What is it? Space-set roguelike where your loot is the ship you just blew up.
Expect To Pay: $15/£11
Publisher: Pixelsaurus Games
Reviewed on: Intel Core i5-4440 CPU @ 3.1GHz, 8GB RAM
Link: Official site
You’re never more vulnerable in Captain Forever Remix than when you’ve just destroyed an enemy craft. You might think it’s the moment when you’re facing an opponent three times your size with six times as many guns. Not so. Carefully approaching one such vessel from its left flank, I managed to chip away at its defences, dancing nimbly around its laser blasts until it was a much fairer fight. At least until it caught on to my plan and took out my outermost bulkheads, leaving me with just a single booster. I pinwheeled around madly, firing desperately in the hope that a bolt or two might just hit its now exposed core. Incredibly, they did. Boom.
As the fragments scattered, I began to scoop them up and attach them to my tiny command module. But our battle had created enough noise to attract a gigantic blue monstrosity, which silently entered the fray from above as I was distracted by rebuilding. Two or three direct hits were enough to permanently curtail my careless scavenging. I could almost hear Liam Neeson over my shoulder, stroking his beard and musing quietly “there’s always a bigger ship”.
Like the celebrated browser game upon which this is based, Captain Forever Remix casts you as both space pilot and space pirate: you target a ship, fire a broadside into its hull until it explodes and claim its booty. But your treasure here is another man’s trash: you loot parts not coins, turning engineer as you bolt the most useful bits to your own craft and let the rest of the detritus float off into the unforgiving void. That’s the idea, anyway; quite often you’ll end up destroying the guns or shields you wanted most to get to the command module, your enemy’s last line of defence. Lose your own module, of course, and it’s game over.
At the heart of Captain Forever is a fascinating tension. You need to keep your soft core protected, but you don’t want to make your ship too unwieldy. Quick and manoeuvrable seems like a sensible choice, but if you’ve got more boosters than guns you risk leaving yourself underpowered in a firefight. And while heat-seeking missiles might seem like a smart addition, are they going to give you the precision you need to target an opponent’s weak point without demolishing its most valuable assets? It’s a game where you have to make on-the-fly choices almost every minute you’re out there. Can I afford the extra bulk of these healing modules, or should I nab an extra booster? And you thought Telltale had the monopoly on tough decisions
All of this was true of the original, but Pixelsaurus Games has built upon that elegant design in a host of smart ways. The most obvious difference is the addition of a story mode of sorts: you progress through the galaxy across ten levels, moving onto the next planet once you’ve beaten a higher-level rival, with a minute to sift through the remains and take what you need before the warp. Beat the fifth level and you’ll unlock another selection of parts to use from the off, this time with a focus on sniping. As you’d imagine, this makes for a nervy change of pace, as you zoom the camera as far out as it will go, and edge your way towards another ship’s signature, knowing they’re every bit as well-equipped as you to take a ship down from distance. Unlock the melee set, meanwhile, and you’ll engage in messy, close-quarters skirmishes. Brandishing buzzsaws to tactically dismember opponents? Why, it’s like a top-down Dead Space.
While the presentation lacks the sparse beauty of the original’s irresistible combo of crisp neon geometry and stark blackness, it compensates in exuberant character. It’s possibly the first Nickelodeon-inspired roguelike, populated by a cast of misfits and oddballs that make Ren and Stimpy look comparatively normal. Expect a light dusting of narrative rather than a deep, twisted lore: all you need to know is that the action is prompted by a girl imagining her brother has become an omnipotent pink mutant, and she assumes her alter ego Captain Forever to take him down.
Alas, in my hands, she was more Captain Ten Minutes. This is a savagely tough game on the default difficulty, seemingly a response to complaints during Early Access that it was too easy. Opponents are deft and aggressive, and occasionally comically overstuffed with ordnance. Perhaps I’m just a terrible engineer, or just not quick or clever enough to be able to improvise in a pinch, but once you’ve lost a piece or two, recoveries are difficult against foes this relentless, and retreats aren’t easy when thrusting forwards launches you into an ungainly spin. After a while I retreated to the relative safety of the sandbox mode, where your last 5,000 ship designs are stored, so if you have a build you’re particularly fond of, you can recall it and start again with a little more firepower. Here you can call upon Steam Workshop designs shared by other players; the thrill of commanding something grotesquely overpowered proved a blissful release after my struggles in the campaign.
If it’s best played in short bursts, Captain Forever Remix is the kind of game I can see myself returning to regularly, tinkering with elaborate designs before watching them get blasted into space dust. After all, while Galak-Z remains my galactic go-to for thrilling dogfights, it doesn’t let me build a ship out of space Lego.