Space Rangers 2: Arthur Stone and the Rusty Nail

I’ve been playing a lot of Space Rangers 2 lately. I first played it after reading Kieron Gillen’s Eurogamer review three years ago. But I bought the complete version recently with added expansion pack as part of the Impulse sale.

I had completed the game before, so this time I wanted to try something a little different. I decided that I would try a crazy plan I’d had the last time I played, but never seriously put into practice.

I would become the best space ranger in the galaxy. But I would do it by assassinating every ranger above me in the rankings.

Arthur Stone


 
Part 1

A little explanation might be needed. This is a game about being a space hero. You play as one of the eponymous space rangers, tasked with saving the galaxy from the robot Dominators threatening to enslave everyone. You start off with a weak little spacecraft, flying around a living universe, trading, improving your equipment, getting into turn-based space fights, maybe occasionally being thrown into a bizaare badly-translated text adventure.

While you’re doing this, there are a load of other AI controlled space rangers doing the same thing. Most of them do their best to improve their skills and weaponry and fight in the Dominator wars, some are content just to trade drugs and alcohol between planets, a few become space pirates and forget all about the wars. All of them show up on the ranger rankings, showing how each one matches up to another in terms of weaponry, wealth and experience. When you begin, you’re at the bottom. If you want to catch up with the rest and become the top ranger, you have to work hard and do more than your fair share of fighting the Dominators.

Unless, like me, you don’t want to do the hard work of being a space hero, but you still want all the glory. Then you could track down each of those rangers above you in the rankings, and kill them all off until there’s just you left. The greatest space ranger, by default.

My first ranger kill was a strike of opportunity. I was pottering along trying to do some early missions to gain some cash when I saw a ranger-merchant passing me. I looked him up on the ranger rankings, saw he had a very low weaponry rating, and opened fire. He led me on a chase through three star systems before exploding above Venus.

The first battle

The second was a premeditated attack. I looked through the ranger rankings for a suitable target, a ranger-fighter with a weapon rating lower than mine, then paid 3 credits to use the wonderful info search facility to find his location. I ambushed him as he launched from a planet. He cursed at me, and shouted some stuff about how much a hero he was, and we should be working together to fight the Dominators. Eventually, I had him fleeing towards another planet as my missiles closed in on him. My scanner wasn’t good enough to tell me how badly damaged he was, but there was only two turns left before he’d be able to land and repair, and it looked like he was going to get away. However, I then spotted there were two pirate ships by the planet that clearly saw he was weak and were moving in to intercept him.

I considered my options. Then opened a conversation with him. I offered to let him live for a sum of money. He accepted. I ceased fire. The pirates blew him up. I took all his loot. I moved up a place in the rankings.

 
Part 2

After my earlier exploits, I no longer had to hunt down the remaining well-equipped, high-ranking space rangers. They were hunting me down.

I got attacked by a ranger pirate as I was returning to Earth’s solar system. He wasn’t demanding money, but I didn’t have any to give to him anyway. I didn’t have the fuel to jump out back the way I came, and the nearest planet was half the system away. My engine was already half dead, but I put it into overdrive anyway. A few turns later, I had taken heavy damage, and the missiles I had launched hadn’t even hit him yet. But several other ships had just come into sensor range. I called them up, and begged them to help. Miraculously, they all agreed.

Fleet of opportunity

It turned out they were all poorly armed cargo vessels and passenger liners. But I wasn’t in a position to be picky. I turned around at the head of a fleet of angry civilian craft. They circled him and softened him up with mining lasers while I delivered the killing blow with an upgraded fragment cannon I had dug up on Mercury. I moved up a place in the rankings.

That was the last straw for the authorities on Earth, however, and I became a wanted man. I had to flee the system as a squadron of battleships chased me down.

I got myself fixed up elsewhere, and then decided to head to the site of a battle with the Dominators at the Kephrone system. I thought I might be able to dodge the fighting hotspots and grab some nice loot to sell from the wreckages. As it turned out, there was a damaged Dominator craft in a fight with a transport near where I came in, and I helped destroy it while hoovering up alien nodes. The system residents were terribly ungrateful, however. As soon as the system was declared free of the Dominator threat, the Gaalian planet sent a police battleship after me. It was then I remembered I had done a couple of missions from the Pelengs to destroy Gaalian transports in this system a while back. The Gaalians clearly remembered me.

