'Space Crew' brings challenge (and 'Star Trek' fun) to gaming: review

"Space Crew" is a clever yet challenging addition to the lore of space fiction games, as you pit your wits against an enterprising alien species called the Phasmids.

The co-creation of Runner Duck and Curve Digital is a successor to 2017's "Bomber Crew," so much so that you can import your characters from the old game into the new one. The cute cartoon graphics and the layout of the ship mirror the older game, but that's about all that is borrowed from Bomber Crew.

In Space Crew, which launched on PC and consoles Thursday (Oct. 15), the battle potential expands all the way across the solar system. Equipped with a small crew of six, your tasks are numerous — you are told to monitor Phasmid activity, rescue stranded astronomers, or go to real-life destinations such as the Kuiper Belt's Makemake. At any moment, your ship could come under attack.

Space Crew for PC via CDKeys | Save 32% | 
Now for $12.79 at Green Man Gaming  

Space Crew for PC via CDKeys | Save 32% |
Now for $12.79 at Green Man Gaming  
Join the United Defense Force to defend Earth against the alien Phasmids. Do you have the right stuff to manage your crew? "Space Crew" retails for $19.99 but you can save 32% here.

And here's where things get tricky. The tasks are handily grouped into three types — low risk, medium risk and high risk. But don't be fooled:  The medium risk tasks are quite a jump up from the lower-risk ones. On a PlayStation 4, I found myself juggling a lot of tasks simultaneously — tagging enemies, readying my crew members to attack ships, and keeping at least one crew member semi-mobile to deal with broken ship parts and the occasional fire.

After going along for a few missions, you'll soon find yourself facing a dastardly Phasmid leader who taunts you in words similar to David Bowie's "Space Oddity," calling your little spaceship a tin can amid other similar insults. Impatience with wanting to take this alien down can get the best of you.

Or at least, that's what I found out. 

I sacrificed three ships and the better part of three crews before I realized what the trick of this game is — to keep doing the lower-risk missions over and over again and to buy ship technology to help you with the fight. Each of these missions only earns you around 1,500 to 2,000 credits, usually enough to only buy one or two major upgrades. So get ready for lots of grinding.

The game does warn you of the challenge, saying you'll need to use each of your crewmembers' capabilities for the best chance in battles. I appreciated the opportunity to call in fighters or to focus my fire to improve my weapon power, but even with that it's very easy to get overwhelmed.

The most fun and challenging moments are when aliens board your ships, gleefully firing on crucial systems and attacking any passengers on board. If you don't take these beings down with a phaser rifle quickly, you'll quickly lose all hope of mission success. It felt just like playing out an episode of the newer "Battlestar Galactica" when the Cylons sneak on board.

You also need to play defense before playing offense, in the sense that you need to make sure your ship is equipped with high-quality shields, good weapons and perhaps most importantly of all, a strong medical bay. It was only after I spent several hours patiently running low-risk missions over and over that my ship and crew acquired the skills to finally take on that pesky enemy. So be prepared for lots of grinding.

Long-time sci-fi fans will love the numerous allusions to franchises, particularly "Star Trek." 

A couple of examples: You'll frequently have the chance to "engage" your engines, after the famous franchise phrase. One of the secondary characters you'll run across is someone called Patrick Mulgrew, a clear allusion to Captain Jean-Luc Picard (played by Patrick Stewart) from "Star Trek: The Next Generation" and "Picard," as well as actress Kate Mulgrew who plays Captain Kathryn Janeway on "Star Trek: Voyager" (and soon on the upcoming "Star Trek: Prodigy").

I mostly found the play smooth going after roughly 10 hours of testing, although I did run across a few bugs in gameplay. At times I found it hard to tell a crewmember where to go on the ship. They either wouldn't respond to the command, or they would get stuck in a corner on the way there. Since seconds can count in the game (it is not turn-based, unlike the popular alien invasion game "XCOM"), I found it annoying to tell people where to go repeatedly.

Game-breaking bugs were thankfully few. At one point, I couldn't complete a secondary quest objective of scanning debris. No matter how many times I mashed the button, my communications officer refused to do the command and I had to abandon the idea. 

And twice, crew members healing in the medical bay dramatically collapsed outside of it, toddler-like, declaring "I'm down" and starting to die. I managed to rescue them both times by telling another crew member to fetch a medical kit, but it made me wonder what the point was of a medical bay if you still could die while using it. 

Overall, though, these were just momentary issues in an otherwise well-designed game. I'm looking forward to finally defeating the big alien enemies as I continue playing through, and hope to gain more cool tech along the way.

"Space Crew" is available now PC on Steam, Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch. You can save 32% with Green Man Gaming here.

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Elizabeth Howell
Staff Writer, Spaceflight

Elizabeth Howell (she/her), Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022 covering diversity, education and gaming as well. She was contributing writer for Space.com for 10 years before joining full-time. Elizabeth's reporting includes multiple exclusives with the White House and Office of the Vice-President of the United States, an exclusive conversation with aspiring space tourist (and NSYNC bassist) Lance Bass, speaking several times with the International Space Station, witnessing five human spaceflight launches on two continents, flying parabolic, working inside a spacesuit, and participating in a simulated Mars mission. Her latest book, "Why Am I Taller?", is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University and a Bachelor of History from Canada's Athabasca University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science at several institutions since 2015; her experience includes developing and teaching an astronomy course at Canada's Algonquin College (with Indigenous content as well) to more than 1,000 students since 2020. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday. Mastodon: https://qoto.org/@howellspace