Space Crew (Switch) Review
Reviewed on Nintendo SwitchAlso available on Sony PlayStation 4, Microsoft Xbox One and PC
When Runner Duck released Bomber Crew back in 2017, the real-time strategy game from the small Brighton studio drew comparisons with an indie title that came out way back in 2012, FTL: Faster Than Light. While both games were different thematically, the core gameplay wasn’t too dissimilar: permadeath, managing limited resources and deciding where to send your crew aboard your ship. Those comparisons feel more relevant with the release of the latest title from the Brighton-based studio, Space Crew, which sees the action and gameplay of Bomber Crew move into space.
Your goal in Space Crew is to manage a crew and keep them alive, completing various missions in space while you fight off the alien threat of the Phasmids. It sounds pretty simple but it’s not, due to having more stations than you have crew members. The gameplay loop is built around this element of scarcity, as you have to decide where best to place your limited resources. Do you tackle the enemy forces head on, taking the shortest route to your destination and diverting power to your weapons and going all-out-attack? Or do you play it safer, opting for a longer route while prioritising your shields or engine power, focusing on evasiveness and protecting the integrity of your ship?
It’s a question that you’ll find yourself answering throughout Space Crew, and while the early tutorials do a decent job of explaining the key mechanics in the game, once you’re through those early missions things can get a bit lairy, as suddenly you can find your shields decimated and intruders boarding your ship. This is where you need to decide how to deploy your crew effectively and quickly – while there is a ‘slow down’ option, you can’t pause and issue orders, meaning you have to think on your feet rather than take your time to come up with a solution.
Your crew is made up of some pretty standard officer types: a captain, an engineer, weapons and security officers, as well as communications and navigations officers. All of them play a vital role in getting you through a mission and having to redeploy them throughout the ship to deal with threats will decide whether the mission is successful or not. Send your navigation officer to put out a fire, and suddenly you might find yourself hitting a few more asteroids. I found myself losing half my crew early on thanks to boarders, with the decision to send my Engineer to ward off the threat a mistake, as I then I had no one who could power up my reactor to plot my escape. Don’t get too attached to crew members in this game, because you will be recruiting new ones at various points – permadeath is going to hit you at some point.
Unfortunately, that core gameplay loop of managing your resources gets boring early on. Combat is essentially ‘tagging’ enemy ships through an awkward to use first-person camera, with no control over when your ship attacks the enemy. Once you’ve tagged them, you’ll continue to fire automatically. This lack of precision takes away from the experience, with the jump to space from the skies of WWII making the experience of managing your crew more automated. While Bomber Crew required you to pay attention to where you were going, with altitude and flight headings needing to be monitored, in Space Crew you navigate your ship from area to area through jumpgates, by basically tagging the next jumpgate as if it’s another enemy. You’re effectively going through zones, clearing out enemies before turning around and heading back to base.
Levelling up your crew members to unlock cooldown abilities that you’ll need to keep your ship intact and adding better parts to your ship are costly in the game. This means that you’re going to have to grind through a lot of low-level missions in order to take on the more difficult missions and the bounties, which send you off in search of a dangerous Phasmid to take down.
What this means is that Space Crew is best enjoyed in small bursts, after a 3-4 missions in a row, it can feel a bit repetitive, which makes it an interesting purchase for the Nintendo Switch. While it benefits short bursts of play, something that the Switch offers you on-the-go unlike any other console, it means that if played in handheld/tabletop, you’re going to be focusing on some very small elements on an already small screen. I resorted to playing the game docked, with my pro controller, which was far more enjoyable and easier on my eyes.
There will be a DAY 1 patch for Space Crew, which we've been told will include any bug fixes, quality of life improvements and additional gameplay content. I didn't experience any technical issues or bugs while playing the game, which is a credit to such a small studio, but ultimately Space Crew is just missing the excitement in those big battles in space. As long as you can tag enemies quickly enough and deal with any boarders quickly enough, the majority of the missions turn into an exercise of weathering the storm, rather than boldly going where no man has go before.