Let me just start this off by saying that Starlancer is a KICK-ASS game! As far as space fighter games go, itís average Ė itís fun. What really takes this game above the bar is the background story. If you like space combat games and youíre into Star Wars, Gundam Wing, Robotech, or Starship Troopers (Come on, who DOESNíT fit this category??) then youíll be into this game. The controls are kind of hard to get used to at first, and itís easy to get confused about exactly what youíre supposed to be doing out there, but as soon as you get accustomed to how everything works, it becomes pure space flight enjoyment.
The main reason for the controls being so confusing is that there are so many things you can do with your ship. Basic steering and shooting are fairly intuitive, but even things as simple as rolling your craft can be a little bit tricky. There are two sub-menus triggered by the x and y buttons and both have as many selections as there are remaining buttons on the controller. This makes for a lot of combinations that you need to be at least sort of familiar with, in order to really play a mission smoothly.
The gameplay is pretty intimidating at first as well, for a couple of reasons. First of all, youíre so confused about your controller that you just kind of get mixed up about everything. Second, most of your mission information is delivered verbally either by your mission commander during a briefing session, or by various people of authority during the mission itself and is easy to forget. Often youíll start out with one set of instructions only to have them be changed completely when youíre in the middle of carrying them out. Also, youíll usually be asked to take care of a couple more things after you accomplish youíre initial goal. When youíre dodging enemy fire, itís easy to miss whatís coming over your radio. Then youíre so panicked by the continuing fire and warnings from your co-pilot, and the fact that you donít even know what youíre supposed to be doing, that you get nowhere and the game just sucks. I spent around an hour and a half playing this game and just thinking Ė ďIím writing this thing a bad review. A VERY bad reviewÖ..Ē and scowling menacingly at my dreamcast.
The upside of the confusing controller problem, of course, is that your ship can do about a billion different things. You have lots of targeting options, automatic speed matching with other ships, and strafing, not to mention the ability to order an attack on whichever enemy ship you have targeted and to request help if you have a bogie on your tail. You also have some different camera views to mess with, though I find the default, first person view to be the most comfortable. As soon as you even begin to make sense of how the controls work, the game instantly becomes so much more fun. Not only does it become possible to accomplish the mission objectives; you also get to start tinkering with all of your shipís features. Ordering your squadron to lock onto and gun down some fighter youíve been chasing around for five minutes, and then watching three or four streams of laser fire converge on the guy, simultaneously, feels damn good some times.
There are other cool features to the game as well, that just keep adding to the fun of playing it. Youíre offered a choice between four different ships for each mission, each with VERY different characteristics. Speed is a big issue when you make your selection here. Both maximum speed and acceleration are taken into account, and both play a big part in how effective you will be at pursuing enemy craft, and these killer enemy missiles, which need to be shot down all the time. You also get to choose which type of missile, or missile substitute, your ship will be toting along the way. These have different attributes as well, which may or may not make them more suitable for different situations. I didnít notice much of a practical difference between them, and took to using whichever one was the default for the ship I was flying. The different ships also get different amounts of some special functions including a turbo acceleration device type thingy and some counter measures to confuse hostile missiles.
Finally, the big momma of this game is the background story. If the game sucked, the story wouldnít be cool, but the game is pretty good, so the presence of this level of background is very very cool. Right from the get-go, you get dragged in to the drama of a nearly complete peace process between the various, earth-born space colonies, gone horribly wrong. The intro brings you up to speed in the form of a news cast audio narration over an intense visual sequence showing the surprise attack launched on the final summit meeting, by the evil confederation of western colonies (or was it eastern?). Each mission is introduced in a briefing, which generally borders on cheesy, but still manages to advance the plot in a fairly strong way. The radio chatter during the actual mission is pretty cool, especially when an unexpected distress signal comes in, or mission plans need to be changed suddenly. At the end of a mission, you receive a letter from some military higher up, which basically sums up how well or poorly you performed and how your performance reflects on your squadron, the 54th. At the same time, a news cast plays in the background delivering news from the front to the civilians. I think this really helps to bring the game together and add a sense of reality. The broadcasts are done in the style of a modernized WW II news cast. Youíll hear about the events you have been involved in, tinted with a much more enthusiastic inflection than in the letter from your superior. Youíll also hear news of people and events that you have not come into contact with, but later resurface as a part of your story. These things, along with some others, do a good job of drawing you into the game world. Itís funny, but you actually start feeling this team spirit kind of thing for the 54th, and it becomes easy to get really excited about doing a good job. I find the newscasts to be a really big incentive to do well.
Starlancer has a few game features other than the straight out story line option to play with as well. There is an instant action mode where you just dogfight with enemy fighters, which I didnít find to be very exciting. I think itís much more fun to play the story out Ė but this way, if you finish the game or donít have time to sit down and do a whole mission, you can at least go in for some ďinstant action.Ē There is also an online death-matching mode, which is pretty self-explanatory.
If you happen to be looking for a space flight game, or if youíre just looking for a good game and you go in for that sort of thing, definitely at least pick this up for a rental. Make sure to play until you get used to the controls, because they seriously DO make the game suck when youíre starting out. As a final note, I find that playing in the dark on the top bunk of a bed drastically enhances gameplay, but itís fun in a comfy chair, or on the floor (or wherever) as well.
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