Game of the Month: May 2016
Star Control 2 - PC / 3DO
There’s an old saying that goes a little bit like this… ‘They don’t make them like that anymore!’ Chances are you have heard this yourself and normally it’s directed at movies or cars but the Videogame industry also happens to have numerous examples of this with several games that go way beyond essential or classic and attain such heights that sometimes they just look like they were created from pure magic. Like the universe itself tore a chunk off and gave it to the rest of us to play with. Quite often these games are considered to be best of genre or best of system and sometimes they are on computers or consoles that are often referred to as failures.
For the Month of May 2016 RGG want’s to take a look at one particular videogame that whilst not the first to do something it simply did it better than it’s predecessors and to such a degree that 24 years later it still sit’s on a throne of pure awesomeness completely unmatched from it‘s release to this very day. Ladies and Gentlemen it’s time to walk down memory lane with a game that in all truth is basically perfection… Star Control 2.
The brainchild of two developers known as ‘Toys for Bob’ Fred Ford and Paul Reiche III who had previous experience on similar games such as ‘Starflight’ on Sega Megadrive / Genesis and a huge love for science fiction writing delivered in 1992 one of the most astounding videogames of the era. A vast and complex space simulation that mixed both exploration of what felt like an infinite number of solar systems with a fully fledged materials based trading simulator. Not to be just another game in the form of ‘Elite’ this took the top down graphical approach that games like ‘Starflight’ championed, added in the living eco system like previously mentioned ’Elite’ and to top it all off added in a genuinely stunning combat system coupled with a truly mind blowing and fully interactive story where you could have very different outcomes from a second play.
In the future mankind has taken to the stars, peace has finally been achieved on our world so now as a race we explore the galaxy, meeting new races, sharing technology with friends and basically being very peaceful and honest members of a galactic community. Unfortunately one such contact with another species who seem to be instantly hostile towards anyone not of their own race ends up in a sprawling war. This continues for a prolonged period of time with humanity and several allied races fighting a seemingly impossible to win conflict against an enemy of such incredible power that it subdues it’s opponents quickly, turning them into either slaves, warriors that fight for them or if the race chooses they surround their Homewood in a giant bubble meaning they are completely cut off from everything. Think prison… Only permanent.
As the final days of this conflict rage an Earth ship discovers a world with incredible technology that could only have come from those who vanished millennia ago, known as the ‘Precursors’ Unfortunately the system this world is in falls under the marauding power of your enemy… The Ur-Quan. Forced to hide on this world, underground, some of the crew who are scientists manage to escape the enemy and at the same time send the only ship back to Earth to let them know of a discovery that could change the tide of the Galactic war. When nobody ever comes back to rescue them and with no way to activate the planet’s massive technological machinery they effectively become the planet’s new inhabitants.
Years pass and one day a child is born who is able to make a connection to the world’s technology and over more years it’s discovered that this planet was once a factory for creating advanced starships. Unfortunately there’s only enough material on the surface to build an outer shell of one of these mighty vessels and as soon as it is ready it’s launched to discover what happened to the ship your forefathers sent back to Earth, why did no help come? Without explaining all of the intro to the game, in a nutshell, that ship never made it back to Earth, it was disabled just outside the Solar System of where the planet you now occupy is situated. It is decided that the child who is now older should take both ships back to the birthplace of Humanity, Earth and find out how they fared.
With an opening sequence that superbly set’s up a story that would not look out of place in any sci-fi movie, novel or TV Show you begin your game at the gates of the SOL system in your ‘Precursor’ ship, just you and a half built starship. Earth is visible however there seems to be a large orbiting space station around it and now it’s inside a huge red bubble… What has happened to a once mighty space faring race and what’s that strange signal coming from the moon?
Star Control 2 being the second game in a series was a complete and total page turn to what had come before. An absolutely massive game world to explore where your role is to free Mankind from forced exile after it lost a war it never had a chance of winning. With limited resources it’s your job to visit hundreds and hundreds of worlds, scan them for materials, mine said resources then return to use them to build your ship to completion in order to once more stand up for freedom in the Galaxy against the ruthless hordes of the Ur-Quan masters.
Everything is finite however so strategy comes into play immediately as you scour your own system just to get enough stuff together to even make it to the next Solar System. From fuel to raw materials needed to create landers to visit these worlds everything is useable in some form however each planet is different with some being pure gas to others being volcanic balls of fire or thunder storms that will destroy your landing mining vehicle in seconds. Using scanners to locate these valuable items is a must and like everything on your precursor ship it has to be upgraded, unlocked and above all else earned through exploration and distribution of resources. If Star Control 2 was just this and nothing more it would still be an absolute classic because it’s never a chore, it never get’s boring or old and with each new discovery your quest gets more and more amazing.