Gaalians don't like me

I had to land and repair on another human planet in the system before he destroyed me. I tried bribing the battleship with all of my money, but it wasn’t enough. I tried to escape a couple of times, only to be destroyed and forced to reload from the autosave. I wondered, if I was careful, if I would be able to fight back and drive it off. I launched, and began to circle around the planet firing missiles while he fired back from outside my fragment cannon range. When I had taken heavy damage, I landed, repaired my ship, and launched again. I spent all of my remaining money on repair bills doing this over and over again, but I eventually wore him down, and he began to flee back to his home planet. This kicked some kind of hunter instinct in me to life, and I gave chase. I thought that maybe if I finished him, I would be able to pass through this system in peace for a while, so I kept firing. He exploded just as he was about to enter the atmosphere.

I didn’t think that whole situation through very well, though, as the authorities on the two human planets in the system saw this, and launched whole squadrons of police ships of their own. Needless to say, I ran for the system border as fast as my deteriorating engines would allow. Combined with a couple of other misunderstandings, I am now a wanted criminal across half of known space. The other half is occupied by the Dominators.

 
Part 3

I gave all my money to charity. I’m like some kind of incompetent Space Robin Hood, who blows up the rich, then accidentally gives all his legitimately earned life savings to the poor while browsing investment options at the bank. This did have the pleasant consequence of making the authorities across the galaxy forgive me for all of my many murder and extortion crimes.

Incompetent Space Robin Hood

Rangers are still hunting me down, though. They seem to like to interrupt me while I’m trying to collect dominator loot, having dropped all my combat equipment off on a nearby planet to make room. I’ve had to do a lot of running away, particularly when they come in teams of two or three. One time I cowered on a planet for two weeks while I waited for the guy with two thousand laser cannons in orbit to give up and fly away. One attacker I managed to destroy, as he begged for his life over and over again. I moved up another place in the rankings.

He begged for his life

I noticed on the ranger rankings screen that the weapon rating of Blodro, the number one space ranger, had dropped down to almost nothing. I reckon he must have downgraded his equipment to do some trading. Of course I immediately did a search on his name, got his system, and headed there as fast as I could. I spent a month searching for him, and dodging the local pirates who seemed to object to my recent charity work. But I could never catch up with him.

Reverse bounty hunting

I had been storing all my Dominator loot from this system in the business centre that I had donated money at. I noticed while docking with another hold full of loot that it looked really badly damaged, presumably from the recent Dominator assaults. But I was shocked when I undocked from it later to see an asteroid collide with it, destroying it along with all of my stuff inside.

I considered just putting the many months of Dominator battling and looting I had done in this system as a loss, and hope there was another business centre somewhere that hadn’t yet been destroyed by the Dominators. After all, there was nothing I could have done to save it, was there?

Reloading from the autosave, just one turn away from the collision, I took a look at the option for paying to upgrade the starbase. I thought that maybe I could repair it and save all my possessions, but first I had to pay a fee for them to trust me with the station equipment, and I was a few credits short. Then I remembered: this was a space bank! I took out a loan of a few thousand credits. I paid to upgrade the station, and was presented with a fitting screen just like that for my ship. Here I noticed the problem – the station’s repair bot was completely broken. To repair that would take another 500 credits. But there was no way that little bot could repair enough in time for the starbase to survive the asteroid hit. I ended up paying the absolute last of my money to fully repair the hull of the station and the bot.

I undocked and with pride I watched the station survive its collision with the asteroid. I may have done some very bad things in my life, but I had just selflessly saved a space station full of people, spending all of my money and putting myself heavily into debt to do it.

 
Part 4

I finally found Blodro, the supposed best space ranger in the galaxy. He was practically unarmed, and was carrying a hold full of alcohol. I exploded him, and escorted the remains of his cargo to the nearest market. This is what the ranger rankings look like now. I’m Arthur Stone, in third place, still with the starting ranger rank of ‘rookie’.

This is the new best space ranger. His name is Afaikay, and he’s been very active in the Dominator wars. Look at that weapon rating – he is flying the most heavily armed spaceship in the galaxy. I don’t think I’ll be going for him just yet. I need to build up my funds, get a bigger ship.

This is the new second best space ranger. His name is Rorra-Aki, and he’s a pirate. He’s flying the second most heavily armed spaceship in the galaxy. But that’s not what worries me about Rorra-Aki. What worries me is the little tooltip showing me he has practically every other space ranger left on the leaderboard under his command. The guy has turned the ranger program into his own private army.

Things are going to get tough now.

 
Part 5

With recent profits from scavenged Dominator loot, I thought it was time to upgrade my weaponry. I had two missile launchers and a fragment cannon, but the cannon and one of the missile launchers took up far too much space. I used the search function and found two good affordable launchers that were positively tiny. One was on sale in the business centre that I had saved a few months ago, and the other was in the Murratz system.

