Captain’s Log: We seem to have been boarded by hostile aliens but all the crew are just standing around. Our shields are depleted but at least the replicator is still able to make hot chicken soup.
So goes a normal mission in Space Crew, the new team management game from Bomber Crew developer Runner Duck and publisher Curve Digital. Well, all bar the chicken soup. Space Crew is a hectic and sometimes rather complicated take on running a spaceship and all its crew, as you take on new missions and fight pesky aliens who love nothing better than trying to either shoot you down or board your vessel.
You start with choosing a crew for your starship, sadly not being able to choose the ship itself bar a suitable name, your decisions on the crew will often mean the difference between life and death and it will take a good few missions to find the best mix. Thankfully there’s a pretty full on tutorial available at the start which guides you through the basics of flight, repair and combat. It’s here where you will realise the enormity of the task at hand. You’ll need to keep the engines, oxygen, shields and ship maintenance up-to-date and working while ensuring there is someone at the comms to check on the map and someone ready to go on the rear or forward guns if you get into a fight. Oh, and keep the captain busy with the mission. Once you’ve licked this, and it’s not hugely difficult if you get into a rhythm, then you’re good to go.
The gameplay is a mix of time management tasks and decision making but it’s the interface which most often let me down here. While the tasks are straight-forward, the game seems to find opportune moments to annoy you. For instance, if a fire breaks out you can quite easily get a crew member to grab an extinguisher and lead them to the fire but they won’t actually do anything else until you tell them to put it out. Send a crew member to attack the invading aliens (the phasmids) and they’ll gladly shoot down the first one and wait for you to ask again. Send someone to repair the ship outside and they’ll go to their death unless you remember to get them suited up into a space suit first. The lack of AI built into this is extreme and adding a bit of built in common sense to the crew would have vastly improved matters.
The art style used in Space Crew is a perfect fit. It’s cartoony and a very characatured take on Sci-fi TV shows, most notably Star Trek, with quite a few nodding winks. The clean visuals make it easy to play when the interface doesn’t get in the way and pulling up to a space station or watching a fire-fight is entertaining if you actually have it under control. Like with the rest of the game, there’s a lot of promise here and when the game doesn’t trip over its own interface it looks and plays pretty well.
Finally, it’s worth pointing out that at some point it will become quite samey and you’ll begin to question whether you want to go back and try another mission. There could have been more opportunities to use a better skill tree system that gives you more control over the characters, ship and missions but it mostly feels like the game pushes you along one single path of basic ship or crew upgrades each time you collect enough coins to research more skills. What this also does is make the characters feel a little less important to you, where a bit more character depth and some further modifications would certainly improve the experience, there’s nothing like building an emotional attachment to a character that may well be killed off by a radiation leak at any time.
Space Crew isn’t a bad game, especially if you’re a fan of hectic management games, but it somehow feels like it could be something a lot more if only the interface and the upgrade system were better.