I've been waiting for this one. Ever since I reviewed Interstel/EA's Empire, the premier space wargame for the ST, I've waited for someone with the guts to try and top it. And while SSI has achieved this lofty goal-at least in some aspects-with Stellar Crusade, this simulation is particularly demanding. Only seasoned, committed generals need apply.
This intermediate-to-advanced-level simulates, in great detail, an expansionist policy in a galactic arena. The most advanced level of play has two competitprs (one can be the unforgiving computer) first exploring and then colonizing star systems. Slowly the players build up to the degree of economic strength necessary to control the entire star cluster.
Mineral-rich planets become mining colonies, while those with good soil will feed the millions of workers you enslave in your war machine factories. After you obtain a few planets, you'll start designing your star ships, arming them with varied offensive and defensive weapons. Group the star ships into fleets, led by commanders of your choice. The ultimate goal is nothing less than galactic domination. Good luck.
Stellar Crusade's complexity level demands a warning label, as I realized upon my first load. A veteran of hundreds of games in three computer formats (Atari 8-bit, ST and PC), I rarely have any trouble learning to play a game. Yet I couldn't even succeed in starting to play Stellar Crusade on its first load.
Graphically, Stellar Crusade is beautiful. The main display contains a map of the galaxy, while an intuitive command interface lets you examine each star system to check its manpower and production levels. Of course, your information is only as good as your last contact-you might have lost the system to enemies by now.
The generous manual attempts to explain the operation of this complex game, but be prepared to invest a substantial amount of time learning to play. PC and ST versions play identically, and both can be copied to a hard drive. To help you test the waters without drowning, some of the introductory scenarios support only battle and/or exploration phases, leaving the full game, with its complex economic phase, to the all-encompassing Long Campaign. If you get through this one, you're ready for anything.
The PC version supports all IBM-compatible graphics modes, with Hercules monochrome being the closest in resolution to the ST. Installation is a snap because Stellar Crusade automatically selects the correct graphics adapter as it loads. Note that a stock 8088-based PC slows play with its lengthy screen updates. At least an 8 megahertz machine is recommended, along with a mouse.
Overall, I recommend Stellar Crusade, but with this caveat: It's tough to learn, demanding to play and requires a substantial commitment of time. However, if you make that commitment, you won't find a more detailed outer space simulation on this planet, or any other.
$54.95, color ($49.95, IBM). Strategic Simulations Inc., 1046 N. Rengstorff Avenue, Mountain View, CA 94043. (415) 964-1353.