I saw this on my way to the business centre.

The guy at the back in the golden spaceship is Rorra-Aki. The five guys in front of him launching missiles are his minions. I moused over each one to check my relationship with them. They were all ‘bad’ or ‘hostile’. Luckily, they already had a target and were chasing a transport as it fled towards a planet. I kept my head down and hurried past.

I got to the business centre, bought my new weapon, removed my two old weapons and installed the new one. I mounted the old ones on to the station for safe keeping.

When I undocked, I saw this.

Oh crap. He’d been waiting for me.

I’m the little green one in that picture, desperately trying to redock at the space station while being pounded by laser fire.

I waited for a week in that station. When I undocked again, Rorra-Aki had found a new target, and I fled the system in the opposite direction as fast as I could. I then took a circular route around that system in order to reach the Murratz system where my other new weapon was waiting to be bought.

When I reached the system, though, the Gaalian planet sent a squadron of battleships after me. Gaalians don’t seem to like me much. I overloaded my engine and sped past them to land on the human planet just before their swarm of missiles caught me. There I discovered that the humans didn’t like me much either, and refused to trade with me. I bribed the government to let me in to the market, but then I didn’t have enough to buy the launcher.

A wasted trip. I’d need to go do a mission or something to get enough money again. But until then I was a weapon short. I couldn’t go back to retrieve my old guns from the business centre while Rorra-Aki was guarding it.

I launched off and tried to head for Peleng space. But the battleships were waiting for me, and destroyed me. I reloaded. I repaired my equipment, launched again, overloaded my engine, and ran for the system border. My engine broke a few turns away from freedom, and the clouds of Gaalian missiles caught up with me and destroyed me. I reloaded. I couldn’t go in the other direction because all space over there was Dominator-controlled. No matter how or where I tried to run, those missiles caught me. I tried bribing the police, but I didn’t have the money. I tried convincing passing spaceships to help me out, but they were all either law-abiding or afraid. I tried waiting for them to get bored, but these were patient police battleships, not opportunistic pirates. It seemed like there was nothing I could do. This was the end.

But then inspiration struck. I reloaded, and waited on the planet for several months. When I launched again, the planet I was on had orbited closer to the system border I needed to reach, and I was easily able to escape.

This game’s capacity for creative solutions to problems can make you feel so clever sometimes.

 
Part 6

Peleng

A Peleng planet offered me a mission. They told me this long story about a peleng who fell for the culture of the Gaalians, started spreading messages of peace and harmony among the Peleng, took plastic surgery to look more like a Gaalian, started flying Gaalian ships, and then joined the ranger program. The Pelengs want me to kill him.

His name? Rorra-Aki.

The next planet offered me the same mission, so I guess it must be true. I turned both missions down, though. I’m not quite ready for Rorra-Aki.

I donated some more money to charity to get the police off my back. Then went looking for missions again to build up my cash.

The first mission was to prevent all pirate activity in the Murratz system for the next four months. I really didn’t like the idea of sitting around in there waiting while I could be doing other stuff, or the prospect of trying to fight while still missing a third of my firepower, so I tried another bit of creative problem solving. First I tracked down every pirate in the system. But instead of attacking them, I hired them, thus preventing them from doing any piracy there until the end of our contract.

This is me and my two new bodyguards. I’m the one in the ‘diplomat’ hull at the back, and the ones in the spiky ships are my minions.

So with every pirate who might have threatened anyone in that system now under my control, I took some other missions for me and my unlawful buddies to go kill people elsewhere, and by the time I had come back and collected the money from the original mission, I had gained quite a bit of cash.

With my new riches, I did a search for a new ship, taking care to avoid anything in the system Rorra-Aki was controlling. I found a fantastic deal for a ship almost twice the size as my last one, and with more weapon slots, although less armour plating. After getting into it, I found my spare cargo hold space had gone from 10 cubic units to over 200. I immediately went looking for Dominator battle sites, and started scooping up so much stuff that my gripper module broke several times through over-use.

I spent the money from that on some new launchers. In exchange for Dominator nodes, the ranger program gave me some micro-modules that greatly improved my missile damage. According to the ranger ratings, I now had the best weaponry in the galaxy.

I think it’s time me and my boys had some words with Mr Afaikay.

 
Part 7

I did an info search and tracked him down. Afaikay – the greatest hero in the galaxy, bane of the Dominators, saviour of worlds. Just another obstacle to my pride.

My hired guns went in close with energy weapons. I hung back and laid down a carpet of missiles. Afaikay had a human partner, a junior ranger who quickly turned up to help and attempt to cover his master’s escape. Judging by the explosions, they were giving my pirate allies a beating.

