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by Crave

attack-.jpg (2671 bytes)Starlancer is the fulfillment of a childhood dream and, as with the realization of most childhood dreams, its fulfillment is laced with a hint of melancholy. When I was a kid I would put on my dad’s work goggles, a hockey helmet and a catcher’s vest and then I would mould myself into my bean bag chair. I didn’t even have to close my eyes to see myself as a hotshot star pilot. My imagination was fueled by things like Star Wars and Battlestar Galactica. When I saw The Last Starfighter for the first time I knew that it wasn’t that good of a movie, but I couldn’t keep the grin off my face from start to finish. To think that someday all of my pretending could pay off in saving the universe was just too good to be true. Although I know that I’m not really saving the universe with Starlancer, it’s probably as close to the real thing as I’ll ever get. Starlancer on the Dreamcast is what I always imagined space combat to be. Why the melancholy then? Well, Starlancer is so good that there’s a little bit of loss in the imagination department. You don’t need to pretend you’re in the cockpit anymore because you’re actually there.

Breifing.jpg (2790 bytes)Starlancer borrows all of the best elements of Wing Commander and Tie Fighter and removes any hint of Mark Hamill. It is simply the best space combat simulator that I’ve ever played on a console or PC. I have to admit that I haven’t played the PC version. (It came out between computer upgrades and I never got a chance to test its waters.) But if the Dreamcast version is any indication I would have loved it on PC, too. I have to imagine that the task of translating all of the keystrokes to the DC controller was a little daunting, but Crave has done an incredible job reducing game control to the handful of Sega buttons and triggers. Every button (and combination thereof) is used in a surprisingly intuitive fashion.

closeup.jpg (3363 bytes)The single player mode is huge. The missions are vast and the outcome of each mission can influence the way the game plays out. I really appreciated how the goals going into a mission were often altered based on the events that transpired. You really didn’t know what to expect and there were some great surprises. There is a real cinematic feel to the plot and how the missions play out. Sure, it’s filled with every cliché imaginable, but it’s so well done that you actually want to embrace the cliché. Ironically the only downside to these missions is their vastness. This wouldn’t be much of a problem if they had a mid-game save. If you’re a perfectionist at heart, it’s going to take a lot of time to replay some of these missions in order to get everything just right. Restarting missions did get a little tedious at time, but I feel like I’m complaining that Baskin Robbins has too many flavors. Besides the lengthy missions, there’s an instant action section that will satisfy your need to blow things up. I would have like to have been able to customize some of my opponents and environments, but it still services that basic need for destruction. Some training missions might have been a nice addition to this game, most of the training is done on the job.

explosion.jpg (3362 bytes)The graphics on this game won’t stun anyone. They’re far short of what the Dreamcast can do, but the game is so quick that you won’t even notice. They are more than serviceable. The explosions are nicely rendered and there’s no slowdown in gameplay. The test of a good game rarely depends on how good it looks but rather how it plays. This is why in ten years people will still be playing solitaire, but will have little recollection of the PS2. Starlancer feels right. There’s no other way I can put it. Sure, space combat games are going to look better and they will probably have even larger environments, but I’ll be really surprised if they create a game that feels any better than Starlancer. The ships are all nicely designed and each one has a distinct feel in its performance. There’s something here for everyone from the light and quick to the heavy missile laden types.

saturn.jpg (3150 bytes)The real selling point of this game is the multi-player capability. Hooking into a game is so easy that online play is smooth and fast. I highly recommend a keyboard for venting frustration. There are a variety of shoot-em-up games to play, but you’ll find most people playing in the asteroid fields. Hiding in the crevice of one of the asteroids made me feel like I was the Last Starfighter. There are up to six players online and you shouldn’t have any difficulty finding a couple of games going at any hour. As I was playing against Starfighters all across the country I was simply giddy. The last time I got this excited about video games was when I woke up Christmas morning to find the original NES under the tree complete with light-gun.

smoke.jpg (2818 bytes)I’ve mentioned before that I think there is a balance between having to know too much about a game’s controls and having to know too little. When you have to work really hard it becomes too much like a job and when there isn’t enough work you’re robbed of any sense of accomplishment. Starlancer walks that fine line perfectly.

yamato.jpg (2973 bytes)One more game to recommend the Dreamcast over another unnamed next generation console. I was so desperate for a good space shooter that I almost went over to the PS2 camp (I thought I wasn’t going to name it) to play Lucas’s upcoming Starfighter. Now, I’m glad to say, that temptation no longer exists. I’ll be too busy with Starlancer to bother with tired franchises and overrated consoles.

warpseq.jpg (2344 bytes)There’s very little not to like about this game. Even the menus have a slick, understated, "DVD" feel to them. Mid-level saves would probably elevate this to a perfect game, but even without that I feel compelled to give it the highest rating I can. My only warning is to hide this game from kids. It’s so good that their imaginations may seem second rate, and no game is worth that.

Jason Frank


Ups: Excellent controls; lots of missions; online multiplayer; incredibly fun.

Downs: Environments too vast? Too many missions?

System Reqs:
Sega Dreamcast


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