Unless I am very much mistaken, the end of the world must be nigh. Alongside all the traditional pointers to the impending apocalypse, like plague spreading across the land and so on, the most worrying of signs would be when a Ratalaika Games title doesn’t just throw a cool 1000 Gamerscore at you for simply turning it on. Well, prepare for the end of days, because Spacejacked, their latest game to hit Xbox One, actually requires you to play the game and finish it in order to grab those sweet achievements. But is this departure from all we know and hold dear worth playing, or should you run in the other direction?
You are Dave, a spaceman. Not just any spaceman, an engineer aboard a starship that comes under attack by aliens in fact. Before you can say Jack Robinson, most of the crew has been kidnapped, and there is only you and the captain left unmolested. And the alien scum keep coming back. So, what is an engineer with a working knowledge of gun turrets to do? Well, look after the ship in a weird kind of tower defence/shoot ’em up/resource management game, of course.
In Spacejacked you’ll find your ship is divided into four sections: HQ, Med Bay, Robotics Lab and Engineering. Each of these areas, with the exception of the HQ, has a computer terminal in it, and it is this that the aliens will try to attack. HQ is more of a hub area, where you can interact with crew members when they are rescued, and chat to the Captain to advance in the game, as each day works as a separate entity.
The three other rooms are where the actual fighting takes place, each of which have a series of platforms in it, with mounting points to put various weaponry. Dave can choose from three types of turrets, all of which cost a certain amount of metal to build. This metal is gleaned from defeated aliens, and also – later in the game – by playing a cool little mini game called Metalius.
Anyway, back to the turrets as these are the most vital point of Spacejacked. The gun turret does the least amount of damage, but is the cheapest to make at just 20 metal. Stasis turrets not only damage foes, but slow them down as well, allowing you to gain more time, however these come in higher at 25 metal each. Finally, laser turrets do massive damage but fire slowly, and cost 30 metal. Deciding what you need, and when you need it, is key. Once a turret has been placed, if you have sufficient metal, it can also be upgraded, allowing it to do more damage. Planning your defences and placing turrets will see a wave of aliens appear, as you sit back, cross your fingers and hope your offensive capabilities will be equal to the task of killing them. If not, Dave has a blaster as a last resort, but honestly it’s a bit weedy and seems to run out of puff very quickly, so proper planning will be your friend.
Once a wave of aliens has been defeated, Dave finds himself moseying on to the next room, rinsing and repeating the idea. Any turrets that you have deployed will stay deployed throughout the game, but the problem is the scarcity of metal. Luckily, if you choose to dismantle a turret, you receive all the metal back that you spent to build it. This means, in the early stages at least, you will quite often have to strip the defences from each room in order to reinforce the next room to be attacked. This constant juggling of defences and resources is strangely compelling, and is one of the reasons that I enjoyed Spacejacked as much as I did. As the game advances, more than one room will come under attack at the same time too, so teleporting between the rooms, shoring up the defences, and trying to fix the computer terminal – which again requires metal – keeps you more on edge than a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs.
As the game goes on, new and different types of aliens appear, requiring you to adapt your strategy on the fly. Super fast jelly blob things? Stasis turrets! Space snail things? Lasers – as they do the most damage. Every so often a special alien will appear as well, and should you manage to destroy it before it self-destructs, you will release one of your colleagues from inside it. The first lady to be saved allows you to send out a metal pod to collect metal, which translates into a side scrolling shoot-em-up called Metalius. This is a nice diversion, allowing you the chance to gain extra resources; something which always come in handy. As the shooting action hots up, the game moves faster and gets more difficult, and all in all this little side game is actually quite good fun. You can only play through Metalius once a day, however, so becoming a metal multi-millionaire is quite impossible, sadly. The second guy rescued allows you to upgrade your weedy blaster, and so on and so forth. Saving your friends does make you life easier.
So, this is the story mode, and the action just gets harder and harder as it goes on. There is also another mode to play, the imaginatively named Endless mode. In Endless mode, you have to choose a ship – not the same one as the story mode – and then try to survive for as long as you can. There are achievements tied to this mode too, so you really do have to play all the modes all the way through to grab that Gamerscore. And luckily, this isn’t a chore, thanks mostly to the fact that the visuals are lovely and retro looking, almost pixel art in style with a surprising amount of personality. It helps also that the game has a great sense of humour running through it, with the conversations between Dave and his mates being amusing to read.
Spacejacked on Xbox One manages to deliver a great blend of a tower defence-style game with platforming elements and some resource management twists. Getting the right combination of turrets in the right places to stymie the invading aliens is great fun, and this is the first Ratalaika game where I haven’t come to review it and said “Yeah, but once all the achievements have been unlocked…”. The list is a challenge, the gameplay is a challenge and, to be honest, I feel more than ready to take on the next wave. Bring it on, alien scum!