A fantastic space warfare simulator for your ST
Reviewed by DAVID PLOTKIN
Starglider is an extraordinary combat simulator. Its combination of strategy and outstanding graphics demands hair-trigger reflexes, providing a thoroughly enjoyable gaming experience.
Starglider is the classic "one vessel against overwhelming odds" scenario. When your home planet of Novenia was overrun by the Egrons, only the outpost on Novenia's moon was left intact. There, you discover a museum piece--an AGAV, or Airborne Ground Attack Vehicle. After fitting it with advanced weaponry and rocket boosters, you fly it from the moon to Novenia, there to do battle with the hordes of enemy invaders. At stake is not only the fate of Novenia, but of your friends left behind at the moon base, who will perish unless additional supplies reach them soon from Novenia.
When you reach Novenia, the hordes of enemies will give you pause. There are numerous types: The (apparently) invincible walker (shades of "Empire Strikes Back") is the most imposing, but there are also fighter aircraft, tanks, missile launchers, floating mines and other nasties, all rendered in gorgeous color. Most of these will fire furiously at you, and it will take all your skill to avoid them and return fire. You will also have to deal with the flagship of the enemy fleet, StarGlider 1.
Your AGAV is equipped with twin lasers and computer-aided targeting, as well as guided missiles--if you can find any. There is nothing so satisfying as blowing an enemy tank to bits with multiple hits from your laser! Your AGAV also has a force field which will give limited protection from enemy fire. From the moment you descend to Novenia, you will have your hands full. Besides flying your ship, monitoring foward speed and altitude (hitting the ground is very hard on your shields), you must keep an eye on your laser energy shield energy and flight energy. As you duke it out with enemy forces, you will also have to figure out how to recharge your various energy sources. Not all of them can be recharged in the same place. It's actually not too hard to figure where and how to get energy--read the documentation carefully.
Your AGAV is controlled by the mouse. The control systems uses both mouse buttons for altitude, speed, and fire control. It is a little confusing at first, but you soon get the hang of it. Once you do, Staglider becomes a lot of fun. You can also control the AGAV from the keyboard, although I think the mouse is much easier. The default keys are strange choices, but you have the option of defining your own control keys before starting the games. Thus, you can control your AGAV using the cursor arrow keys if you wish.
Your view is out the cockpit, and the graphics and animation are simply amazing. You appear to be moving over the surface of a darkened planet, with structures and enemies depicted in vector graphics. The documentation, consisting of a novella, flight manual and quick reference sheet, gives quite plausible reasons why the planet is dark and why you can see through buildings and vehicles. Moving your mouse left and right alters your flight direction, allowing you to line up your sights on targets and blast away with your lasers. Enemies explode convincingly, scattering pieces. Digitized sound and voice complete the realistic simulation of combat.
The strategy required for Starglider is pretty intuitive. For example, if you are "waxing" an enemy fighter's tail, blasting amay (it may take quite a few hits before it explodes), you may need to adjust your speed so as not to let him get away or get too close. A burst of speed may also be needed to shake a missile from your tail, and it is often wiser to run than take on a missile launcher that never seems to run out of missiles!
The ultimate aim of Starglider is the destruction of the enemy flagship. After destroying a variety of enemy forces, Starglider 1 will make an appearance. No sense in wasting laser fire: The flagship is impervious. The only weapon that has any effect on Starglider 1 is a missile. These can be obtained at the supply silos, but only one at a time. When you launch a missile, your cockpit screen switches to show the view from the missile, and you use your mouse to guide it towards the madly evading flagship. Only one place on Starglider is vulnerable, and it is difficult to hit. Successfully hitting that spot (under the tail) advances you to the next level. Three hits will destroy the flagship, causing Egron forces to surrender.
As you would expect, each successive level is harder. But not just because things occur faster, as would be true of an ordinary arcade game. What happens is that the enemy gets smarter and adjusts his strategy to make your life miserable. Heavy concentrations of tanks begin appearing around the supply silos and energy recharge towers, and it gets ever more hazardous to refuel. Further, there seems to be no end to the missiles the Egrons throw at you, and the missiles can track you more accurately at the higher levels.
The documentation which comes with Starglider is delightful. Not only is the novella informative, but funny as well, with historic references (if you are a history buff) to the likes of Hermann Goering (in charge of the Luftwaffe --airforce-- of Nazi Germany during World War II). In fact, the commander of the Egron forces is a character named Hermann Kruud, who swaggers and has delusions of grandeur very much like Goering. The novella is also full of references to the designers and programmers of Starglider, with backwards names abounding.
The bright colors, smooth animation and digitized sound of Starglider make for an impressive gaming experience, full of challenges and fun. I would have prefered slightly less overwhelming odds to fight against, and the inability to save high scores to disk (they are lost when you turn off the computer) is sorely missed, but I think that this game is destined to become a classic. It really shows off what the ST can do. If you are hungering for a high-resolution challenge, this game is for you.
Now excuse me, I have a date with some Egrons...
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