From Runner Duck of prior game Bomber Crew, comes Space Crew. Published by now-parent company Curve Digital you’d be forgiven for perhaps assuming it was the same game as before, but in space. We didn’t play Bomber Crew personally, nor did PSC review it back when, so we can only go on gameplay videos. Going by them, the mechanics are superficially similar in that you have to man a spaceship and see off aliens, rather than a bomber and ze Germans.
From our point of view, we’re coming at Space Crew with a clean slate and no preconceptions as to what to expect. The premise is the evil alien phasmids are the biggest threat to human existence since Donald Trump, so it’s down to you and your heroic band of randomly generated crewmates to see them off.
Your hub is a Star Trek style starbase in earth orbit with six distinct areas. Firstly recruitment where you can and will replace those crew members lost on missions. They’re all randomly rolled with broadly similar attributes and are fairly useless at the outset. It’s only those you manage to complete a few missions with that become more malleable with extra skills and abilities.
The mess hall is simply where your stats, or in our case our spectacular lack of any real progress, are shown. Next is crew gear. It’s just that, where you equip your crew members with protective gear as necessary. These range from armour to radiation gear to oxygen masks as well as tools and pistols.
Training comes into play once your characters hit level six and are able to unlock secondary skills. Such has our run of luck been, that we’ve only managed to get two characters total to that stage. This lets you create a weapons officer who’s also good at spot repairs for example.
Spacecraft is where you can equip upgrades to your ship such as heavier shielded engines, armour plating or better weapons. All of these items can only be bought with credits earned from successful missions. And if your ship gets destroyed, you lose most, if not all of your hard-earned upgrades and face a grind to get back to a point you can face the harder missions.
Finally, the sixth area on the space station is the mission selection screen. You’ll be able to choose from basic low-risk courier missions through escort missions to all-out assaults. Once you’ve selected a mission, you choose your captain and launch your ship.
Your ship has five consoles, each performing a separate role. Most importantly the helm with your captain at the controls. Without them you won’t be able to perform evasive maneouvres or choose defensive or attacking stances. Almost as important is your comms officer’s station. They spot enemy fighters on the radar and very helpfully can call in fighter support. Without them you’re effectively flying blind.
Next you have the security station where you can perform atmospheric purges, engage stealth mode or replenish shields. There’s also an engineering station where your chief engineer can boost the main reactor beyond usual tolerances. Finally there’s a tractor beam station where you can retrieve and jettison cargo, plus any unfortunate crewmembers who find themselves outside the ship due to being purged out.
All of these wonderful stations are fine until you get to a fight with enemies. Two of your turrets have weapons officers on them, but to stand a chance you’ll have to draw from your ship’s complement to man all four. Typically we put the security officer in the front facing turret and the chief engineer on a side turret.
Crucially, and frustratingly, you can’t target specific enemies and direct fire towards them. This makes taking down enemy aces a tall order even with fighter support and focussed fire. Suffice to say, we haven’t managed it yet. If you’ve not instructed your captain to fly in an evasive pattern, you’ll also be open to enemy boarders. You can either purge them out or embark in combat with them. We prefer having a laser rifle to hand as hand to hand combat can often leave you in need of medical assistance.
The purging option runs the risk of ejecting any crewmembers who’ve joined the fight into the icy vacuum of space too, so it’s generally better used sparingly. It’s a handy way to put out fires quickly though. If your crewman is wearing a spacesuit, they’ll be OK until you can get to the tractor beam to retrieve them. But in the event they’re not, they’ll rapidly asphyxiate in the void.
Your main reactor and engines are safe to bystanders within normal tolerances, but when they start to take damage, your crew in range will take radiation damage. This is bad enough when you’re not in a fight, but if you’re under heavy bombardment from multiple attack vectors, you’ll do well to come away unscathed. One mission had us limping back to the space station with a single crewman but our ship was destroyed. Yet our crewman survived and we also managed to retrieve the one person who ejected in the sole escape pod.
One of the mission types is to escort a transport ship. It’s deemed to be medium difficulty, but is made much harder by the fact you can’t charge your jump engine at the same time as them. They’ll merrily jump away while you’re in a dogfight and you’ll get a warning they’ve encountered trouble. The problem is they operate autonomously so you can’t tell them to stick around until you’ve seen off the last threat they blundered into. Why not have the ability to send them a radio transmission and say to stay in a holding pattern in the meantime?
The worst thing is having to recoup all your armaments and ship armaments to have another stab at the harder missions. It’s further undermined when an enemy ace gatecrashes the party and stomps all over your lovely space ship and you lose it before you’ve managed to get up to strength again. Occasionally you’ll retain armour plating, but if you lose your ship cheaply you’ll be busted down to a pew pew lasers shitbox before you know it. We stopped giving our ship a custom name anyway, not wanting to get too attached to it. The enemy ace we kept facing and never quite managing to dispatch fucked up our shit just that bit too often. One targetted attack against him would get him out of our hair, but when your turrets concentrate on everyone but him and he slips away yet again, you begin to hate him.
There’s multiple phases of the campaign apparently, including an assault on the Phasmid homeworld. We only know this due to the trophy descriptions mocking us. The difficulty level is such that you will break an ankle in one fight, only for Space Crew to fuck your shit up and kneecap you in the next altercation. There’s only so many plates this reviewer can keep spinning before they sack it off altogether. There’s no assistance here, just repeated beatings. As it is, we doubt we’ll ever see the latter stages of Space Crew, we’re more So Solid Crew unfortunately.
In conclusion, we hate being micromanaged in real life and while Space Crew does a fair job of how running a spaceship might be, the level of micromanagement against often insurmountable odds is often overwhelming. It might not be so bad if you could save your game before a risky mission, but when you lose a ton of progress from a mission failure and have to claw your way back, it’s too much like reporting for a prick boss who doesn’t appreciate how hard you’re working. Unfortunately Space Crew‘s unforgiving nature is at once a strength and it’s biggest weakness.
+ Wide variety of skills and abilities to unlock
+ Bright fun design and occasionally beautiful planets
+ Unless you're massively outmatched by too many enemies, you'll feel in control
+ When you somehow pull out a completion at the death, it’s hugely satisfying.
- When you lose your ship quickly after a previous loss, goodwill is eroded
- Enemy aces are pure pricks
- You can’t concentrate your fire on a particular enemy
- Escort missions are frustrating due to dumb AI