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Starscape

From the Database of Home of the Underdogs

GAME DESIGNER:Mark Featherstone

GAME DEVELOPER:Moonpod

GAME PUBLISHER:Moonpod

Copyright 2003, Moonpod

Starscape is a superb 2D shooter/strategy mix from Moonpod Software, an independent software house founded by 3 industry experts. The combination of nonstop action, strategic elements (mainly R&D options on your fleet), an interesting “space opera” plot that unfolds over time, and stunning graphics is enough justification for the game’s induction into our Hall of Belated Fame. The thorough review at Adrenaline Vault should be enough to pursuade everyone why this is one of the best – and most innovative – games of its kind ever made.

“In the 23rd century you are assigned to a research station named Aegis whose mission is to study faster than light travel. Unfortunately, an alien fleet of bio-mechanical Archnid invaders ambushes the station, and given its minimal defenses, they quickly take it over and steal its revolutionary “Dimension Drive.” As the last available pilot, you need to undertake a myriad of tasks: build offensive vessels, defend your station, dispatch untold numbers of marauding aliens, establish relationships with allies, investigate innovative technologies, locate missing crew members, mine asteroids for critical minerals, retrieve the “Dimension Drive,” and escape from the “Grid” where you now find yourself. This science fiction story is not that stunningly innovative but does not need to be to sustain the action.

As you traverse the different zones, the enemies you face in Starscape ramp up nicely in terms of the challenge presented. Initially they appear quite weak offensively and defensively, and thus can be disposed of swiftly. Afterwards, however, they become much more numerous and harder to destroy. You had better be able to face a swarm or you will be toast quickly.

Mining is extraordinarily crucial but yet not very differentiated in Starscape. Mining asteroids permits you to collect scarce nonrenewable resources used to provide energy in order to construct an offensive and defensive weapons arsenal. To mine, you simply disintegrate asteroids into little bits, usually requiring repeated hits on each one you encounter, and then vacuum up the released colorful minerals with your gravitational beam. Although it is hypothetically possible to get a sense of fulfillment from this activity, the designers do have far too much emphasis on this repetitive task early in the game. Once enemies begin to appear on the scene and try to interfere with your scavenging, however, there is more spice to the action sequences. Nonetheless, in the end, there is far too much mining for my taste in this offering.

Managing research and development projects, on the other hand, involves a lot of complex decision-making. After collecting sufficient quantities of minerals, you spend a ton of time inside the space station choosing what technology to research, allocating how many people to assign to a task, and then afterwards building ships and weapons systems. There are several different types of weapons technology to research to protect your ships as well as the Aegis itself, including blasters, missiles, shields, bombs, drones, turrets, beam lasers, and ion cannons. Most can be upgraded also, as you progress you get some really intriguing and powerful weapons. You can even receive new technology from your allies. It is not immediately apparent how to prioritize your construction, so you have to figure out a system carefully in order to succeed.

Although not by any stretch a role-playing exercise, Starscape involves lots of communication from interesting characters. These include Rin Fubuko, captain of the Aegis; Dr. Max Von Braun, head of research and inventor of the innovative Dimension Drive; Maya Rendon, Chief Engineer; Jenna Johnson, Deputy Chief of Engineering; and Bud Weisman, Chief of Security. As you play, the scattered members of the crew provide helpful advice in the form of messages and instructions, and it is nice to have a face to put with a name. In addition, your relationship with allies is particularly interesting, as you never know for sure who you can trust. While there are clear limits to the depth of your understanding of any of these characters, this is a useful and unorthodox component for a space shooter.

Beyond the regular play mode, the developers have included an instant action option. Rather than dealing with mining or resource management, in this mode you simply face a fast-paced arcade shoot-em-up. You get frenzied battle action until you quit or kill the enemy large mining barge, at which point your best time is saved and you have a chance of making it into a hall of fame. Although this kind of accessible gameplay does not in any way give you a representative taste of the actual dynamics of making your way through Starscape, it is a very pleasant diversion, and it shows off the high quality of the combat action.

Moonpod succeeds in most if not all of its admittedly modest objectives in its first release: The battles are incredibly fun, and the management of research and development opens the door to intriguing tactical choices. Whatever limitations exist with graphics or audio (and the boredom associated with mining) do not significantly hamper the enjoyment you can derive from this innovative combination of action and strategy.”



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