Games such as Minecraft have a lot to answer for. Back in the old days, even with an indie release, you paid your money and you knew what you were getting. Now, increasingly you're not buying into a game so much as a vision – a skeleton on which greatness will hopefully one day hang like so much delicious meat. For the time being, Space Pirates and Zombies is still one of those skeletal games.
Tomorrow though, who knows?
The action is an odd mix of topdown shooter and very basic 4X strategy. You're in charge of a mothership on a journey to the galactic core in search of riches, bouncing from star system to star system to collect the tech and supplies necessary to survive. Every star system has jump nodes that you must bribe or blast your way past, along with two opposing factions to either help or hinder in exchange for goodies and XP. As you climb the levels, blowing up enemy ships via relatively simply arcade combat, you earn unlock technologies that level you up from a single mining tug to a small fleet of customised ships, which in turn let you smash through ever more heavily protected systems.
There's a bit more to it than that, but SPAZ is far more of a shooter than such initially similar-sounding games as Space Rangers 2. There's that faction system for instance, but it's no more complicated than every star having two groups at war, with whichever one that happens to like you willing to trade for blueprints and favours instead of shooting you on sight.
Mostly though, you fly canned, randomly generated missions for whichever side you choose to back – though with faction rep being system specific, even this has little consequence. It all gets very grindy, very fast. This is not helped by the suicidal AI or having to zoom out until everything is barely a dot to avoid being obliterated by off-screen fire. You can choose to play on a big map where the number of systems makes progress glacial, or a small one where the difficulty spikes force you to grind until your clicking finger turns to dust, but either way it still boils down to glancing at the numbers and levelling up for another thrilling round of My Space Cock's Bigger Than Your Space Cock.
SPAZ doesn't necessarily need more depth, and does get more interesting as you push through the galaxy, but don't expect fast progress, or much variety from system to system. By the time I'd played the millionth 'shoot the barrels' type mission, I was watching my TV more closely than my monitor. This side of the game, however, is by far the most likely to be bulked up in the next few months, and both the premise and shooting action are solid enough to support that. As a gamble, you can do worse than Space Pirates and Zombies. To be certain though, keep an eye on the patch notes.
The germ of a cool game, not quite ready for prime time, but with plenty of potential if the right choices are made.