You’re crouched outside a cave. Near the entrance stand two burly guards packing heat. Do you: Attempt to sneak past them? Bait them away by dropping pictures of Madonna touching tongue with Paris Hilton? Wander away to the southern mountains to join a Feng Shui monastery? Or just crouch and gobble that buttery Taco Bueno burrito you’ve been carting around?
Such are the travails of Space Rangers 2, a hybrid turn-based/real-time genre mongrel and all-around hoot that reaches across party lines to send you pirating, probing, trading, occasionally text-adventuring (no joke!) and ship-slugging it out in a galaxy gradually undergoing assimilation by a psychotic silicoid collective known as the Bor - we mean, Dominators.
Pick a race and profession to steer your load-out toward trading or fighting (or somewhere between), then you’re off to scuffle or scavenge up enough leadership points to lock horns with the rapacious Dominators system by system. Your ship moves in single or batch “turns” through a 2-D galaxy by mouse-clicking to navigate asteroids, planets, star bases, med labs, pirate dens, research centers and other sundry interstellar tackle. Lighting out, the easiest way to make a buck is nibbling loose ore spun off random asteroid collisions and pawning it for cash, though you’re in occasionally blood-knuckle competition for the stuff with all manner of law abiding/shunning space citizenry. Touch up your ride and you’ll eventually command the space lanes, but what you do and to whom dictates faction disposition. Piss off the “good guys” and you’ll be earmarked for only the seediest fringe hubs.
But that’s just teasing the surface. Digging into Space Rangers 2 works a bit like watching Mel Brooks toss salad in a bunny suit, and “ridiculous” rates a compliment for a change when it comes to describing all the doodads you can monkey with. See that black hole? It's a real-time arcade-with-arrow-keys game lying in ambush, and means bonus items you can use on your ship if you win. Bored with space? Zip down planet-side and squeeze out units to grab and hold hot spots in real-time 3-D land brawls. You’ll say we're exaggerating, but you can even run your own ski resort: it takes a cool million to win. Even get your Zork -on by completing wacky text adventures that crop up and - if played well - yield hard parts for your geared-out space rig.
Sure, it looks a little yesterday visually, but you don’t play Space Rangers 2 to sit on message boards bragging about your latest pimp-mapped frag-a-thons. Where else can you go full-viral with the space disease “Chekumash” and hallucinate Death Stars and Babylon 5 space stations? Go to jail and wile away the hours racing cockroaches? Peruse the galactic market and play up real estate? For only 30 bucks MSRP?
Unless you hate strategy games or have allergies to “goof” in your game, Space Rangers 2 rates a no-brainer “buy me". Few games attempt as much and succeed as completely. Even setting it aside has that uncommon tendency to send your uncoupled neurons into plot-planning overload. Plenty of drugs do less.