certain facetious undertone throughout the whole game and it is best represented by the visuals. Most obvious is the fact that the developers did not have realism in mind, nor any intentions of gravity or solemnity concerning the game world. “Colorful and playful” sums up the style of the game from a simple thing like the interface, to even the Dominators themselves which, while imposing, don’t look like gruesome alien oppressors. Space itself, including the various planets and space stations, is splendidly animated, again in an exaggerated and comical manner, which turns a potentially drab trip from point A to B had the design approach been more serious, to a lively rendition of physical laws and heavenly bodies.
The audio perfectly matches the visuals in terms of flavor and abundance with crisp sound effects everywhere. There are, however, no voiceovers or any kind of speech. I, for one, have no objections to reading text, and even those used to key game figures talking would have no problems because there are no such figures in the game, it’s just you and the rangers against the robots. In keeping with the tone set by the game art, most sounds are eccentric and funky, and coupled with the visuals one gets an uncanny vision of the future that is really refreshing.
There are a few things which, when taken separately into account, offer replay value by themselves, but when added together they really bring that value to its highest. First and most obvious is the non-linear nature of the game where making numerous decisions means having numerous outcomes and thus no new start is the same. Then there is the customizable difficulty where the player can individually adjust many gameplay aspects, making some areas harder and some easier, even to a point where first-hand participation in Dominator slaughter is not really necessary. Also, each new game is preceded by a freshly generated universe, keeping the experience novel and the sense of exploration alive. Finally, the player is given the chance to play through Space Rangers 1 which is included on the DVD, and features a different war but the same addictive quality as the sequel.
It is clear that Space Rangers started as a role-playing game that ended up with a few more genres stashed inside, and Elemental Games deserve applause for not messing everything up in the process. What they gave us is not just Baldur’s Gate in space; the core gameplay and thus subsequent gameplay elements are very different – making Space Rangers a unique experience. It is very easy to get into yet much harder to get out of, and a must for those who like games that prompt the question ‘what was I about to do now?’ upon loading a saved game.
"Elemental Games deserve applause for not messing everything up in the process."