I Can Totally Hear That Screaming

HIGH Coming back from a grueling mission and seeing home base.  

LOW Losing a ship and all the crew.

WTF Why do I not keep my lower-grade purchases?

While most videogames featuring spaceships put players in the pilot’s seat for breakneck acrobatics and aggressive gunning, Space Crew from Runner Duck takes a different direction. Those things still happen, but rather than the player re-enacting scenes from their favorite space opera firsthand, they’ll be micromanaging the personnel who make it happen.

There’s not much story here – players control the crew aboard a bricklike spacecraft while taking on various missions. As they try to accomplish their tasks, they’re constantly beset by hostile aliens called the Phasmid. The previous two sentences basically sum up the entire narrative, but that’s just fine since Space Crew is all about the mechanics.

The player’s ship is built to create tension – there are nine ‘stations’ (seats, basically) for crew aboard the ship, but the maximum number of hands is six. Since there will always be at least three stations unattended, the gist of play is about prioritizing what needs attention at any given moment and bouncing between functions as needed.

Too many aliens buzzing outside? Send the Security officer to man the front gun. The reactor’s leaking? Send the rear gunner to the center of the ship and have them pull Engineer duty for a while. Over the course of any mission there are several things that can go wrong, so the player must constantly identify and solve the biggest problem at any given moment.

PROTIP: don’t let malfunctioning oxygen generators remain broken.

As Space Crew’s campaign progresses, players will unlock new skills for crew members who survive long enough. They’ll also earn money and research points needed to upgrade the ship itself – better engines, stronger guns, more shielding and the like.

Space Crew’s basic concept is a winning one proven via its predecessor Bomber Crew. In that title from 2018, the player manages a WWII flying fortress as it runs missions in Europe — soldiers must douse burning engines, refill ammo, patch hydraulic systems and more, all while flying through hostile territory with skies full of enemy fighters. It’s a nerve-wracking, tense experience that was sometimes too difficult for its own good. This is important to note because despite being a sequel, Space Crew feels like an overcorrection.

While I have no issue with Space Crew being easier than Bomber Crew (although that’s not to say it’s easy) the problem is that it feels simpler. Perhaps the devs are responding to previous feedback, but compared to Bomber Crew there’s less to do on the ship, less to do in space, and not much of anything for players to sink their teeth into.

I went back to Bomber Crew to refresh my memory and after two or three flights I was adjusting the altitude of the craft, ordering my nose gunner to open the bomb bay doors and prep bombs, my radio staff was scanning for hazards while the navigator was calling out waypoints, and more. There was always something going on and something to manage. It feels busy, but in the best way possible – the sensation of overseeing every aspect of a dangerous flight comes through loud and clear.

In Space Crew, large stretches of time are spent watching the ship cruise from one warp point to another with little to do besides watch the gunners do their thing autonomously. Once in a while I would need to relocate a crew member to replenish shields, but that was about it. To be clear, I’m not asking for difficulty spikes, it just feels as though there aren’t many tasks that fill the time in interesting ways.

It doesn’t help that the mission variety and the missions themselves fall into predictable, repetitive patterns almost immediately. Too many assignments are simply flying to (and through) warp gates multiple times to drop something off, pick something up, or kill everything. Compounding this monotony is that the Phasmid will attack after every warp jump — it’s like clockwork. Warp, fight. Warp, fight. Warp, fight. Combat alone isn’t enough to keep a player’s hands meaningfully busy, and it all blends together without many surprises or variations.

It feels strange to say, but Space Crew is the rare example of a sequel that feels like a step backwards. I appreciate that it’s less punishing, but with fewer elements to manage and less variety in the missions, it could pass for a prototype of the game Runner Duck made two years ago. Too much of the formula has been stripped away and this overly-simplified experience suffers for it.

Rating: 5 out of 10

Disclosures: This game is developed by Runner Duck and published by Curve Digital. It is currently available on PC, PS4, XBO and Switch. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the Switch. Approximately 8 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was not completed. There are no multiplayer modes.

Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated T and contains Blood and Violence. This stuff is pretty tame. There’s no salty language or sexual content, and the violence is pretty abstracted. Apart from ship-to-ship combat in space, aliens sometimes board the player’s ship with guns and can shoot crewmembers down, but it’s not explicit or gory in any way.

Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: I played the entire 8 hours on mute and had no problems. All information comes via text and everything relevant to gameplay is displayed on screen. Text cannot be altered or resized. (See examples above.) This game is fully accessible.

Remappable Controls: No, this game’s controls are not remappable.

Brad Gallaway
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AJ Small
AJ Small
3 years ago

I see what you mean about ‘over correction’ Bomber crew was frantic and stressful, but the dial just needed to be rolled back a smidge, not as much as you describe