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NEED TO KNOW
What is it? A nutty space roguelike based on the DIY ship creator-shooter from Farbs
Influenced by: Asteroids, LEGO, Ren & Stimpy
Play it on: i5, GTX460M, 4GB RAM
Alternatively: Reassembly, Sid Meier’s Starships
Copy protection: Steam
Expect to pay: £10.99 / $15
Publisher: Pixelsaurus Games
Developer: Pixelsaurus Games
Link: Official site
Outer space combat, then. A genteel pursuit, correct? Graceful jousts ‘twixt nimble silver arrowheads, wouldn’t you agree? Wrong. In Captain Forever Remix, now available on Steam Early Access, battle amid the stars is comparable to surgery on a dance floor, with each participant playing the role of both patient and operator. It is vicious, surreal and disarmingly childish, if not a massive departure from the cosmic carnage of 2009’s Captain Forever.
An illustration: two giant warships composed of flickering neon rectangles approach each other through the atmosphere of a Venus mysteriously coated in snot (the game’s villain is actually your character’s younger brother, Kevin, a creature of prodigious creativity and small astronomical learning). Throwing caution to the ether, they lock together like mating mantids. Lasers pound each other at point blank range. Buzzsaws chew on bulkheads. Cutting beams sear through hulls to jellify the shield and repair systems tucked within.
Eventually one craft lands a decisive blow, chopping its opponent in half. Functional but fatally off-balance, the victim attempts to escape but can only spiral desperately, firing in all directions. The other captain’s priorities change: rather than annihilating the enemy, she looks to dissect it. Every vessel in Captain Forever is built around a command module, whose colour indicates its level. Nuke this core and anything attached to it will drift away intact, ready to be seized with the mouse pointer and stapled onto your own craft. You can even do this in the thick of combat, steering with WASD while your other hand plucks at debris before it’s vapourised in the crossfire.
In a game built around half-hour playthroughs and sheer level differences, where a green laser will barely scuff the surface of a purple bulkhead, this sets up a wonderful tug-of-war between self-improvement and survival. The more fearsome the ship you field, the less likely there will be anything left of your adversaries to salvage, which could spell doom in the long run. Carpeting the prow of a vessel with sniper lasers might help you see off a more advanced yet short-ranged foe, but how will you rip out the other ship’s heart without eviscerating all those tasty shield emitters planted in front of it?
There are other, more pressing reasons not to put all your weapons on the prow of a ship. As the victor of our duel moves in for the kill, a volley of pulsing purple orbs cleans out its rear engines in one fell swoop. A third ship appears at the screen edge, flanks bristling with launchers. Did I compare this to surgery on a dance floor, earlier? Because if that’s the case, be aware that all the onlookers have scalpels too.
The original Captain Forever is the work of Jarrad "Farbs" Woods - you can play it for free in a browser. The Remix, developed by Pixelsaurus Games, differs in a couple of ways. One is structural: rather than a single playspace that’s gradually populated with tougher opponents, the new game is broken up into ten level-specific maps. On nuking a higher-level foe on each map, you’re given 60 seconds to riffle through the wreckage before automatically warping to the next.
It makes for a more considered play without entirely sacrificing the hand-to-mouth urgency of its predecessor. Surviving enemies leave you alone during the intermission, and any unattached components nearby warp alongside you, so there’s scope for a bit more fiddling on the other side of the jump. Blowing up ships also earns cash to spend on augmentations for the new starter kits, specialised bundles of components that are picked at the outset, and which skew the procedural enemy generation towards certain weapons (and thus, item drops). Given enough investment, perks such as random shot deflection or healing-on-kills can seriously boost your chances. Purists may call this dilution, but it’s all part of clarifying your style: perks aren’t shared between kits, so pouring cash into a set means committing to a particular set of tactics.
Purists may also dislike the change of aesthetic. The Captain Forever of 2009 is pretty haunting for a game in which you can build a dreadnought that’s 90% scattergun - a neat webcam feature throws the spectre of your helmeted head across the action, and death screams are rendered as eerie, digital burbles. The Remix trades that out for Ren & Stimpy scenery, playground banter and a cast of mutant household pets. As a child of the ‘90s I warmed to all this immediately, but others may feel that something has been lost in hyperspace.
Still, it’s easy enough to forget these trifles when you’re locked in a giddy lategame three-way, all but unable to see your disintegrating ship for exhaust plumes and torpedo volleys. And really, the sweet yet savage Saturday morning cartoon vibe is entirely fitting. Captain Forever Remix may not capture the realities of space combat, but it does represent the videogame at its most improvisational, gleeful and brutal.
Swish, stately overhaul of an already top-notch DIY arcade create ‘em up, with more structure and customisation options than the original.
By Edwin Evans-Thirlwell