Classic Computer Magazine Archive COMPUTE! ISSUE 153 / JUNE 1993 / PAGE 80

Star Control II. (computer adventure game) (Software Review) (Evaluation)
by David Sears

With 3000 planets to explore, hosts of aliens to meet, and scads of spacecraft to fly, you'll be entertained for hours with this fully digitized space adventure.

When we last heard from Earth, the Alliance fared badly against the Hierarchy. It threw everything it had against the brutally powerful Ur-Quan dreadnoughts and battle thralls, but it suffered terrible defeat. Now, most Alliance worlds lie fallow; their star-faring days are over. The Ur-Quans no longer consider humanity a threat. Little do they know that a handful of earthlings survive outside the slave shield--the children of a lost scientific expedition to Vela.

That's where you come in. Cut off from news of the war, the scientists in the Vela-Zeeman system worked in ignorance of the struggle's outcome. There, they discovered an abandoned Precursor factory. The ancient Precursors possessed science that today's sentient races can only mimic and never fully comprehend. With this factory, you hope to manufacture a Precursor starship that might withstand the fury of the Ur-Quan masters.

Alas, you can produce no more than the skeleton of the Precursor vessel. What now? You return to Earth, where, hopefully, whatever remains of the human race will assist you in completing your warship and join you to annihilate the dread Ur-Quan masters. Thus begins your quest, and the journey, even in hyperspace, is a long one.

Star Control II holds much in common with its popular predecessor, such as large star maps, starship factories, a definitive space-combat simulator, interstellar exploration, and more--there's plenty here for 100 hours of play. But Star Control II offers much more than the original's tactical considerations and manic action. It reaches deep into galactic history to paint a picture of considerable drama and pervasive humor. For instance, if you ever wondered why the fairylike Arilou visited Earth centuries ago, you may find the answer in this sequel. On your expeditions, you'll encounter over a dozen alien species of disparate temperaments and combat aptitudes. All prove quite talkative, particularly if you've acquired items they desire. Just ask your questions via the dialog box and enjoy their responses. Avoid insults: A few unkind words so angered the Vux that they swore animosity toward man forever.

To complete your ship, you'll need vast amounts of raw materials. Some you may acquire within the solar system; most, however, lie scattered throughout the galaxy. Using the Earth's star base to synthesize necessary modules, add a few storage pods to your Precursor ship along with extra fuel and crew members. Pull up the star map and choose your destination. Nearby stars might not promise the greatest mineral wealth, but the likelihood of an insectoid Ilwrath Avenger blasting you to atoms isn't as great, either. A convenient autopilot feature guides you into hyperspace and then drops you at your destination. You can instead work the controls manually, but even the abbreviated distance covered in hyperspace takes considerable time.

Once within a star system, you guide your ship into orbit around a planet or moon, perform an energy scan, a biological scan, a mineral scan, or perhaps all three, depending on your zeal. Next, drop a lander craft on the surface and run over minerals to store them; stun life forms with the lander's blaster and then pick them up. Any energy sources shown on the map indicate technology of some sort; approach with caution. You may lose some crew members, but the rewards of more Precursor trinkets warrant a few sacrifices. Return to your ship and repeat the process until your cargo bays overflow or your limited fuel levels dictate a return to Earth.

At home, you can exchange your raw materials for more synthesized Precursor modules--more powerful weapons, defensive systems, crew and storage pods, and additional fuel tanks. In the Earth's shipyards, you'll choose from plans for lesser starships--earthling cruisers at first, but more diverse vessels as you form alliances with friendly races and they place their technology at your disposal.

Initially, Star Control II seems to involve much of this sort of exploration, flagship design, and fleet construction; and all of these constitute an excellent game. But after a point, you acquire enough resource units that you really don't need to explore every planet you encounter, Of course, whenever a new species offers you starship blueprints, you'll want to build that ship just to fly it, if for no other reason.

So, what's left after you have all the credits an earthling could ever spend? Meeting the neighbors! They all have problems, and only you can solve them. Either that, or it will seem that every alien you encounter will want to kill you, so pack your blasters along with your best diplomatic banter. As you work your way through the galaxy, you come closer to unraveling the mysteries the Precursors left behind and the motivations of the Ur-Quans, and you encounter the strangest assortment of spacecraft ever assembled in one game. More significantly, you'll play top gun in a galactic showdown rivaled only in the best science-fiction films.

Called the first totally digital game by its designers, Star Control II stands ready to amaze. Played only in impressive VGA and MCGA graphics modes, its playfields sport parallax star fields, exquisitely detailed battle craft, and gorgeous explosions. Consistently superb, though limited in variety, the animated sequences that accompany each alien encounter convey whimsy or dread equally well. Dialogue, often the weakness of sci-fi or fantasy role-playing games, rates from witty to inspired, and it would probably amuse even the most grizzled space veteran. The designers placed the emphasis on fun here, and while it's easy to treat Star Control II seriously, only a few of the aliens do. These are, of course, your worst enemies.

Owing more to its digital heritage than the graphics and dialogue, however, the eight-channel score and accompanying sound effects redefine what a PC speaker can produce. The Pkunk starship captain taunts his opponent with intelligible insults while a techno combat theme thumps in the background. Explosions sound very large--and very much like explosions. Somehow, all this mixes without missing a beat. Alien encounters merit moody atmospheric pieces or playful tinkling melodies; all are memorable and among the best done for any game on the market.

Star Control II configures itself automatically on most systems, will run under Windows, and works happily in tandem with a disk-caching program. The larger the cache the better: With 9MB of hard drive space full of scores of stars, uncountable planets, and nearly an hour of music, the more time you can spend playing the game and not drumming your fingers during seek/read times, the better.

Before you tangle with the Ur-Quans, you'll want to try out a few of the newer starships and pit them against the old standbys. The game includes a stand-alone program, SuperMelee, that lets you fill a fleet with the ships of your choice and slug it out in deep space. For a humbling experience, try a melee against the computer in Frenzy mode. You won't believe your PC can move so fast!

Star Control II gives you exactly what you want in a space adventure: action, bizarre technologies, monsters, friendly aliens, vicious aliens, a love interest, and unfathomed mysteries. Who wouldn't want more of the same? This time, though, the smart money is on the earthlings at Accolade.