Space Run Galaxy is, in its most basic form, a tower defence game.
I just had to put that out there as, over the course of this review, I’m likely to forget to mention it because, as far as I’m concerned, Space Run Galaxy is so, SO much more than just a tower defence game.
In this sequel to 2014’s Space Run, you’ll be playing as the anonymous captain of a freighter under the employ of the original game’s protagonist, Buck Mann, ferrying precious cargo from point A to point B and making sure that no pesky pirates, space squid or small asteroids and meteoroids can get their grubby mitts/tentacles/sublimed icy projections on it. Or, as is more likely, blast it clean off your lovely hex-tiled hull. To aid you in this mission, Space Run Galaxy gives you the ability to add certain items to the blank slate of your starship including: repair pods, shields, more engines and, of course, blooming lovely weapons.
Each ship is made up of a number of hexagonal tiles, combined together to form a pleasing space-faring platform for you to build on. During a run, you pick from your personal stockpile of weapons, spending Hexnuts (Space Run‘s freighter-weaponising currency of choice) to place them down wherever you need them: typically wherever your sensors are predicting imminent trouble. The variety of toys you’ve got to play with is fairly large, from basic guns to plasma cannons, laser turrets to missile launchers and ion cannons to massive lightning-launching pain-inducers.
Laying out your weapons and utilities carefully is a key skill in Space Run Galaxy. Most weapons have to be placed right on the edge of your ship, there are firing arcs to worry about and there’s no way to pick up and move your guns around a bit, either – once they’re down, they’re down for good. Or until they get blasted into smithereens by whom or whatever is chasing you today. You only have a finite amount of any one item, too; if you run out, you’re in danger of leaving yourself woefully undefended and there’s no way to make them on the fly. If you want more, you’ll need to visit a shipyard with a high enough level mechanic to make it. And for that, you need cash and materials. And for those, you need to complete some contracts.
Missions are broken down into three groups. There’s story missions which offer higher rewards and help guide you through the galaxy’s four distinct sectors, within which are a number of planets that you’ll be trucking to and from for various people who’re entrusting you with their goods. Then you have the side-missions: basic jobs, for the most part, that give you some cash and a number of random goodies upon completion. Finally, there are player-created contracts, but we’ll come to those a little later.
Each run that you go on will take place over a certain amount of time, which can be marginally reduced if you can afford to build more thrusters. For the duration of the run, you’ll be assaulted by waves of enemies ranging from small fighters to vacuum-friendly space squid and, occasionally, boss-style pirates who’ve bought their ships from the same place you did but tricked them out a whole lot better. Survive with your cargo intact and you’ll be rewarded when you reach your destination with new ship schematics, previously hidden routes and manufacturing goods that you’ll use to craft new items.
At the start of each mission you’ll need to determine where your cargo is going to go. Some cargo takes up more room than others and most cargo has a distinct flavour that affects the way you’ll want to handle it. Some can be incredibly volatile and will damage adjacent cells when it gets hit, whilst others can be super-fragile and will only withstand a few blasts before going boom – and some will even take your ship with it when it blows. Cargo also determines your success rate and you’re rewarded based on how much of the cargo survived the run. But don’t worry, you’re not tied into bringing it all at once. Part of Space Run Galaxy‘s beauty is its flexibility in how you get the job done.
In most respects, Space Run Galaxy‘s is a fairly open world. Certain planets are linked to one another by trade routes and it’s along these that you’ll travel on your missions but, between them, you’ve got the option to fast travel to other places (providing you’ve already completed at least one run to them), to visit various merchants and to embark on journeys of your own. There are hundreds of side-missions that you’ll absolutely want to do, not only for the humorous characters but for the fact that, without them, you’ll never be able to upgrade your ship enough to make it out of the first sector.
Your ship is the basis from which you’ll work but, happily, you’re not just stuck with one of them – you can buy additional designs throughout the game, each of which can be expanded by buying empty cells for them. You’re never really in total control of how your ship looks but there’s enough variety to keep the different ships exciting and there are interesting differences between them that change both the way you’ll load your cargo and the way you defend it. Additional weapons and utility modules must be manufactured at a spaceport but Space Run Galaxy has been sly there, too, and you’ll never find a mechanic who can produce everything you want in one place.
