There's a m ech-style rumbling on the robot-sim horizon: Heavy Gear II and MechWarrior 3 will soon go turret-to-turret. Starsiege, looking to be a contender, has fired an early salvo, but its amateurish mistakes reduce it to scrap metal.
From the Earth to thp Stars
Spawned from the Earthsiege franchise, where humans batde a Terminator-style race of intelligent machines, Starsiege's solo game offers story-driven campaigns where you can choose to fight for either side in one of 35 fully customizable robots or tanks. It's a highly strategic challenge thanks to a variety of vehicles and an impressive arsenal of over 40 weapons, each with a myriad of armament, shield, and special-unit combinations.
Eges on the Ground
As for as the graphics go, eye-candy enthusiasts should look elsewhere: Although Starsiege's robots are nicely designed, they simply don't move with a sense of weight that implies great size. The anti-climactic vehicle destructions show your enemies' mechs crumbling into big pieces like a broken model, while the dainty explosions will have you looking to your HUD to make sure you actually wasted the guy. Luckily, Starsieges soundtrack picks up some of the slack with its slammin' effects and a rockin' score, but even that quickly gets old due to the repetitious radio chatter.
Gunning on Empty
Starsiege's colossally disappointing interface stumbles despite complete keyboard, mouse, and joystick customization features. Unfortunately, the remapping doesn't adapt well to a flight stick with throttle-speed control (the weapon of choice for most robot-sim fans), and there isn't even force-feedback support In fact Starsiege works best as a keyboard-and-mouse first-person shooter, but there's an inexcusably slow response while firing your weapons, which makes precision aiming difficult Meanwhile, you'll get precious little help from your impossibly stupid A.I. comrades, who run over visible land mines and get stuck in uncomplicated terrain.
Although Starsiege offers a refreshing degree of freedom in robot customization, its basic gameplay is not up to the robot-sim benchmark of Mech Warrior 2. Those who are burnt out by first-person shooters may want to try StarSiege for a change of pace, but others should definitely wait for the Mech-Warrior 3 vs. Heavy Gear II shootout.
- Using a tank during multiplayer games offers a great advantage: The free-turning turret will save you time when you shift to attack enemies that are behind you.
- Order all of your backup units to attack the same target and eliminate It before moving on-you don't want to get wasted by a guy who's almost dead.
- If your backup gets stuck on a hill, simply run into him to knock him onto fiat ground.
- Concentrate your attack on one component of your enemy's hull to cripple their systems quickly.
- If you're looking to take out objects protected by heavy shielding, rely on your energy or plasma weap-ons-make sure to keep an additional battery handy.
- During Operation: Jailbreak, keep the fighting on the perimeter of the base so as not to accidentally destroy the hangars.
- During the ambush In Under the Gun, take cover behind buildings and let your shields recharge before rejoining the battle.
Starsiege's robots are well designed, but they don't move like the giants they're depicted to be. The backdrops look nice, but the sliding terrain textures, dipping, and bland explosions make the sky the only thing worth staring at.
The gritty grunt-dialogue makes you feel like you're in the thick of it, but the same catchy phrases are repeated over and over. Starsiege's pounding sound effects and moody, ominous score don't help much either.
Starsiege doesn't support force-feedback or work very well with flight sticks. Using the keyboard and mouse would be forgivable, if not for the sluggish response you get while firing your weapon.
The disappointing interface makes negotiating Starsiege a chore, while the underwhelming graphics and lack of force-feedback don't convey the sense of commandeering giant vehicles as well as Mech Warrior 2.
- PC compatible
- Operating systems: Windows 10/Windows 8/Windows 7/2000/Vista/WinXP
In the 29th century, humankind thrives under the Great Human Empire. On Mother Earth, the Immortal Emperor Petresun has ruled for more than 175 years. He forged the Empire from the chaos following the Fire and for almost two centuries he has built the Earth's defenses against the return of the Dark Intellect. But not everyone is content with Imperial rule. On the planets Mars and Venus and on the moons of Jupiter and Saturn, a hardy breed of colonist chafes under the Emperor's yoke.
As the colonists rise up in rebellion, the first hints of the returning Cybrids are seen, and soon the fight for independence becomes a fight for the survival of the human race. They have been multiplying in the void somewhere beyond Neptune, changing and evolving, constructing their armada in hidden shipyards and factories and waiting for the opportunity to return to Earth.
Gameplay, Controls, Interface
Starsiege, the third game in the EarthSiege series, expands the storyline into deep space -- the Cybrid threat has reared its head once again and this time they are determined to destroy all humanity. Even though the game covers all new territory, it brings the history and characters from the previous games along to expand the depth of the game universe. The single-player campaigns each comprise one side of the overall story of the battle for Earth. You first play the easier, human side of the war, fighting to defend the human empire and destroy the Cybrid threat. Once you’ve succeeded in the first campaign you can try your hand at defeating the humans.
