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Games review StarLancer

It's not half bad, if space murder's your thing

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Following the popularity of a recent games story, we have decided in our wisdom to cover more gaming news. We made the mistake of telling this to a Microsoft PR man and three games arrived in the post the next day.

It seems only fair then to write a review. StarLancer was the only one that didn't require us to install M$'s Gaming Zone software (it's at it again) and run it all through the Internet (distracting effect on home phone bill), and so that's the one chosen. However, before we get into the review, there's something you need to bear in mind:

I haven't been an active games player for a few years (with some exceptions like Half-Life, Age of Empires etc). This I put down to the loss of gameplay while graphics card technology rocketed and look became more important than feel. This means:

  • Any games references are likely to be old. This may annoy but then you'll have the opportunity to mock and revel in your greater knowledge.
  • Since gaming has come on in leaps and bounds, the obvious may be stated with wide-eyed enthusiasm - but then what's wrong with reminiscing
  • Modern games lingo is alien to me - thank god - so plain English is the order of the day.

Policy (dreamt up ten minutes ago)

  • No ratings ending with "ability"
  • Only PC and Mac games (unless of course someone thinks it worthwhile to deliver a PlayStation to The Reg)
  • Limited techie or clever-clever stuff - you want to know whether to buy it or not, no?
  • Bribery is welcome as long as companies realise it will have no effect whatsoever


Review

"Today you must decide between life and liberty or defeat or domination". Bollocks. I want to zoom around in a computer-generated universe, blow things up and get hand cramp without realising. Fortunately, that's just what you get.

The opening 3D film is pretty fancy but then they always are - maybe a second viewing when bored. The graphics are consistently outstanding and the minimum system requirements a load of nonsense.

Here's the deal: you're in the Western Alliance (positive word association) and, of course, you're an American. Every force except the Americans has been knackered by a surprise attack from the Eastern Coalition (negative word association). So you get to join a "rookie" outfit and fly various missions, presumably with the ultimate aim of winning the war, feeling like you're a superhero and standing up for everything that is good and right and eats McDonalds. This is all in the future so outer space is where the action is.

All pretty cliched stuff so far. And it gets worse when you have to withstand endless comments like: "Let's lock and load, people"; "Where shall I send the flowers, comrade?" and; "Nice shooting, buddy" - all in the ubiquitous Yankee accent (I chose to drown them all out with my own "Git some" in a New Orleans accent).

Irritating voice-clip level: High

But to the game, the game. My God, there are a lot of buttons - most of which bring up another status screen on your cockpit. There are six buttons just for targeting and eight to do with power. Interestingly though when you're in a mid-mission killing frenzy you use them all instinctively. A joystick is definitely a good idea or you'll reach the missile button too late and have to redo the whole damn mission again.

Actually, that was the first thing to really get on my tits. Every mission takes a turn for the worse and then does it again. Of course by this time you've used up your weapons and you die - and there's no mid-game save option. So you have to go through all the steps (including repartee) again before you can have another stab. In one way this enhances the low/high aspect of all good action games, on the other it is the main cause of yelled expletives.

Expletives: Infrequent but ferocious

The quality of play is little short of amazing as your enemy behaves fairly unpredictably, and it's pretty pacy too. Sadly, though, the speed at which the next nightmare arrives cuts out some of the game's sophistication. The general craziness also comes with a cost - in moments of heavy action, my 450MHz, 64Mb RAM (don't laugh) machine just couldn't cope. And that's why I took so long to get past mission four, okay?

What else do you want to know? Well, there's different ships and weapons of course (you get 20 Screamers for one big missile but they're bloody useless). Eight different views as well, which I never use. For obsessives, there's some fantasy background material.

The game also tries to involve you in a community kinda way (hated enemies, super leaders to look up to) - but frankly I found this all rather creepy. Plus if I'm flying with a crack squad, how come I have to do the vast majority of the killing and all the hard parts? Like a Hollywood movie, you keep wishing they'd paid just a little bit more attention to the script.

Depth of inspiration: about halfway down the pool (where you can still keep your mouth above the water if you stand on tip-toes)

How much is it? I don't know, probably about 30 quid or something.

Kieren's comedy comparison

Like a sexy, updated version of a game called F17. That was also a mix between fighting and strategy. You had a stealth bomber and blew things up in the Middle East.

Should you get it? Well, it caused me to arrive an hour late for a Saturday night out and I will be going to Tottenham Court Road tomorrow to get another 64MB RAM, so I s'pose yes.

What no rating? Okay, um, seven, actually make it eight out of ten. ®

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