Protostar: War on the Frontier
|a game by||Tsunami Games|
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It's always the same, isn't it? Somehow we manage to make it through all the petty wars, the threat of nuclear weapons, the environmental nightmare that our planet is becoming and Take That, only for some conquering alien race to decide to wipe us out. It's enough to make a grown man cry.
The aliens in question are the Skeetch, and they've rather nastily laid siege to the Gaea Sector (where Earth is). The fleets of the Human Alliance are managing to hold off the rampaging scum for the moment, but the other races that make up the Alliance are beginning to lose confidence, and if they desert humanity, then things could take a step towards racial genocide.
Luckily for everyone concerned, the defence forces have come up with a daring, bold and insanely dangerous plan. The Skeetch fleets' supply line runs through the frontier sector of Thule, home to four unallied alien races. If those races could be convinced to join forces with humanity the supply line could be cut, the Skeetch forces destroyed and everyone would be invited to an absolutely monstrous party.
But how to go about this plan? Should they send their best ambassadors, alien contact specialists and negotiators? Nah -for a start that might actually work, and for another thing it would make for a boring game. Instead they send you. Alone.
Posing as the captain of a Newfront trading ship you must contact the four alien races and convince them to join with the Human Alliance. Along the way you have to make as much money as possible so you can divert cash to the needy defence forces. Getting a crew and upgrading your ship might also be good ideas.
So that's the plot out of the way. Now to the actual game. Protostar is a combination of many styles. The majority of it involves Elite-style 3D space flight and trading, but there are elements of point'n'click adventure, strategy and role-playing thrown in. The game is controlled with the mouse - right-clicking cycles through the various actions possible (indicated by different cursors) and left-clicking on something performs the action chosen.
Protostar has a lot going for it. The interface is easy to use. and flying from place to place is simple to achieve, with no long hours of nothing happening. Graphically it's a very slick game, for the most part, with some excellently drawn aliens and atmospheric 'between section' screens. The sound ranges from adequate to really-quite-good-actually, and the music volume can be controlled independently of the sound effects - why all games don't have this feature I have no idea.
Where it succeeds most is in its size and attention to detail. It's a big game, and there's no time limit to the main plot - as long as you keep sending enough dosh. the defence forces keep fighting, you can happily zoom around all over the place for ages. More importantly, though, it's obvious that a lot of thought has gone into it. The attention to detail is excellent throughout, and the game is full of'neat' touches - the companies you deal with even have their own little logos and jingles and the ability to discover and name new planets and life forms is a great idea. When talking to aliens the conversations are well written and believable, and the bartering section can be quite amusing, with you and your customer trading Arthur Daley-like pitches back and forth. The plotting is good, and the tasks you have to perform to gain the aliens' help are well-balanced and varied. And the final climax to the game is suitably... er... climactic.
There are problems, of course. The main one is more a question of attitude - Protostar requires a good deal of patience. It's quite a slow-moving game, and will take time to play. The documentation takes the form of'this is how the game works, everything else you have to discover for yourself, and so it takes a while to get into. There are long periods where you just fly around trading and making money, and it can be quite some time before you manage to get involved in the main plot. Even when you do. often you know roughly what you've got to do, but have no idea of how to go about it, which can be quite frustrating. Even the combat is slow, and not very sophisticated. If you want non-stop action and excitement, then you'll probably get bored quite quickly, so buy X-Wing. However, if you're willing to put some time in Protostar is a very well made game, and has a lot to it. It'll certainly keep you busy for a while.