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Space Rangers 2 Review
Brian \'Dhruin\' Turner, 2005-12-06

Space Rangers 2: Dominators hearkens back to an older gaming era with 2D turn-based gameplay that's simple and fun with a wealth of depth. Russian developer Elemental Games has crafted an open-ended space-trading game with strong RPG elements, surprising variety, a slick interface and a sense of humour and charm - even if a little of that is lost in the translation.

Hitting the space lanes

In Space Rangers 2, players take the role of a Ranger - a corps of pilots intended to help defend the galaxy from the Dominators - a race of self-aware androids intent on taking over the universe. The Rangers believe the best way to prepare their pilots for the battle ahead is to learn the hard way: you'll be given a ship and some equipment and left to find your own way forward by trading, fighting or pirating as you see fit to develop your resources and skills. Play starts by choosing one of five different races and one of five occupations, which affects the type of starting equipment and the relationship with each of the other races. In addition, new pilots select two starting skills from Accuracy, Manoeuvrability, Technical Skills, Trading, Charisma and Leadership and then two pieces of starting equipment. After naming your pilot, it's time to hit the space lanes.

The Space Rangers 2 universe consists of around 60 randomised star systems, each containing a number of planets and stations. You'll start on a planet where you can obtain missions from the government, buy new equipment or a bigger ship, get repairs, buy and sell trade goods to make a profit and check out the latest galactic news. At any time you can call up the galactic map, which starts with a small part revealed, and consider a distant destination. The gameplay is freeform and open-ended - it's entirely up to you how to proceed.

Much of the game consists of travelling or fighting in your ship on a 2D overhead view of space, with a style of turn-based movement. This view is colourful, detailed and full of life with planets and asteroids moving in their orbits and other ships going about their business. Transporters set off hauling their freight, pirates attack civilian ships or shake them down for cash, military craft patrol and so on. While paused at the start of a turn, players can click to plot a destination or mouse over another object to view its course or next action; pressing the space bar unleashes the action for that turn, with every object moving simultaneously. Alternatively, double-clicking plots a course and starts the turn immediately, stringing the turns together until the destination is reached.

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Not that guy again…

This sense of a living universe is one of Space Rangers' strongest points. Many systems will have dozens of other ships moving about, including other Rangers who are in direct competition with the player - there's even a ranking system and leader board to track your performance against each of them. Some ships will call for your help when attacked by another, or even approach you to propose an advance attack on another ship. It's hard to know exactly how intelligent the AI is but sometimes you'll discern behaviour that seems like individual personalities: one specific pirate drove me mad by seeming to follow me to different systems, always harassing my ship, then zipping off with his superior speed to take refuge at a planet if I landed any significant damage on him.

This fluidity also exists on a global scale. Trade prices are dynamic and you won't be able to exploit one trade run for very long. Dominators are constantly launching new attacks and taking over systems - and Rangers and the military launch periodic counterattacks that are sometimes successful, sometimes not. All of these real events are highlighted in the news and can often be used by the player, such as joining in on an upcoming offensive on the Dominators.

The main hook to Space Rangers' gameplay is equipping and upgrading your ship and this is superbly done with layers of depth. First, there are many different ship hulls, each with different weight capacities and slots for equipment, weapons and artifacts. Each hull can be fitted with an engine, fuel tank, scanner, shields, multiple weapons and some hulls support grippers, droids to repair hull damage and more. Weight is an issue with most hulls, so choosing the best load-out can be complex, as well as deciding whether to have more equipment or streamline for speed. In addition to buying equipment, rare artifacts can be found or awarded after a quest -- and then there are the stations that can research or upgrade gear. As the game unfolds, new technology becomes available and slowly propagates across the galaxy. A brilliant twist is that the weight of individual items and their "power" vary, making the range of options endless - you'll be constantly searching for that perfect item.


In addition to trading, fighting, extorting or pirating, planetary governments often have missions on offer and these can be particularly lucrative in the middle part of the game. Most missions involve transporting something to another system within a certain number of days and the speed of the player's ship (including fuel and jump capabilities) are a strategic consideration. Some missions will affect your reputation with other races, which can have consequences. Missions are accompanied with some story background and are often humorous with numerous pop-culture references. Other mission types include assassinations, patrols - and text adventures. The text adventures are mini-games like old-fashioned Infocom games, with detailed scenarios and multiple choices. You'll encounter bizarre quests such as an intergalactic pizza-making contest, a strange Olympic games with alien events and getting out of prison.

If text adventures aren't strange enough, Space Rangers 2 also has an optional ground-based Real Time Strategy mini-game with giant mechs. In this Planetary Battle mode, players attack Dominator bases by generating mech units from limited resources - or you can take control of an individual mech and rampage across the map Mechwarrior-style. The last mini-game is black-holes, which play out like a top-down arcade action shoot-em-up. These disparate elements might seem out of place and more than a little weird but they are both entirely optional and serve to break up the main play - I found the RTS portion a little clunky but had great fun with the black holes.

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Nearly there...

Space Rangers 2 is a delightful game to look, although those that demand games must push enough polygons to stress their Geforce 7800GTX SLI rigs might overlook the charm in the artwork. While the sound effects are largely forgettable, the ambient and melodic soundtrack hits the mark. I found Space Rangers 2 bug-free and polished, apart from the dodgy translation. The interface is worth a mention, with some nifty ideas that really work such as a bookmark system that lets you easily attach notes to a taskbar across the bottom of the screen with a single click and an in-game search for finding prices, equipment and other ships. The system requirements are also low - it even ran smoothly on my low-end notebook with integrated video.

Space Rangers 2 is the most complete and enjoyable title I've played this year. The basic elements all work, the depth and range of equipment is astonishing and the text adventures, mech battles and black holes mix up the pace. Despite the 1300 odd words of this article, I haven't discussed probes, research, stims, diseases, wingmen…the list goes on. There are two main criticisms beyond the spotty translation: like most space traders, you start out too weak to pirate or fight with much success, so a pattern of trading to earn money to buy equipment to fight better, emerges. To be fair, most space-traders suffer from this phenomenon to some degree. Second, I'd like the combat to have been further developed; as it is, most of the strategy comes from developing the right ship load-out rather than during the actual combat.

Usually this last paragraph is reserved for a nice summation for those that just skip to the end and the score. Here's the bottom line: if terms like "2D", "Turn-based" and "space-trader" don't chase you away, order the game - it's that damn good. If those terms conjure fond memories of games like Star Control 2 or Escape Velocity: Nova, make it priority shipping.

The English release of Space Rangers 2: Dominators includes the original Space Rangers game and is sold on DVD only as simply "Space Rangers", from Excalibur Publishing. This is a UK release, so readers from other locations will need to order online.

  • Elemental Games
  • Excalibur Publishing

  • The Verdict

    RPG Dots:   (9/10)

    The ups and downs:
    Freeform gameplayMedicore translation
    Lots of variationCombat needs more options
    Living world 
    Huge range of ship fitouts 
    Humorous style 
    Game Overview
    Version: UK release
    Multiplayer: No
    Setting: Space
    Combat: Turn-based
    Play Time: 40 hours+, very replayable
    Voice-Acting: No
    Average Reader Ratings: 8 (25 votes)
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