In space, nobody can hear you scream. But that doesn't stop you from tearing around, blowing up other ships, and slapping their debris onto your rig before running away from some angry bogeys flying in on your six. When a sleep-deprived pilot puts you in charge of his ship, you have to navigate the depths of Captain Forever, fighting other pilots for pieces of their ships to build the meanest spacecraft on the galactic block. And survive you must, as there is no "triple A" in space...
The latest game from indie-maverick Farbs is a build-your-own-spaceship experience, but instead of trawling through shopping menus and tweaking your jalopy to a mean pirate-killing machine, you run-and-gun between the stars, blowing up other ships and taking what's left. To beat a ship you have to eliminate its core, a red square surrounded by a clutter of other blocks, guns and boosters. Once the core is turned into space dust, the remaining parts float free, allowing you to to grab and slap them onto your own ship wherever you like. There is no economy, just nab, stash, and run. Nab with the left mouse button. Stash by pulling pieces near your ship (they snap on like magnets). Then run by not being where you were when the looting took place.
When attaching pieces to your ship, you have to take physics into account. Your ship must be streamlined, else it will veer to one side when flying around space. Booster placement must be balanced or the ship will chug along like a learner driver on a highway. Even the guns have to be distributed evenly. But these are not decisions to be made at the scene of a massacre, mainly because other ships eager to take you apart tend to hover around. Often you swoop in like a vulture, circling a battle between more superior ships and quickly snatching parts before running off to a quiet corner and re-arranging yourself. The maxim that a coward lives longer is at the core of the Captain Forever experience.
Eventually you gather enough firepower to take on other ships, tearing them to pieces and grabbing any surviving parts. But tactics (and by tactics I mean flying in circles and taking cheap potshots at the other guys before they can fire at you) continue to apply as more powerful ships arrive. Different colours signify higher tech levels in Captain Forever: a purple ship has better armour, more powerful guns and stronger boosters than, say, the puny green class. That means you want the purple stuff. But since you are largely decked out in sub-purple gear, a head-on attack will leave you with very little intact. And in Captain Forever, when you lose your boosters you are dead in space. Done, over, finished. There are no second chances in the world of space scavengers. That makes for a very addictive and pretty difficult game.
Analysis: The first thing you notice about Captain Forever is how little it explains anything. Apart from a brief plot to why you are blowing up other ships and a small screen outlining the controls, nothing is really revealed. For the first few minutes you will not know what to do. For the first few games you will be the saddest space vulture around, getting blown up easily as you struggle to figure out a working configuration. It's a given that your initial attempts at engineering will boil down to grabbing anything you get your pointer on and slapping it all together.
But soon you grasp the nuances of the game. You learn that boosters should be arranged in certain ways for good speed and turning. You discover that keeping a ship lean and mean by dropping inferior blocks instead of just throwing everything together is the way to go. Ultimately you start to tailor a ship that suits your style of play. My eventual designs eventually reflected old war galleys, with all the guns on the sides so I can sweep past targets and pummel their blindsides, with boosters arranged for quick cornering and even quicker getaways. The whole process is very intuitive and surprisingly addictive. Eventually you learn to reconfigure on the fly, especially when a tail booster has been blown off and you are moving with the grace of a car which had its wheel-alignment set by a curb.
Even though the game has no end, eventually you hit a technology limit, gathering the strongest guns, blocks and boosters the game has to offer. At this point you are also public enemy number one, and everyone is gunning for you. It takes a while to reach that level, because to get there you need to beat superior ships, then rebuild your own craft on-the-fly. The margin for error gets smaller and smaller as you progress, but you get better and better.
Fortunately for us, Farbs is planning a number of episodes in the Captain Forever series, each with feature upgrades to make ship scavenging more interesting and fruitful, even for veterans. A once-off $20 registration gives you instant access to Captain Successor, the sequel to Captain Forever, as well as access to all future episodes in the series. The ship scavenging will never end.
Captain Forever is a blend of tactics, cunning and patience, sweetened by the retro graphics and squawking robot banter from other ships. I could also steal a description from another site: it's Meccano Asteroids. Now doesn't that just sound awesome?
Captain Successor, Captain Forever's more mature expansion, is a huge improvement over its predecessor. The basic gameplay mechanics are the same, but the differences lie in ship modules, enemy ship constructions, complexity, and lots of little refinements. New parts include boosters that help you turn, a sniper laser that's slow but has a long range, ramming horns that let you crash into other ships, torpedoes, missiles, repair tools, mods that increase the speed of attached parts, and massive girders that not only provide considerable defense but also give you more room to attach things. The Captain Forever wiki has a complete list of parts in Captain Successor, and you can see it's much more varied than before. Now, instead of just looking for bigger and better pieces, you have to employ a strategy when building your ship. It's more challenging to get a design right, but when you do, you're a force to be reckoned with.
A feature present in both Captain Forever and Captain Successor is the ability to save and share ship designs. Press [P] to access the stasis menu, then [X] for the export screen. Cycle through which of your ship designs you want to save, choose how to export it (plain text, HTML, Facebook Twitter, or a JIG-friendly URL), and you're good to go. The export option is a massive boost for the Captain games, moving it from a short, build-die-rebuild arcade game to something that gives you a long term goal. It's such a great thing to be able to log in, scavenge a few neat parts, work on a ship design, then save it for later tweaking. Captain Successor has so much more stuff to build with than Captain Forever, I can't wait to see what future installments will add!