Starwinder is a futuristic, 3D space racing and shooting game. You fly through a real-time rendered 3D universe with 6-axis flight controls. The flying takes place on rails versus tracks. These rails were built 117 million years ago for unknown reasons. Thousands of miles of rails were scattered throughout the different reaches of the universe. Nobody knows for sure their initial purpose, but somewhere along the way, someone discovered that the closer a spaceship flies to the rail, the faster the ship will go. So a couple of thinking alien species decided that there is really only one practical use for the rails. Racing, of course.
This is where you step in. You play as Connor Rhodes, the first ever challenger from the newly discovered planet Earth. Now, this rail racing has been going on for years and there are some serious pilots racing for the ultimate goal—the final rail called Epsilon Indi. This is the 44th rail in the galaxy and no civilization is near. This is believed to be the ultimate rail in the galaxy. These other pilots don't take too kindly to unproven, hotshot pilots, (which, of course, describes you perfectly).
Now, there are a total of 44 rails that must be raced upon to win the ultimate prize of the Stratosphere. The Stratosphere is assembled from 44 interlocking gems embedded in the rails and is almost a perfect globe. The only flaw is that one piece is missing. Nobody really knows the purpose of the stratosphere but it is believed that something magical will happen if the final gem is ever located. Even in its incomplete form, the Stratosphere still makes a nice trophy.
The game places you behind the control of various spacecraft, each with different handling, speed and recovery abilities. The beginning of the game only allows you access to two of the five available ships. This is all you are armed with to start the tournament. Each of the 44 rails comprises one race in the tournament. The rails are divided into 10 quadrants, each quadrant containing four rails. The first three rails of the game are time trials. The tournament begins with the three time trials already completed. The first two quadrants are just races against the clock. Well, there are plenty of other ships getting in your way but you are not competing against them. You must finish all four races of the first quadrant under the allotted time to move on to the second quadrant. Same for the second. This is very easy and the tracks are fairly similar.
The third quadrant is where the real competition begins. You are no longer racing against the clock but now you have some live competition. The race is against other alien competitors. Some of the four races in quadrants only require you to finish in the top three of four racers. Others must be first place finishes. The racing action gets more difficult from this point on. The tracks change some but not enough. Once the novelty of the idea of the game wears off and you realize that there is not much too look forward to; the game takes a bit of a dip.
The various races are more than just all out drag races to the end. The rails do twist and bank at some different angles. The concept of the rail racing is pretty cool and I really like the way that the speed increases when you hug the rail. On the downside, once you get off of the rail, forget it. You slow down to a snail's pace. You are not much more than floating space dust. Also, if you get disoriented regarding your location because you over-banked a turn, you are sure to leave the track and start floating away. Your ship is fairly responsive but there are times when there is too much clutter on the screen and you find yourself continually running into asteroids or other objects. Now, I don't mind an obstacle or two thrown in the way but when you hit something every two seconds is makes it real difficult to get into the speed aspect of the game.
A cool element of the race is that you are armed with various types of weapons. These weapons are used to shoot your opponent to temporarily slow him or her down. Each weapon will usually completely disable the ship for a few seconds, which is more than enough time to sneak by. The only problem is that the guy you just shot is now behind you taking shots at your ship. The shooting element really saves this game from turning into too much of the same old thing.
All of the alien competitors have a little bio and story to go with them. One of the racers is believed to be an offspring of dinosaurs that roamed the earth. But, these guys wised up to the fact that staying on the earth was sure death so they jumped into their dino spaceship and moved into the distant galaxy. This makes him feel like anyone from Earth must be a moron, so he is less than friendly to you. There is also a shape-shifter that will take the form of anything and everything. Each of the competitors has specific strengths and weakness and will put up a good race.
Throughout the game, you are treated to newscasts by a very cliche news reporter. Frequent interviews with the losing aliens show off some serious graphics power, and there are over 50 minutes of videos like this that keep things interesting. Normally, I would skip over cheesy Full Motion Video (FMV) scenes, but these were actually comical and worth watching.
The graphics in Starwinder are exceptional. The FMV sequences look almost as if you are watching TV. The in-flight explosions are also quite impressive. Since the background is space, it is limited to twinkling stars but is very realistic. The ships are also nicely done and unique in their design. In some of the latter tracks, there are asteroids littering the track and this makes for a very cluttered screen. This is very detrimental to the racing. The intro sequence follows the traditional "look at the cool FMV I can do" theory that is so popular with Playstation games. But hey, you have all of that room on the CD, so you may as well use it.
Starwinder is an average racer that is saved by the ability to blast your opponents to gain the upper hand. You will actually feel the speed of your ship as you blow by one of your temporarily disabled opponents. The fairly repetitive tracks were a bit disappointing though. I was waiting for something really unique to happen in a track but it just never happened. The graphics are well done and there is some fun in this game. I have seen it in a couple of bargain bins, and for the $29.99 price tag you could do a lot worse. This is definitely a good first effort racing game by Mindscape. By the way, if motion sickness is a problem, you might consider watching a race or two before playing, or you may find yourself kneeling over the second most important item in your home (we all know that the Playstation is the first).