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Hands on: Space Run (OS X, Windows)

updated 08:00 pm EDT, Sun July 13, 2014

Spaceship-based twist on tower defense game forces confined strategy, resource management

It's hard to imagine what commerce and shipping might look like once humans expand into the far reaches of the universe. One take is that humans in the future could evolve an existing model, like truck driving, to deliver goods to the corners of space. Space Run by Passtech Games and Focus Interactive gives gamers a look into how such a business might unfold, through the use of strategy and resource management to fend off the dangers lurking in the darkness. But is Space Run enough to entice players into high-speed shipping lanes full of pirates and asteroids, or are they better off sitting this one out?

Space Run, in its basic form, is a tower defense game. Instead of placing towers at choke points to mow down the oncoming waves of baddies, the game takes the inverse path. Piloting a ship in a straight line through space, obstacles are thrown at the spaceship from all directions. Players captain a series of ships as Buck Mann, a former racer that turned to space running to earn a living. By picking up freelance shipment jobs, Mann earns notoriety and unlocks perks to make it to the end of difficult runs.

Players looking for story need to look elsewhere, as Space Run only has enough to tie shipping events together. By working up through the ranks of freelance shippers, Mann earns more lucrative shipping jobs with some of the major players in the universe. Reputation is earned via star badges, which are obtained by making a successful delivery on a rating of one to five. One being the ship made it to the end slowly with a partial shipment, while five means the delivery was lightning quick and surpassed expectations. As more badges are acquired, more shipping jobs are opened up for players.

Credits are also earned based on the rating of the delivery. Players can use the credits to unlock weapons, power generators, shields, engines and more through the engineering menu between running jobs. Star badges also come to play in this section, as certain items aren't available to upgrade or unlock until the player's reputation is high enough. Each of the items can be upgraded three times with different abilities once the item itself is unlocked for building.

Once a job is selected, the real work begins. Players are taken to a space hanger where the cargo can be placed on a space runner. Each piece of the cargo load needs to be loaded onto the ship along with an engine to get things started. A limited amount of credits are granted to ship's pilot once it launches to begin the delivery trek. The ship for each level is different, changing in the number of placement spots for cargo, defensive objects and artillery.

These spots are important, as each item placement takes up a specific number of spots on a hex grid. Items start out as taking one spot at a time, but begin taking up more and more as ships get larger and technology is upgraded. The proper amount of weapons and defensive items needs to be accounted in order to make it to the end of the level. Stray asteroids that collide with the ship can destroy turrets, or tear away portions of the ship if a miscalculation is made.

Strategy in Space Run comes down to knowing what firepower you need in what direction, and properly managing resources. Currency is earned as rival ships, attacking pirates and asteroids are destroyed, showing up as gears or large clusters on the map. Players have to collect them by running the mouse cursor over them, otherwise they just drift in space. Managing currency is extremely important, as not having enough can lead to a premature end to the run. It comes down to balancing the firepower focused on destruction, the amount of money spent on defenses and if each item is worth repair or recycling.

Micromanaging in Space Run becomes the main focus of the game. It's satisfying to destroy gigantic asteroids that can take out payloads if players aren't ready, or obliterate pirates trying to stop a delivery. The catch is the satisfaction occurs for reasons beyond the obvious victory over an opponent: it's about getting the resources from wreckage that gives a player a larger pool of cash to work with, and brighter outlook on the next incursion. While many of the fights are brief, the constant adjustments to the spaceship and the frantic pace they inspire gives Space Run a deep level of strategy. The problem is that the strategy isn't enough to sustain extended play.

The major thing holding Space Run back from being a great game is the lack of appeal after only a few hours of playtime. At hour three, players see everything they need to see to get a complete feeling for the game. In fact, it loses its luster at that point, as the micromanagement of the guns and placed objects starts to feel less like fun and more like a chore. Micromanagement might be the core strategy of Space Run, but it doesn't keep it from feeling stale and boring.

Part of the problem is associated in how the spaceship is handed. Players have no control over the positioning or movement of the ship, other than stacking engines on it to speed up how fast it reaches the delivery port. For a strategy game this seems short-sighted, since it takes away a useful element to dodge attacks or otherwise gain a better position to press an advantage. However, since Space Run is a twist on tower defense, it forces people to think about how they can use everything in the best way possible.

Space Run is easy to jump into for a quick game, but it feels like it's on the wrong platform. In function, there's nothing wrong with it. Space Run looks great and has a high level of polish, outside of requiring clicks instead of taps on a MacBook Pro touchpad. However, for a game sitting at that magic indie price on Steam of $15, the value just isn't there for players that might only get three hours of enjoyable gameplay. It seems that Space Run would be better off on a tablet for gaming on the go, or between television shows.

Space Run is best for: Players looking for a quick game to get into that has deep micromanagement strategy.

Space Run is not for: Players that grow bored easily or require complete control of strategic elements.

By Jordan Anderson

by MacNN Staff



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