Space Rangers HD: first look at Katauri's upscaled refit of the genre-busting space game
Space Rangers is one of those games you look at and think, “I'm sure I've played that.” Which you might have done – but it might have been ten years ago or it might have been the sequel, Space Rangers II, which popped up on GOG a couple of years back. This HD remake mingles genres too, so that even if you thought that you'd recognised one of the screenshots, the rest would leave you confused.
I wouldn't call Space Rangers a 'mix' of trading game, space sim, RPG, RTS and text adventure – it's probably closer to a suspension, possibly a colloid if I'm feeling generous. The top level game generates a random map each time you start a new game: a huge galaxy, full of other NPC 'rangers' just like you. And, much like the original STALKER promised, they can complete the game before you.
You're battling against a race of sentient machines – called, with a bracing lack of irony, the dominators. Out in space you fight them and the ever-present space pirates in a chaotic top-down 2D space battle, like a real time version of FTL. It's chaotic and silly, and very familiar.
Down on the planets though, the combat changes to an RTS, much like the ancient Bitmap Bros robot game 'Z'. You use your legion of mechanical men to capture factories, building further units of your own design therein, allowing you to modify your force in reaction to the enemy's tactics. And, as with the similarly-resurrected classic strategy game Carrier Command, you can either order these automatons about, or assume direct control.
Whether in space or on the surface, conversation elements interject, playing out as pure text adventure. These are substantial dialogues - given equal weighting alongside the combat. For the HD version, the devs are introducing a story branch where you can either help the coalition by infiltrating the pirate navy or go rogue and become a villainous pirate leader yourself. Arr. More peculiar than the combination of these disparate components is the fact that the game allows you to skip any one. You can play the game without personally firing a shot, or, if you're a laconic sort, cut the chat completely.
The original Space Rangers was played only by a brave few, but those who did loved it – it's got a 92% average on Metacritic. Can simply upscaling an old favourite to fit modern formats satisfy our sophisticated modern audience? Hell, yeah.