One hundred years into the future, and nothing much has changed. Bloody conflict still rages, albeit with bigger weapons and a bigger playing field - namely our very own solar system.
Space combat is the order of the day, and Starlancer's heritage is certainly not in question, the game being developed by Digital Anvil. The Texas-based company is home to the Roberts brothers, Chris and Erin, who between them are responsible for a quartet of Wing Commanders and a brace of Privateers. Lured by the Microsoft dollar, they are now working on a Lancer apiece, Erin producing and directing Starlancer, while Chris concentrates on Freelancer (and faces up to the universal panning given to his recent Wing Commander movie).
Starlancer will be the first of the two games to see the light of day, and is a space saga in a similar mould to the Wing Commander series. Despite the futuristic setting, some of the protagonists remain familiar, with a Western Alliance loosely based on the Nato countries, and a Middle Eastern coalition comprising the likes of Russia and China.
The game begins following a Pearl Harbour-style attack by the East on the West, which wipes out the Italian and French fleets as well as destroying the Alliance high command. Depleted, the Alliance retreats to Uranus (something that caused a degree of Beavis-style sniggering in recent press demonstrations) and stages a call to arms.
You play the part of a pilot in the newly formed 45th Volunteer Squadron, effectively a Dad's Army comprising commercial aviators, retired pilots, and young kids straight out of school. Due to the various nations involved, 12 tenuously themed ships are available, all loosely based on modern-day designs associated with particular countries. The ships you are allowed to fly depend on rank, and they can be loaded up with more than 20 different weapons including nova cannons, pulse lasers, collapser guns and jackhammer missiles, whatever they are.
Starlancer will feature 30 missions spread over six chapters, and though they're essentially linear, events in one can have repercussions in another. For instance, failing to destroy a weapons depot in one mission can leave you in a World Of Shit in a later mission.
Twenty-five minutes of full-motion video will intersperse the gameplay. And though it's not a deal clincher, it was put together by the same digital effects team that did the movie Wing Commander. What they wouldn't have given for a Star Wars licence.
This is the latest offering from Digital Anvil, home of Chris Roberts, creator of the Wing Commander series of space combat games. These games brought a mixture of real-time 3D simulation and immersive story lines together on the PC. Starlancer is similar in concept, but set in a whole new universe, with new characters and story to match.
The setting is original in that it's not too far into the future, at the point when the countries of Earth are starting to carve up the Solar System. Starlancer has plenty of ships (over 80), dynamic missions where your performance affects the game world, and a full-on story with plenty of cut-scenes and speech, One of the big problems that space sims have is trying to convince you that you're in an authentic environment.
Starlancer will feature neutral ships going about their business and 3D in-ship walkabouts .to help make it all seem that bit more real.
I'm a big fan of the Wing Commander series (what Chris Roberts did before starting Digital Anvil), but games like this always lose something when they're ported to consoles. StarLancer's probably fared the best out of all of them, but the seemingly endless button combinations needed to perform some of the easiest tasks can grow tiresome. The other aspect missing in this port is the between-mission roaming around the ship and the FMV mission briefings. Besides that, though, Starlancer is a quality port. All the frantic dogfighting action translates well with high-quality graphics and cinematic music. Huge ships and a multitude of enemy fighters will fill your view with hostile fire and missile after missile. It's really intense. If you were into WC, you'll be into this. The best part, though, is the multiplayer game. Getting a group of eight people all within the same space, either on teams or in a free-for-all. is just awesome. And every time we tried the online play it was lag-free. As a single-player game, though, this is just above-average. Mission after mission of space combat is fine on a PC, where you have a keyboard and flight stick available to you, but on a console it won't keep any but the hardcore fans excited for long (the DC keyboard is for chat only). Besides, I really miss the great plot's earlier titles like Wing Commander IV had. Starlancer is still a solid game and a great online experience, but not spectacular.
This game brought back good oP memories from the Wing Commander series, right down to the "kill" score board that I always checked after each mission. There's absolutely nothing in StarLancer that hasn't been done before in PC space games, but that doesn't matter since very few have made it to a console system. The graphics are fantastic and the atmosphere of the game sucks you in. even though the co-pilot chatter gets annoying sometimes. What's most impressive are the intuitive controls that use various heads-up displays to make up for the lack of a keyboard. Crave really made this PC port one that Dreamcast owners will want to look forward to.
From the minds who brought you the Wing Commander series on PC, StarLancer is a different kind of console space-combat game. Much of its story unfolds within the missions rather than during FMV cinemas, and wingmen play a more important role. The game is nice to look at, with its detailed textures and flashy effects (wait 'til you see a capital ship's shields ripple under your blasts). Missions are well-designed (you'll go against a massive asteroid fortress, for instance), but some of the more chaotic sorties get confusing. Fortunately, StarLancer lets you continue to the next mission if you flub a few objectives. Control takes getting used to.
