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Adv: Starscape [by Moonpod]

Game Review: Starscape
Release: March 27, 2003
Genre: Action
Developer: Moonpod
System Requirements: 110MB disk space, PII-300 or equivalent. 3D card with 16MB video
Price: US $24.95
Review: Doug Manley

In a word, Starscape can be summed up as 'solid.' From the story to the physics, from the graphics to the controls, the game is solidly built.

The story puts you as a pilot working for a new scientific research vessel. Since the what you're testing (an artificial black hole) is too dangerous for a standard warp, you and the vessel travel conventionally, cryogenically frozen until you get far enough away to begin testing. Of course, it doesn't work out, and you all get sucked into another dimension. The majority of the crew is scattered, and you'll have to find them later, but, luckily, you get the real research base, so you can do useful things like refuel.

Another perk is the population of the ship. Apparently all the men got lost in the mix-up, so you're just about the only guy on a ship full of very fine ladies who are all very interested in you.

The game has two parts: 'outer space' and 'not outer space.' When you're not in outer space, you're on the big ship, doing research, building ships, or jumping to new 'nodes' in the new dimension. These things take resources, so that's what you'll be occupied with while you're in outer space.

To accomplish this, you will be destroying large amounts of asteroids. Many of these contain the valuable minerals that you need, so they're a means, not an end. But shooting asteroids will only take you so far; this dimension is inhabited by a nasty alien race bent on destroying you. These aliens also use the minerals, so destroying a large alien ship will net you a large amount of minerals, plus some bonus technology. Not all the aliens are evil, so you can make friends with some, too. They may just help you out.

The galaxy of Starscape consists of many 'nodes' in the new dimension. After mining in a node for a while, you can rejoin the main ship and jump out of the node. From there, you can jump to other, adjacent nodes while researching new weapons and new ships.

You can have four spaceships to use for mining and fighting; these ships are fully customizable within limits; for example, you can make a huge ship with a bunch of lasers and rockets, annihilate a node full of aliens and asteroids, and then change into a little mining ship and reap the benefits of your labor. You can also upgrade main base/ship with new turrets and a *big* main gun. This way, when you're in a pinch (or just don't feel like shooting rocks), you can just fall back to your base (or call it to you) and have it do the work for you.

Graphics: 10 / 10
When I saw the very first asteroid, I only had enough speech capacity to say, 'Wow.' And wow indeed. The design for each sprite is fantastic, especially the asteroids. They drift, slowly revolving and looking so... real.

I was also amazed by how well the ships rotated. As you turn a few degrees, the move is smooth; there is no distortion from angle to angle. It is really nicely done.

Finally, the 'not outer space' part of the graphics. When you're not in outer space, you're navigating menus. In Starscape, they break up these menus into parts of the ship. When you work on your ship, it's the ship bay, for example. Anyway, instead of drab backdrops, Starscape has well-drawn, cel-shaded scenes. As an added bonus, each 'room' features a person, normally a girl, from the crew (with whom you're supposed to be talking). These characters are very nicely drawn. It's also very nice to be the only real bachelor on the ship.

Sound: 10 / 10
Many times, when there is a great game in terms of play, it lacks in sound quality, such as music. Well, not here. Starscape's soundtrack is first-class. It was upbeat and alive. The normal sounds of battle and menu navigation were also wonderful. The whole setup had me bobbing my head as I battled aliens and sprayed the screen with fire.

Game play: 9 / 10
Starscape balances the need for destruction, construction, and exploration well. You don't spend the entire time destroying asteroids and aliens, but you also don't get bored doing research and assigning tasks to the crew. Also, you have the opportunity to move around the dimension and find new things. For example, there's a race native to the dimension that feeds on the minerals you mine. These guys are huge, hide in asteroids, and if you're not prepared, you could be in for it.

Since it takes place in a new dimension, Starscape took some liberty with the physics. As opposed to normal outer space, this dimension has friction. Therefore, you'll stop after a couple seconds when you stop boosting. There's enough time to speed through a pack of aliens, do a 180, and hammer him while drifting backward. What I miss about this is the 'afterburner slide:' You're allowed a little boost with a double tap of 'up,' but since you are subject to friction, you can't speed up, turn, and do the equivalent of an outer space drive-by.

The only problem with the controls are with the dialogs when you're in the research vessel. They're kind of awkward, and while trying to get out of one menu, you may inadvertently get out of three more. It only really occurs when you're designing a ship, but just watch out.

The only feature that I really wanted from Starscape was a mission log. From time to time, I'd get a specific mission, and I would naturally forget what the mission was.

Options: 9 / 10
For a game like this, there are only a few options that you could possibly want. Fortunately, they are all covered. The entire set of ship controls is customizable (with joystick support, too), and these also spill over into the overall menu controls.

Also, in terms of volume, you can change the volume of both music and sound to your liking (including 'not at all'). The only option that is really missing is a difficulty one. There are only two modes: normal and real. Normal lets you be cheap and load when something bad happens, and real automatically saves it when something bad happens. Neither mode makes the enemies tougher per se, but it's not as if they need to be harder; they are fine as they are.

Concept: 10 / 10
It's one thing to fly around blowing up asteroids. It's one thing to fly around fighting aliens. It's one thing to mine minerals. It's one thing to research and build new parts. It's Starscape to do them all, and do them all well. I can't really fault Starscape at all for its concept; even the plot was nice, even if the enemies reminded me of the Borg a bit too much.

Fun: 9 / 10
Since the game play was smooth, Starscape was a very enjoyable game to play. The enemies weren't too hard as to have me getting frustrated, but they weren't so easy that I could forget about them without dying.

Even though shooting asteroids for minerals wasn't my idea of fun, the research & development branch of my ship had me always coming back for more. And, once I found the alien mining ships, I forgot about asteroids and just pirated what they had, and *that* was fun

Overall: 10 / 10
This game's just great. In addition to being able to customize your ships, explore the new dimension, and develop new weapons, you can also play the game again... and again. Starscape has a great replay value. What if you researched the main cannon earlier? What if you didn't put any effort into rockets? Maybe you should have put more research into generators at the beginning... Added: July 31st 2003
Reviewer: Doug Manley
Related Link: Moonpod Home Page
Hits: 21238
Language: english


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