Starsiege is another "mech" game where you’re the pilot of a large armored robotic machine; in this game universe they are called HERCs. You also have the option to select battle tanks as well as the more classic walking robot platforms. The HERCs have one major difference from other games -- they lack the ability to twist the torso. This means that you can’t look behind you or too far to the side; you must turn your HERC to face the enemy. The tanks don’t have this limitation -- they have full freedom of motion for their turrets and can fire in any direction.
Unlike other games of this sort, it can actually be an advantage for you to have your squad mates along. The AI implementation in the game is among the best I’ve seen -- squad members can actually react to changing situations and handle their own in most cases. In other games I’ve found my time focused more on protecting stupid teammates than on completing the assigned mission. The enemy AI is also top notch. The computer will circle around you, dodge your shots, and even work to get into your blind side, making the enemy almost impossible to target.
One of the most complex features of this genre of game is the user interface, and Starsiege is no exception. To pilot your vehicle, you’ve got to have movement control as well as control over where you’re looking (which is also where your guns are aiming). After trying out several configurations, I found that using an older joystick that was comfortable in my left hand for movement and the mouse for aiming with my right worked very well -- I was able to assign the functions I needed most often to either mouse or joystick buttons, and rarely had to let go of the controllers to hit anything on the keyboard. This took a little tweaking of the control settings, but my game improved dramatically. This was made harder because the in-game interface for editing the controls is not very easy to use. I ended up loading the control configuration file into a text editor and changing it there.
Starsiege does have problems, though -- one of the worst is in the targeting and damage indicators. The game does provide a target lead indicator (if your HERC's computer is advanced enough), which is very helpful, but no matter how precise you are you will often find yourself missing targets you were sure you had nailed. You can also find yourself getting hit without noticing. The HUD doesn't clearly represent how much damage you have taken -- you’ll go from all systems apparently okay to dead with very little warning.
I also didn’t like the save mechanism in the game. You are limited to saving between missions -- there is no way to save partway through. Many of the scenarios took quite a while to play and I often found myself repeating missions over and over because I failed right at the end
Starsiege adds multiplayer gaming to the Earthsiege universe, something that was glaringly absent before. Connecting to Internet games is a snap -- the game will search for game servers automatically. Both free-for-all deathmatch and team play are supported. The capture-the-flag scenarios are particularly fun, as successful play requires the entire team to coordinate defense and offense, including managing what HERCs and tanks are used on the team. I did run into some problems with players who had used game hacks to bring extra-powerful weapons and HERCs into the multiplayer games, but Dynamix has released patches that eliminate most of the cheating.
The graphics engine in Starsiege is the same one used for Tribes. It looks great, with expansive horizons that seem to stretch forever. Even though most of the terrain is fairly plain (the game is set mainly on barren planets like Mars), the rolling landscape and atmospheric hazing effects combine to give the feeling of being someplace real. And even with the vast landscapes the detail is there -- being able to see an enemy as it appears as a speck on the horizon is a nice plus, and much better than seeing them only as a blip on radar until they are well within targeting range.
The weapons detailing is also top-notch -- you can identify what you’re up against just by glancing at the guns, which pivot and recoil realistically. The vehicles are also smoothly animated. Most walking armor suffers from a failure to look like it’s actually in contact with the ground as it moves; in Starsiege the HERCs actually look like they are walking. They do fall short in looking massive -- they move about just a little too quickly to convey the sense of tonnage they should.
The one major problem with the graphics I had was in the support for the newer 3D cards. The game kept crashing after I updated to a newer Voodoo video card, and it took several emails back and forth to support and lots of tweaking to the 3D card settings to get the game working correctly again. Dynamix has promised patches to eliminate the hassle with configuring the game for newer video cards, but they haven’t been released yet.
From the whining of the turbines on a battletank to the floor-shaking thud of a HERC's footsteps, the effects in Starsiege are (for the most part) top notch. I did find the explosions to be a bit underwhelming, though -- I wanted more punch from taking down a multi-ton enemy than the game provides. The soundtrack is also not quite up to par. Some of the tracks have a solid, fast-paced beat that blended well with the gameplay, but others just didn’t click for me. The game also supports most 3D audio formats available today, providing extra depth to the gameplay if your setup supports it.
Pentium 166 (with 3D Card), Pentium 200 (without 3D Card), Windows 95/98/NT4 SP4, 32 MB RAM, 4X CD-ROM drive, 3D card recommended -- supports 3Dfx Glide or OpenGL (RIVA TNT compatible)
Dynamix has turned out a game that delivers with top-notch graphics, fun gameplay and a well-developed storyline. The strong AI for both enemy and teammates is a huge plus, making the single-player mission much more enjoyable. The game isn’t perfect, but overall it’s a rock-solid package that will provide hours of fun play. The difficulty in configuring a comfortable control scheme could make it frustrating for new players to get started, but it’s worth it to take the time. Starsiege stands proudly among the best of the entries in the "mech" genre -- I heartily recommend picking it up.