The solar system erupts in war! Eastern Coalition forces, led by the devious Admiral Kulov, have launched a surprise attack on the Western Alliance. You are a member of the 45th Volunteer Squadron, a newly formed flight unit, ready to take on the Coalition and win this war!
Starlancer’s story opens with peace talks on Mars between the Western Alliance and the Eastern Coalition. The Western Alliance, comprised of the US, Britain, and other democratic countries, seek to end hostilities with the outer colonies represented by the Eastern Coalition. Treacherous to no end, the Eastern Coalition uses these peace talks to stage an ambush that destroys the French and Italian space fleets.
The Alliance reels, retreating to safety around Neptune. Licking its wounds, the Alliance puts out a general call for pilots to form the 45th Volunteers, one of many new squadrons forming to fight in the conflict. Quickly, the inner planets are overwhelmed by the Coalition presence and massive ground wars erupt.
With hope nearly lost and the fleet in disarray, the 45th Volunteers enter the conflict, fresh and ready for battle. Can they turn the tide?
Gameplay, Controls, Interface
According to Digital Anvil (the game's developers), Starlancer isn’t your daddy’s space flight sim. Instead of fighters that dart and dance in zero gravity and perform absurdly acrobatic maneuvers, Starlancer is meant to provoke a sense of WWII fighter combat. Not only does the game do this, but it does it well. Ships bob and weave with a realistic sense of inertia and momentum, and bearing down on an opponent with guns blazing rewards you with a satisfying rat-a-tat-tat!
Special accessories and a wide variety of weapon and shielding options make the keyboard configuration more than a little confusing. While the game can be played with little more than a good joystick, you’ll be wishing you knew all of those advanced options as the game progresses. Also, although the controls are well detailed, some aspects will still leave you scratching your head. It still took a lot of trial and error to figure out how to use the rear firing laser turret (common to many fighters) and how to launch torpedoes from a stolen Kamov Bomber during one of the final missions.
Starlancer does a good job of maintaining atmosphere throughout the entire game via creative use of between-mission animations. The starting point for any mission is your quarters, where you’re free to peruse online news articles, practice dogfighting with your simulation pod, or even feed your fish. Each time you step up to the doorway to exit your bunk area, you get treated with a small animation of your character walking through the ship and passing by the other inhabitants. The amount of variety and detail exhibited by the characters in this scene can be entertaining in and of itself.
Digital Anvil has a unique and innovative sense of design. The capitol ships in Starlancer, while not easily identifiable by class, look absolutely fantastic. Continuing this sense of design are the fighter types, of which there are approximately fifteen to choose from. Each fighter has a sleek, intriguing look that sets it apart from its brethren, but which has obvious origins in present day fighter aircraft.
The scenery in the game isn’t anything to be balked at either, as the weapons fire, lighting effects, and even planets themselves make a good showing. Certain effects are somewhat unrealistic for the deep of space, like capitol ships that appear well lit from any angle. However, they are still well done and are just subtle enough to make you believe that there is actually a bit of lens flare glaring off of your cockpit window. In fact, the only thing that can be said to be graphically poor about the game is the lack of stellar phenomenon and traditional space hazards. A dogfight in a dangerous section of the Kuiper asteroid belt is something you won’t find in this game.
Starlancer serves up high quality audio on two platters. The first, the soundtrack, is masterfully orchestrated, evoking a strong emotion at the appropriate times but remaining withdrawn enough not to be too annoying. Second are the audio tracks for ingame dialogue and sound effects. Each and every speaking role in the game has enough different responses to keep you from being bored by their familiar, monotonous drone and the variety of sound effects keeps you from being bored by the gunfire sounds.
Room For Improvement
Ingame cutscenes could be more detailed, as Starlancer lacks the ‘personal’ feeling provided by the Wing Commander series. Starlancer does an amazing job of painting the world around you, but does very little to actually insert you in it as a character. Flight briefings and cinematic news reports are all well and good, but occasionally you need to see your character get out of the cockpit and talk to someone.
Minimum: Win95/98, Pentium 150MHz, 16MB RAM, 60MB HD Space, DirectX Video & Sound Card, CD-ROM drive, and a 28.8 Modem for Multiplayer.
Reviewed On: AMD K6/2 400MHz, 64MB RAM, Diamond Viper V770 Ultra, Creative Labs Soundblaster AWE 64, 24x Creative Labs CD-ROM, and a Microsoft Sidewinder 3D Pro.
Starlancer is a top-notch space flight sim with amazing gameplay and stunning graphic design. Digital Anvil has made very few mistakes with this title and I predict that if they can keep up this quality in their upcoming releases we will continue to make fantastic innovations in both design and story.