Space Rangers HD: A War Apart Review (PC)

Despite the majesty of the upcoming new Elite: Frontier, X: Rebirth or even Star Citizen, there’s something to be said for a more low-tech experience. Playing Space Rangers HD: A War Apart may make you want to jump into the fully 3D world of X3, or send Chris Roberts an angry email telling him to hurry up, but it’ll also offer up its own delights in what is truly a genre-spanning experience. For a quick re-cap, Space Rangers HD: A War Apart is actually a HD-remake of Space Rangers 2: Rise of the Dominators, which also includes content added in the Reboot and Revolution add-ons, as well as some brand-new content for the new release... The game was originally released back in 2004.

Space Rangers HD drops you into a universe at war. A race of evil machines known as the ‘Dominators’ are slowly trying to conquer known space, numerous pirate factions also want to assert their authority over helpless planets, and depending on what kind of character you create right at the beginning, one or more of the factions in the world are going to be pissed off at you. You’ll start in the relative safety of your ‘home’ sector, but as soon as you step out of the confines of that handful of systems, anything could happen. Space Ranger HD is a truly open experience, and you’ll never play the same game twice. Even the location of your starting area will be different, regardless if you choose the same race or a different one. The character creation screen can be a little daunting at first, but it’s actually quite simple. You pick your race, and then your general starting career – Warrior, Trader, Pirate, Corsair etc... All this really does though, is determine your starting situation. What kind of ship you have, starting bank account... even starting relations with the various races.

Good luck taking on those big bastards by yourself

Being an open-ended game, you can do whatever you want when you actually start running around. The in-game economy follows its own cycle of supply and demand, with some planets randomly creating excess goods whilst others face shortages – buy low, sell high comes in full force, and you should always be on the lookout for a deal (you can tell you’re buying goods cheaply by a little thumbs up symbol). It’s kind of silly that in a universe that has an interstellar economy, there’s no way to simply call up a planet and find out what their prices are, but I suppose that would be too easy. The only way to really get a bead on what the good trades are is to order Market Reports from business centres, which will tell you what the best trades are at the time of the report. You have to work quickly though, as you’re competing against all the other AI traders as well, and at the beginning they’ll be more equipped than you are to handle large trades.

Faction missions are what you’ll probably spend most of your time doing – they’re almost always courier missions, with the only difficulty being from getting from A to B. Mind you, depending on where ‘B’ actually is, who hates you currently, and how far away it is, that can actually be quite difficult. The monetary rewards are usually worth it though, as they’re a lot more than what you’d make doing almost anything else. You can make it harder on yourself as well by decreasing the amount of time you have to get there, which also increases the reward. Sometimes you’ll get rewarded with bonus equipment for your ship, and even badges that show what a bro you are. You start off only having access to one ‘sector’, but it’s pretty easy to buy maps for additional sectors and travel to them. Be careful though, as things get tougher the further out you go. Travel is determined by your engine and how much fuel you can carry. If you don’t carry spare fuel, you’ll have to land on a planet.

What makes Space Rangers genre-spanning though is the mini-games they throw in. Some faction missions, instead of being simple courier missions, require you to complete text-based adventure segments. These could range from anything from growing a business, to forming a band and winning a competition. These missions are dispersed around the universe, and are fairly few and far between, but always form an interesting distraction from what you normally get up. Fighting the Dominators requires you to not only defeat them in the skies, but also on the ground as well. When invading a Dominator-held planet, you enter this weird RTS mode where you have a base, and you need to build robots, capture resources and ultimately destroy the dominator base. It’s probably the weakest part of the game, and the AI behaviour for your units is really clunky and poor – terrible path finding, no sense of sticking together, and even giving them a simple command like ‘attack’ causes them to run around all over the place. Finally, there are the hyperspace battles... when I first stumbled into one of these; I literally thought I’d accidentally taken some drugs. Dotted around the universe are black-holes that you can enter to help you get to another system quickly. Some you can determine the location, others you can’t, but every time you enter one you enter this highly bizarre arcade shooter/pinball segment that looks like it came straight from the eighties. You have to beat your opponent to get out of hyperspace. Very weird.

Definitely not the strongest point of the game, but it’s workable

It may not be much to look at, especially considering what’s just around the corner, but as a nostalgia trip and even just as a game, there’s plenty here for space adventurers. My only real problems with the game are the RTS segments mentioned above, and the fact that it’s hard to fly solo in this game. A dominator-held system is likely to have several battleships and a lot of smaller ships just sitting around waiting to blast anyone silly enough to enter the system, which means you have to wait for the AI to attack a system and then join. Even then though, if they decided to gang up on you it can be hard to tank that kind of onslaught in anything but the mightiest of ships, which takes a lot of grinding of missions and trading in order to afford. In fact, any kind of group encounter is hard until you’ve levelled your character up enough to control multiple ships, and you’ve gotten a better ship yourself. Still, they’ll be plenty of AI pirates who’ll try and go one-on-one with you that you can always whale on.

Space Rangers HD: A War Apart officially retails for £15.99, but at the time of writing you can pick it up on Steam for £12.79. If you wanted to wait for a better deal, it’s understandable, but you’d certainly get your money’s worth with this game. It’s a truly free and open experience that’s never the same, no matter how many times you play it. It has its moments of tedium and repetition, and the learning curve at the beginning can be quite monstrous if you don’t know what to expect, but it’s certainly not the worst game you can spend your money on. I haven’t even talked about stuff like Exploration, outfitting your ship, nodes, the faction dynamics... there’s a lot here to explore. Granted, it’s a HD remake of a 2002 game, and when the new wave of space sim games come – X: Rebirth being the first in November – it’s going to get completely overshadowed, but it’s a great way to pass the time till then. Also, Steam Trading Cards.

Top Game Moment: Trading up for your first heavy duty ship so that you can finally start doing some damage. Watch out B*****S.