Game Review: Starscape

December 1st, 2005 by Potato

I’m feeling quite a bit better today (unlike yesterday, where I started to feel better, then felt worse, then better again). I’ve gone 3 solid days without throwing up now, and I think I’ve had something close to 6 meals in the last 3 days, too. Kidney stones are awful, and there’s only like 2 people I would wish them on.

So in the time that I’ve been sick, I’ve mostly been strung out on pain killers playing computer games or sleeping. In addition to World of Warcraft, one game I played for a bit was Starscape. It’s a small shareware game that I got hooked on by following an ad from Penny Arcade (and while I do check the site weekly, it’s not in my links section since they’re probably the last folks to need a link from me!). Just download the game, pay your $30 registration fee by credit card, and you’re good to go! Perfect for the immobile gamer.

The gameplay is very simple: you fly a ship around in a top-down view and shoot asteroids for materials to haul back to your space station to research and build further upgrades for your ship. Every now and then you shoot enemy fighters, too. It’s very bare-bones: there are 3 types of energy weapons, each with 4 levels of refinement, blandly named “ion cannons 1-4”, “blasters 1-4” and “beam lasers 1-4”. Oddly enough, the ion cannons have the reflect ability I would expect from a laser. Even the different types of minerals you collect are simply referred to as “resource 1” (or in my head: yellow, green, and purple). The graphics are nothing to ooh and aww about, though the cartoony sprites are fairly well done.

So you collect your minerals, perform your research, and pimp out your fighter (you can also add mines, drones, and missiles, but there’s so much shooting involved that it all comes down to your beam weapons). You can tweak the components (generators, engines, shields, and a neat addition of batteries so you can put on more energy weapons than your generators can handle and just go for short bursts of brilliant activity), and again, each has 4 levels of refinement to research.

Then you set out and follow the loosely-scripted linear storyline, killing the various enemy motherships one component at a time (the weak points even flash when you shoot them!) to recover the stolen dimensional hyperdrive your space station needs to return to Earth.

Overall, it’s a fun little game, despite the fact that all the while you’ll be wondering where you’ve played this game before (it reminds me of a cross between R-Type and some other top-down space shooters). I’d love to recommend it to everyone, except for what boils down to one problem: it’s hideously overpriced. At $30 for a download (over $40 if you get them to ship you a CD), I don’t expect much. The graphics and basic interface are fine for me… but there’s no replayability. There’s no random galaxies to take over, and there’s no multiplayer. You play through the storyline (killing a grand total of 5 enemy motherships, and upgrading your basic fighter 4 times), and then you’re done. There’s an instant action mode, where you jump in a fighter and try to survive for 5 minutes (or set it to unlimited time!), getting automatic upgrades as you collect minerals. That only goes so far — another hour or so of replayability. We’re still not even cracking 8 hours here, which is pretty bad for this genre of video game.

I also find their self-promotion on the website is spawned from pure insanity (or just wild fancy), touting features I don’t believe exist. For instance, on the reviews page, they have some choice quotes about the game, including:

    “3D effects you would expect from a top of the line space sim”
    “you can also play the game again… and again”

It’s a 2D game with sprites, so I’m not sure what top of the line 3D effects they’re talking about (unless it was the way the sprites were rendered in the first place?), and I’m pretty sure that the second quote is a reviewer, such as myself, being sarcastic about the lack of replayability.

And don’t be misled by the features:

Make alliances with friendly aliens and trade technology


There are only two alien races, one that you fight, and one that you are automatically allied with, who unlock new trees for you to research in each zone (ion cannons, beam lasers, mines, and shields). You do all the research once the tree is unlocked, and there’s no diplomacy involved: it’s a simple script that you watch your “Captain” recite when you bump into them. So while I suppose the promotion is technically true, it is really misleading if you’ve played other games similar to this, such as Protostar (is that what it was called? I know I have the floppies for it around here somewhere…) or Master of Orion where you can make real alliances (or choose not to!).

This is a small game from a small company, so maybe they’ll fix some things and let me download a new version. I’m positive if they even just add a multiplayer component, it’ll be an underground hit. For now, I’ll tell you this: it is fun and it is addictive your first time through, but when it’s done, you’ll be sure to think you’ve been ripped off.

Edit: Found Protostar!

One Response to “Game Review: Starscape”

  1. Netbug Says:

    He’s making it up. There is only World of Warcraft. There are no other games.