Reviewed: May 22, 2006
Released: March 27, 2006
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Cinemare/1C Company, and Elemental Games bring us Space Rangers 2: Rise of the Dominators. The latter developer is best known for...well, only the original Space Rangers, which carved out it’s own special niche among gamers. With critics and fans alike showering praise, this sequel looks to continue that tradition of solid gameplay.
Space Rangers 2 features:
Luckily a handy tutorial and ample manual provide you with a great reference source, from all things game lore, to the essentials like navigation, combat etc. You can choose from several races and a starting profession that gives you a basic ship. Each alien species (human are here as well) has a faction rating-either good or bad. Pay attention to who isn’t on your Christmas card list, or you may end up as so much space dust.
As you embark upon your journey into the unknown region of the universe, you are caught up in a struggle with an evil race of machines known as the Dominators. As a Space Ranger, you are tasked with protecting the various planets, space stations, trade vessels and more in the sphere…but you aren’t always limited to being the conventional good guy.
If you don’t want to act as “intergalactic Dragnet” you can always be a nefarious pirate, raiding cargo transports, or going after bounties. Or even negotiate with the Dominators themselves. There are even text-based missions based on following clues, for those not interested in pure action. Be warned, these are a tad buggy, mainly due to the wonky translations into English.
Often times, you may be a tad lost as to where you are “supposed” to be during the game. Obviously, the non-linear aspects of Space Rangers 2 may lose some gamers early on, but once you start running a few missions, the natural ebb and flow of the living universe, will force the gamer to adapt. For example, if you destroy a ship, you can salvage parts of it, to either sell, or use on your own vessel. This in turns adds items and/or money to the dynamic economy, which affects future purchases or sells. Now extrapolate that across countless star clusters, and you just have to say “Wow.”
Combat makes up a large chunk of the gameplay and is handled rather intuitively. Just click on the target and manage your wide array of weaponry as you fend for your life. And by wide array, I mean countless kinds of missiles, lasers, and solid-shells- over 15 in all. On top of this, you can overhaul sub-systems like shields, sensors, druids and more. The computer can also automate many of these actions, but I found it more enjoyable with the hands on approach. Then you have the black hole…yeah…what the heck was that? You enter some odd world that requires some more twitch skills, while you hunt for precious (and valuable) artifacts (basically power-ups).
Lastly, there is a very RTS-esque warfare on the planetary surface, much different the latter space combat. The way you can customize your vast army of robots is like a dumbed-down version of Armored Core-a very dumbed-down version. The selection is quite vast. You can opt for a tracked chassis, with a few hard points to toss on a motor or two to assault enemy positions. Or go with a fast anti-gravity legs, that allow for rapid advancement over rough terrain, as well as the ability to quickly strike with light machine guns and the like.
Like the black hole, here again you have first-person shooter controls if you so wish, another key in the variety of gameplay inherent in Space Rangers 2. This is no Mechwarrior though… The main goal of planetary action is the capture of resource points, and the final capture of the enemy strongholds. If this mode sounds too watered-down for you, hell, you can even opt to not install them from disc-quite possibly the first time I have seen such a system in place. Sadly, unlike the sharp space A.I., things on the ground seem a bit mired in sub-par intelligence-for both sides. Overall though, it shouldn’t bother you that much.
The fist thing that struck me was the top down perspective, a la Freelancer; especially down to they way your tiny ship hurtles through space to and fro. While the galaxy itself is a tad sparse outside of the various planets, stars, space stations/ships, it provides enough eye candy to keep you entertained. Little touches like asteroid belts, nebulas and more, really bring home the vastness-and wonder-of space.
On the surface, visuals are elevated several notches, and perform quite well. The robots model well, and the environments are varied and very “alien” looking. There is even semi-deformable terrain! The art team at Elemental Games really put a lot of effort into this complex title, and it most definitely shows.
Like many space-based titles, Space Rangers 2 relies heavily on its auditory atmosphere to augment the visuals. Orchestral forces mix with techno-esque rifts, changing from scene to scene, as you fight, dock and so on. The beat changes slightly on the planet segments as well, becoming faster and more intense. Effects wise, you have a decent mix here, although some are rather subdued-especially the space warfare. The developers should have spent a little more time on this category, because it doesn’t match up with the rest of the solid aspects.
Space is big - REALLY big. Over 18 areas explore, plus all the “mini-games” like the black holes, planetary battles, on top of a wide career path to take for your character, adds up to infinite replay ability. Also, every time you start a new game, the whole universe changes. Pretty cool huh? Oh, and the original Space Rangers is also thrown in for kicks, a quality game in it’s own right.
You should be busy with Space Rangers 2 for months and months, and that is not counting any updates/expansions, or even player generated material. Sadly though, there is no multiplayer action to be had here.
Space Rangers 2 combines an eclectic mix of commerce, action, and RTS-elements, along with a strong visual presence. With that being said, it may falter because it tries to do too many things, instead of one aspect really well. However, you will probably grow fond of this variety of gameplay, mainly because it is a fresh approach to gaming, something that is always appreciated. And throw in a vast amount of replay value (and a free game too boot) and this title should go far. I just wish they would advertise a little better.