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Space Run Review: Making the Kessel Run

Platform: Windows PC
Developer: Passtech Games
Release Date: 6/13/14

 

The tower defense genre exploded a few years ago; it was fairly basic in mechanics and execution, intuitive and accessible for anyone to pick up and translated quite well to the burgeoning market of mobile gaming. Things have slowed down a bit recently but every so often a developer comes along to provide a new twist to the familiar formula of placing various types of defensive and offensive structures on a map to fend off waves of enemy attackers. One-man studio Passtech Games presents a unique spin on the genre in Space Run, giving you control of your very own modular spaceship and tasked with defending different types of cargo using shields, generators and lots of pew pew lasers.

Space Run stars the very Han Solo-inspired Buck Mann, a professional runner of space who’s motto is “When you need it there yesterday.” The story is mostly just Buck taking various cargo-moving jobs from five different factions. Most missions are introduced with a fun little dialogue session, of which the voice acting is surprisingly great and the writing legitimately funny and light-hearted. The owner of Nuclear Star is clearly a shady mob boss trying to dump off his nuclear waste, while the AI running AI Squared is easily Buck’s equal when it comes to trading barbs. The play between Buck and his dry android co-pilot is nothing novel but I still found myself grinning nearly every time they argued.

When it comes to the tower defense genre the story is typically an afterthought compared to the gameplay, and it’s gameplay where Space Run really shines. The normally static map design is applied to a spaceship hurtling through space. The ship is on autopilot and simply travels from left to right, though you can (and should) alter its speed by adding more thrusters. The interface contains a handy track to watch how far into the level you’ve gone and contains helpful markers designating how close you are to hitting Express and Lightspeed Delivery speeds.

Reaching the end before your scheduled time results in a higher score and more stars for the level, but if you fail to reach the end by your promised delivery time, you fail. Each level has a potential five stars, two for reaching the fastest speed, two for transporting 100% of the cargo, and one just for surviving the run.

space run combat

Speed isn’t everything, however, and in fact usually has to take a backseat to defending your ship from constant attacks by wayward asteroids and intrepid pirates. Although your ship is constantly moving the camera stays centered (though you can still move and zoom), and enemies and objects come at you from different sides. Paths are clearly shown when hovering over them and seeing an enemy for the first time unlocks its entry so you can examine what weapons it has. Some ships are actually competitors that are non-combative and marked green. Apparently Buck is quite the cutthroat business man as part of the strategy is destroying these ships for cash to build up your own.

To defend your precious cargo you only have access to a single weak laser that you can place on any hex grid of your ship – provided at least one space faces out. Things quickly get interesting as you can reorient the 45 degrees that the cannon covers to multiple directions using the mouse wheel. Like all tower defense games tower placement is key, but in Space Run managing your existing towers becomes just as important. Placing that laser directly in front of the ship could mean a liability when enemies suddenly swarm from the Northwest; a better placement would be on the Northeast corner so the laser can swivel around as needed. Multiply this by dozens of laser cannons and suddenly battles become a stressful but fun exercise in managing your defenses.

Defeating enemies rewards you with Space Run’s currency (hex nuts) which allows you to construct more towers. Towers come in three different categories, offensive, defensive and utility. Offense contains three progressively more powerful versions of the laser cannon and missile launcher, defense is mostly made up of progressively stronger shields while utility is for power generators and thrusters.

space run surrounded

The cheapest, most basic equipment requires no power to operate, but more powerful towers demand a power generator be placed adjacent to them to operate, and most towers require power in order to activate their unlockable special abilities. These abilities range from splitting the twin blaster into two independent laser cannons (facing two different directions) to reactivating a depleted shield for a precious few seconds.

Abilities are unlocked with space credits, the primary award from completing missions and directly proportionate to how many stars you achieve. I found it was much more useful to fully unlock each tower’s tech tree (each tower has three upgrades with the final being an overall passive boost) before moving too far down the list, as the biggest and baddest towers take up a ton of room and power, and are rarely able to fit on the larger but increasingly crowded ships.

space run towers

I was impressed to find that each mission gave you a different ship design. The beginning missions have a super tiny ship with only a handful of hexes with which to place the most basic towers, but by the end you’ve flown some truly monstrous designs (as well as some familiar ship layouts, one of which is straight-up the Millennium Falcon) capable of housing dozens of towers and lots of various configurations of lasers, missiles, shields, generators and thrusters. Each ship is like playing an entirely new map on a standard tower defense game, and while you lose the aspect of funneling enemies and creating mazes, having to adjust your weapons and monitor your shields and engines more than makes up for it.

A major challenge in each mission is transporting the cargo, which takes up real spaces on the ship and helps differentiate the different factions. Big Cargo has basic shipping crates but you gain the ability to build more of them (taking up more space on the ship) to try and get a bigger monetary reward at the end. Out Of This World’s alien crystals drain power from nearby structures, while VIP Travels’ human cargo must have their lofts facing out of the ship – exactly where you’d want those laser cannons to go (oh and they must be powered as well or they slowly die, stupid humans).

Each of the five factions has six missions, and each mission lasts roughly 10 minutes. The later missions will definitely cause several restarts, however. While I found the challenge level to be very well balanced as it ramped up in difficulty, the early game gets more and more critical, and it’s tricky to know the right build until you’ve seen what you’re up against.

space run asteroids

About a third of the missions contain boss battles by the recurring villainous pirates Brown Beard and Captain Black, who’s antics begin to wear thin by the sixth time they ask Buck to surrender his cargo and he once again refuses. They appear at the end of a mission, anchor themselves to Buck’s ship (which turns off all your thrusters, giving you a major incentive to kill them quickly) and begin to circle around unleashing hell. These fights are fun and suitably challenging as their ship rivals your own and contains the exact same towers you use. In fact most enemy ships apart from the small fighters use the same modular design and you can quickly identify if you’ll need the ion cannon to take out their shields or the Anti-Missile tower to shoot down a volley of enemy missiles.

Just completing all the missions for each campaign should last a good ten hours, and attempting to five star each mission will take you considerably longer. Still, I was a bit disappointed that there wasn’t more to do. Much of the appeal of the genre is the replayability and amount of content you can dive into. Defense Grid: The Awakening had multiple challenge scenarios for each mission, while Orcs Must Die 2 had the super long Endless survival modes. Space Run could’ve benefited a lot from new challenges or post-game scenarios, but as it stands provides a good amount of content, especially for the budget asking price.

space run brown beard

 

The appeal of constructing a spaceship on the fly and stressing about lasers and shields while defending against waves of enemies is incredibly fun, and the addition of abilities for each tower helps keep the action involved and exciting even if you’ve nothing left to build. While Space Run lacks additional challenge modes or post-game activities, the 30 missions provide plenty of fun and action, and very much worth the asking price.

A review copy of the game was provided by the publisher.