As I mentioned before though this is a videogame of immense depth and so it’s way more than that. The Galaxy is a living, breathing eco system of numerous other races who each have their allegiances and motives. From the moment you begin you will be encountering one of these sets of alien cultures from an extremely impressive list of 25 unique species. Most are sceptical, some are hostile and some can and have to be allies. Contacting these aliens is another game in itself with various ways to succeed through dialogue interaction in making them a part of your growing alliance. Sometimes a simple hello will do, other times a complex series of events have to be concluded and every now and again a show of strength is what’s needed to turn a hostile encounter into another species of allies.
Failure to make a good impression, or where a few races are concerned bad luck will result in a battle in order to survive and it’s here where Star Control 2 manages to take another gameplay genre and incorporate it into it’s already magnificent mixing bowl of quality ingredients. The battle system is a real time controllable fight where your ship or members of it’s fleet will engage in an addictive as hell space battle. This is where your level of ship upgrades come into play and the size of your crew act as your life gauge. To begin with battle is very much frowned upon however later in the game it’s as common as mining, trading, exploring and dialogue with races. Everything comes together to create a superb recreation of an interactive movie. It’s that damn good!
With an underlying story that can go off in several directions it’s possible to complete this game in several ways, however some items have to be found and some races have to be discovered and in one instance actually brought back from near extinction. The strategy element involved here is immense as resources are limited so making the wrong choice or not exploring the right way can mean that you have the real certainty of one day simply ending up dead in the water. It’s this fear that keeps you constantly moving forward and keeps you focused and by having a permanent and real threat over your shoulder from multiple sources makes for such a rush. It’s quite amazing how a 2D game can give you the same level of immersion as a 3D one. Star Control 2 was basically doing Mass Effect 15 years before Bioware even started on their trilogy.
A year later the game was re-released onto the new 3DO console only now it was given a lick of paint, a snazzy intro sequence and best of all a complete audio overhaul that included full speech for all the games dialogue. It also beefed up the combat system and allowed two players just to play that as a game all on it’s own using each races ships strengths and weaknesses against each other. It was however the audio enhancements that stole the show and added even more immersion onto an already perfect gameplay experience. Now it didn’t just feel like a good Sci-Fi movie, it actually played like one. It’s an absolute masterpiece of a version and for many it remains the definitive Star Control 2 experience. What’s even better is that it proudly sits on a game system that many in the retro world wrongly believe is a bit of a dud console. It has absolutely no equal in any way shape or form on systems like the Saturn, Playstation or Nintendo 64 and is both unique and exceptional enough to warrant owning the 3DO for just this one game alone. Like I said… it’s that good!
The story of Star Control 2 however is not just in being amazing for the 1990’s, it’s still alive and kicking today. The games original 3DO code was released back in 2002 and since this time several projects have sprung up to keep it updated with the games of now. The last substantial release came in 2011 on PC where a group had banded together to HD update the graphics and game art. Re-labelled ‘The Ur-Quan Masters’ because the original name of Star Control 2 is still copyright it’s still just as playable and jaw dropping as it ever was. With incredible artwork for the alien races and re-encoded sound it’s only made better by the fact that it’s free! A PC classic that went to a console then came back again, it’s a videogame that seems to be quite frankly… Timeless.
Returning to that opening statement of ‘They don’t make them like this anymore’ and for the most part that’s true. The indie scene has several games that are in the same genres as space or trading sim however a lot of them are either fixated on the ‘Rogue’ element that has become so popular or simply don’t even get close to the story or atmosphere as Star Control 2 did. Considering it was the work of a tiny team and indie devs are also small it’s a great comparison that highlights how even the new breed of homebrew school style devs can’t get close to those who did it back in the 80’s and 90’s. A golden generation of games made by a golden generation of developers.
Star Control 2 is almost too good to be real, to describe it is to lose yourself in it’s multiple layers of complexity and pure genius levels of direction and storytelling.
No matter how many words we write, no matter how many times you look at the screenshots or watch videos it simply cannot ever be done justice through explanation means. This was a game that was made to be played and whilst that sounds absolutely stupid when you do finally sit down and complete it we promise you that your are not only going to be happy and have an overwhelming sense of accomplishment but you will also have your mood altered. This is a perfect videogame. It’s also art. Those special games that change your way of thinking, or elevate your mood to a point of complete euphoria are rare indeed. Put simply they absolutely do not make games like this anymore, and it’s no wonder why. Star Control 2 did it in 1992 then raised the bar past the point of reach a year later, it’s absolutely perfect. Play it and then you tell me the 3DO was a failure. Nothing could ever be that when it allowed you to experience so much win.
This is not just a ‘Toy for Bob’ it’s a present for everyone…