When you do find the mechanic for you, though, you’ll need to make sure that you’ve brought some materials with you for him to craft items with. While there are always additional missions at each station (that you can replay to your heart’s content), these missions aren’t always guaranteed to give you the materials you want or need and the only way to move them around is by loading them onto your ship and embarking on a run. This can become rather tiring as, instead of putting in effort making cash and getting more materials or in any way advancing the plot, you’re just hoofing it to and from places where your gear is stored with barely any reward outside of being able to finally spend the bloody stuff. However, there is another way of getting your gear there: have another player run it there for you.
Space Run Galaxy, unlike its predecessor, is actually a multiplayer game and, while you won’t be able to team up with friends to take on a run, you will be able to offer them nice juicy contracts to get your precious materials to wherever you need them and, if you’re feeling generous, you can do the same in return – providing that the price is right, of course. You can also sell or buy items from another merchant or the galactic auction house: if you’ve got a surfeit of one thing and a severe lack of another, sell your excess on the market and buy with your earnings. Contracts are easily identifiable and are listed alongside the game’s standard missions, telling you exactly where they need to go and just how much cargo you’ll be expected to haul. Players can set rewards of items or cash for a successful job and, fortunately, your materials won’t be lost forever if the runner proves not to be up to the challenge – they’ll just get sent straight back to you for you to try again.
And trying again is something that you’ll need to do often with Space Run Galaxy. There’s a slight problem with the difficulty curve early game in that, only a few missions in, you’ll be tasked with delivering quite a sizeable shipment that you can’t manage at once and, where before you were up against a few fighters and a big rock or two, you’re now facing down wave after wave of heavy-damage-dealing ships and Kuiper-dense asteroid fields that can demolish everything you’ve got in a matter of seconds. This dramatic shift in challenge means that you’ll need to head on back to the safety of the first few planets and grind out a bunch of missions until you can afford a new ship type, the empty cells to bulk it out with and as many weapons, shields and engines as you possibly can to defend it. There’s no just one instance of this, either, and – fun as it is to just play the game – it can often feel as though there’s some artificial wall stopping you from just getting on with playing the game and enjoying the story.
The gameplay really is king when it comes to games like this one but Space Run Galaxy‘s characters are what gives the game its heart, complete with a little interstellar mystery. Humorous scenarios, witty dialogue and some pretty fine voice acting bring a human element to a game that, mainly, takes place from some distance above an isometric spaceship made of hex tiles. Most of the dialogue comes from little cutscenes before and after story missions but the four vendors have their own time to shine and you can expect friendly (or, at least, recognisable) faces doling out your side missions, too, with an extra helping of witty asides. It doesn’t hurt that Space Run Galaxy looks rather pretty, too, and has an incredibly well-suited soundtrack to keep you entertained while you’re out there space truckin’.
Space Run Galaxy isn’t all tactics and planning, though: there’s an element of on-the-spot decision making in there, too, in the form of special abilities. Each weapon, shield, engine or utility has a special ability – something that you can use to enhance the effect for a brief duration. These abilities cost focus points – which are generated by your engines: the more engines, the more focus points -but there are also cooldowns on each piece of equipment, meaning that, even if you’ve got a huge stockpile of focus points, you can’t just spam the abilities for a single weapon. While these are great fun to use in the standard course of play, you’ll want to make sure that you’ve got plenty in reserve when you come up against a boss.
Bosses in Space Run Galaxy take the form of pirates who have ships like yours – hex-based patterns packed to the gills with guns looking to tear you up and make off with your Hexnuts – or epic space monsters that hunt you down and smack you until you get all explody. They don’t appear too often but tend to herald the coming of a particularly challenging run – another one that you probably won’t be ready for when you first come across it – and do add an extra layer of complexity and enjoyment to an already pretty deep and rewarding gaming experience.
See? I completely forgot to mention “tower defence” at all. But it does need to be said – at its core, Space Run Galaxy is a glorified tower defence game: you have a “base” to protect, waves of enemies coming at you in often unpredictable patterns, different tools that you can use to stop those enemies and ways of upgrading your gear so that you can take on tougher challenges as the game progresses. However, Space Run Galaxy really is much more than that. The open-world mission system, the way you can buy ship schematics to try and change up your layouts and tactics, the way it lets you determine whether or not you want to split up mission-critical cargo into more manageable (and defensible) chunks, the seamless inclusion of multiplayer contracts and trading and the fact that it feels quite unlike anything else out there really pushes it into a whole other dimension. One with space pirates and awesome guns.