But Afaikay crumpled first, as we all knew he would. He may have been many times more experienced than me, more valiant, more heroic, more successful. But I had the most ambition. And the most missiles.

The junior ranger who was formerly on Afaikay’s payroll apparently harbored me no ill will, and I still had good relations with him. I decided to offer him a new job with my warband, and he accepted. But one of my pirates was outraged with this decision. He immediately handed me his resignation, killed the young ranger on the spot, and zoomed off back to his old hunting ground. My contract with the other ended soon after, and he was off shooting at transport ships and fleeing from the police before I could object.

Now the only challenge left before I could claim my title as the best space ranger in the galaxy was the pirate king Rorra-Aki. This bully and his five lackeys had been dictating where I could and could not roam since our first meeting. He was without doubt the most dangerous man alive. And now I was going to have to face him alone.

 
Part 8

I was making preparations for my final battle with Rorra-Aki when I got a demand from a Peleng pirate to pay him a large amount of money in exchange for my life. This was not an unusual occurrence, but I recognised this Peleng. This was one of the pirates who had helped me kill Afaikay, and had stormed off afterwards in disgust when I tried to recruit a ranger.

Oh well. I could kill off traitorous former allies as well as any other pirate. I made no changes to my course, and merely used my enormous missile range to fire back as I went. He was using missiles as well, but also kept close to my exhaust to use fragment weapons at the same time. I was a couple of turns away from my destination planet when I realised I was actually about to die. This guy was packing a surprising amount of firepower.

This was the first pirate in a long time that had caused me any trouble at all, let alone been clearly my superior in a fight. I gave in to his demands, and sent him the money he was after. Then I sent him an offer to rejoin me on my payroll. I decided I could do with a man like this when I next met Rorra-Aki. As long as he didn’t choose that moment to betray me again…

We shadowed Rorra-Aki for a while, waiting for our moment. We were tough, but I had no illusions about what would happen if we took on the full force of the Rorra-Aki army. As we entered the peleng Pkhedock system, I decided the time was right. The ranger-brigand and most of his buddies were in battle with a Peleng passenger liner, but crucially his band was split up around the system. One was docking to refuel. One was off chasing another transport. That still left three Human rangers at his side, but it was the best chance I thought I was going to get.

I gave the order. I told my henchman to target Rorra-Aki himself. We were going straight for the head, and we’d worry about the flailing body of his subordinates in the aftermath.

As we moved in to missile range, I overhead the radio messages from a peleng police battleship as it informed one of Rorra-Aki’s minions he was under arrest.

The minion started running for the system border. Things were looking better and better.

We opened fire.

 
Part 9

Lyakusha Gagarish gave his life for my cause. As did Rorra-Aki, of course. And all of his hired guns that hadn’t fled before their master died.

I’ve done it. I’ve become the best space ranger in the galaxy by assassinating everyone better than me. Note the screens full of static where there should be portraits of the best fighter, trader and pirate. They don’t have a screen on there for greatest traitor.

Pity the galaxy’s a pretty fucked up place as a result of my actions. With so few rangers left to defend civilised space, the Dominators have been making great gains. I’ve only explored a little way, but it’s plain to see that outside a small handful of free systems, the entire galaxy now belongs to the Dominators. All of the systems you can see with teal names are Dominator-controlled.

I gained a new medal when I killed Rorra-Aki. The ‘Rusty Nail’. Even though I had set my own goals and made my own fun, the game still gave me an award for it.

Arthur Stone is still flying. But after accomplishing all my goals in life, things were a little aimless for a while. I spent some time just going with the flow, finding myself getting sucked in to the normal drive to earn cash, upgrade my ship, see how many Dominators I could take down on my own before retreating. I thought that maybe now I had proved myself to be the best, I should actually get down to the task originally set before me, and go try to win the war. But I eventually realised that I couldn’t be happy with that kind of life. Not any more. Not after the things I’d done. More importantly, in the time I had spent playing by the rules since disposing with my betters, I found the ranger program had recovered. There were scores of new young space rangers out there, fighting the fight. And to my horror, I discovered they were winning. The Dominators were being beaten back.

This would just not do. I was still deciding whether the war should be won or not. That’s my job, no-one else’s. So now Arthur Stone is out there, still in the most heavily armed ship in the galaxy, cleansing the universe of all space rangers, regardless of rank. He has his work cut out for him. There’s a lot to get through, and more signing up every month. What’s more, the free planets have recognised him for the monster that he is, and hound him wherever he goes. He’s at war with the entire civilised world. And he likes it.