There is something respectable about Space Rangers 2: Rise of the Dominators. It might not have the best music, the shiniest graphics, the most detailed combat system, or even a polished localization, but itís got so much character and Ö stuff. Truly an everything-but-the-kitchen sink title, Space Rangers 2 gives you space exploration and combat, trading, Subspace-style arcade sections, text-based adventures, and even real-time strategy portions. Everything that has been implemented isnít left to find its own way into the design; even when something is fairly basic, it is given a little extra to make it unique and worth your time. This is one of those titles that people bring up when they talk about games of yore, when imagination and character met with an ambitious and well-executed design.
The overarching story involves the emergence of the Dominators, who are sentient robots that have broken up into three factions (Blazeroids, Kelleroids, Terronoids) that fight each other and all of the other races. Itís the year 3300, two hundred years after the Klissan War, and the Humans have formed a coalition with the other civilizations in the galaxy. You play a space ranger, oddly enough, as a Human, Maloq, Peleng, or Gaalian, Faeyan. You will use your newfound ranger status to assist worlds and other pilots, develop your own abilities, and maybe even stop the Dominator onslaught along the way. The great thing is that you donít have to do any of it, if you wish. You can turn rogue and be a pirate, harassing transports and diplomatic escorts; stalk business centers and stock up on a monster cargo ship and earn your fortunes as a merchant; or you can simply wander around, letting your morals guide you. But everything you do has a consequence, and this game doesnít wait for you.
The best way I can describe Space Rangers 2 is that itís like an MMO without the O. The universe is a persistent one, which means that those days you take to do a job or to mosey about Ė the outer space portion is turn-based Ė means that the planet that you thought you were on good footing with or the bargain you were going to take advantage of will not be the same way you left it. This can mean that long missions end with no reward, if a government comes into power that isnít fond of you, or wasting thousands of credits on a trade deal thatís no longer valid because someone beat you to the punch. Even the most frustrating of outcomes is still okay, because it gives the world a true feeling of evolution. You are no longer the sole hero, creating a monster vessel to put the worlds of the galaxy under your heel; you are a peon, just trying to make your way to the next upgrade. But once you get that upgraded vessel, once you stop off at a science station and get all your gear enhanced, once you get combat experience, you can be the righteous instrument of justice or as feared as the Dominators.
It would be a good idea to know a basic route you want to take from the beginning, though. A press note that came with the game said that dying multiple times early on is all part of the fun of learning. At first, I soundly disagreed with that comment, but I soon came to appreciate it. Yes, itís unbelievably frustrating to be jumped by a pirate during a mission and stalked while you repair your ship on a planet, but those interactions are all what makes the game so much fun. You donít have to be the one getting ambushed; you can do the ambushing. That pirate thatís attacking you has also harassed all of the other transports nearby, so why not page them for assistance, or go to their aid when they ask for it? While the pirates tend to be able to skip out of the sector before being killed, finally nailing one into debris is satisfying, not to mention profitable, since the minerals found in space bring good change compared to what you can get for a premium weapon. The case that goes a bit beyond whatís tolerable is how often other ships agree to assist and then bail out. Now, Iíve agreed to help and left myself, but the ratio at which other ships do it is staggering, almost to the point where itís not worth it. New tagline: The only person you can count on is you.
The best way to start out is to stay in the first sector, running basic errands for Earth and Mars (I always made the most out of them). Each planetís government will also offer up handy information or missions, if you are in good standing with them. By failing a governmentís mission, your relations with them will deteriorate, with the first portion still allowing you to dock, purchase trade goods and equipment, but blocking you out of missions. To clear up these ďmisunderstandingsĒ often requires a significant chunk of money, almost guaranteed to be too much for new players to afford. If you donít settle up with the government whose relations have soured, they will consider you a criminal and send ships after you whenever you enter the sector housing the planet. If you can make it to the planet before being blown up by law enforcement, you can serve out your punishment in jail.
Serving out a sentence is done through one of the gameís more lauded aspects, the Infocom/Choose Your Own Adventure style of text-based gameplay. These missions will pop up like other missions, and they will have you do anything from trying to manage a vacation resort to taking part in an experiment involving a giant maze. Jail serves as a good example of the sort of experience these missions involve. The goal of being the prisoner is to not anger the guards or the other prisoners too much. To create a healthy balance, you can go to work without complaining, go to the library to learn, go unwind, work out in the gym, or gamble in the yard. Youíll need to stay strong enough to pay off any hooligans and work enough to not anger the authorities. You might want to take a load off and build a rep by training and racing your cockroach in the yard, or getting a tattoo. If you go in with enough money, you can keep the guards happy by paying them off and keep prisoners happy by donating money to parties and other activities. Your only true goal is to survive. If you fail, you die and the mission will reload from the beginning. If you make it through, sometimes earlier if youíre a good prisoner, then your record is wiped clean, all is forgiven, and youíre sent off on your way.
As interesting and varied as the text missions are, they can be a bit trying. I ended getting those more than other missions and often accepted them out of the need for cash. The downside to them is that they can be pretty involving Ė one required me to travel around ten locations, mining, running pursuers off roads and shooting robbers Ė and having to repeat one, especially when youíre twenty-some-odd turns in, is a pain. Unless youíre a big fan of trial-and-error, youíll find this novelty agreeable only in short intervals.
If you manage to get an escort or an assassination mission, you might find these not nearly as much to your liking as you hoped. You can bail out on these, but the penalty is prison. The major downside to getting government missions is that they are extremely unforgiving. Failing one mission means youíre locked out of future missions and already on your way to being locked out of that entire sector. Even if youíve successfully completed several missions, failing one wipes all of that away and puts you on their bad side. If you hit a run of bad luck, this could mean having nearly the entire explored galaxy blocked off from you.
If you accomplish a mission, though, you earn monetary rewards and points. If youíre feeling your oats, you can ask for a tougher mission, which will shorten the allotted amount of days to complete the task and up the reward; alternatively, you can ask for an easier mission and get less cash for more time. The credits are often substantial, and critical to getting your first set of strong weapons. The points go towards your characterís attributes, which include maneuverability, accuracy, technical skills, charisma, trading, and leadership. It can the successful completion of several missions to earn enough points to upgrade even one of these just once, so it helps to know if youíre going for a future in selling, exploring, or combat. Some missions also give awards, which are lined up under your characterís icon in all of their pageantry.
Success matters. You are ranked among the other rangers out there, with your rank giving you prestige or scorn. You can do all sorts of things to earn a name for yourself, from donating money to needy rangers at a business center (after getting a market analysis for all the best trade options, of course) to completing missions. It can be tough to climb the ranks, but youíre out to make a name for yourself, whether itís good or bad.