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    Starshatter Review

    System Requirements:

    Win98+
    Pentium II 400 MHz (P3 700 Rec)
    128MB RAM (256MB rec)
    100MB Disk Space
    3D Accelerated card (DX7 +) // Software Rendering also available
    Mouse & Keyboard
    CD Rom
    Joystick or Gamepad Optional.


    At a time where the big gaming hits are in RPG and FPS games; Starshatter brings in a fresh addition into the industry, and in particular the space sim genre.

    The early stages of the game are similar to the standard formula of planetary and space combat with scripted missions with dogfights and patrol/escort/strike assignments. However, Starshatter also combines elements of a more complex flight sim, with far more controls and commands than a game such as Wing Commander (for those who have been around long enough to remember those days.)
    Starshatter aims to expand on the typical fighter pilot plot by allowing players to develop along with the storyline. Promotions in the game allow the player to develop as they would in reality, with the ultimate role of commanding a fleet of ships and fighters. This development in the game adds a real time strategy component where the game can be played on a larger tactical scale. This is similar to Homeworld, where entire fleets of ships can be deployed and directed in missions such as blockade, starbase assualt and fighter ops.

    For those who like to play with the more technical aspects of the game, Starshatter allows for mods to be easily created and installed, so that customised ships and weapons can easily be designed. The mission editor can create a vast range of missions, and even voice recorded briefings are possible. A mission can be set up step-by-step, using ships and weapons already available, or taken from any mod that has been activated. The process for creating a mission is fairly detailed, and includes the basics such as adding mission elements and events, as well as complex aspects such as setting a chain of command for included ships to follow. The manual is fairly comprehensive and the process is set up in a user-friendly interface.

    There is also a diverse range of options to customise and modify the game. For example you can choose to use Zero-Drag Newtonian physics, which is similar to real world aerodynamics in an atmosphere, or you can choose an arcade style model, which will just fly the ship in the direction it is pointing at. You can also modify the HUD so that the basic interface is available for the arcade style gameplay, or use a detailed HUD for a flight sim-playing environment.
    The playing interface caters for a large range of options, including keyboard, mouse and joystick. It is possible to toggle between using the mouse for flight steering along with the keyboard buttons for control, or to select an option to temporarily disable mouse steering in order to use the pointer to click and select options on the HUD. While you will probably need to print out a list of keys to make full tactical advantage in the game, the basics of the controls are easy enough to use to get a decent gaming experience. There is also a tutorial available with the basics of the game to get things kick started.

    The fighter missions of Starshatter are a bit of a cross between a simulator and a shooter. Various aspects of a mission are modelled more to reflect more complex and detailed controls and elements. The gameplay itself quite simple with early patrol or assault missions that allow you to follow scripted nav points and generally wipe out anything hostile in your way.

    Unfortunately there are aspects of the game design that are quite frustrating. A lack of shields on a fighter means that all damage is permanent until the mission is over, and without any way to replenish the hull strength; this becomes an extremely annoying aspect of the game. Most people can imagine what it would be like to play a first person shooter and have to follow a large stretch with only limited health and no powerups. I have found dogfights against multiple opponents incredibly tough, since there is no real advantage over the AI units in combat. Missiles are also overly powerful and tend to be unbalanced due to the fact that they will nearly take out an enemy from long range, while close range combat with multiple opponents tends to be suicidal. This can dampen the gaming experience due to the need to be extremely careful and rather irritating deaths.
    One addition to Starshatter that helps alleviate this issue is the use of an AI wingman or reserve ships that can help to turn the balance in combat.
    The gameplay speed is also very slow, and while automatic flights for large (several minute) traverses are handy, I have spent 30-60 seconds in pursuit of a target only making a small headway with very little eye candy in between.

    Later in the game when you gain sufficient rank you will be able to control capital ships. While the first person perspective is available, it is generally easiest to use the third person perspective to select and direct ships. These units will respond to directions similarly to controlling units in a RTS game. Capital ship combat includes weaponry such as torpedoes, lasers and point defence systems an upgrade from the cannons and missiles from fighter combat. The more strategic elements of Starshatter come into play here when deciding how to coordinate large scale attacks with multiple units and attack vectors.

    The graphics in Starshatter are fairly simple the ships look respectable but not incredibly high tech. Unfortunately, very little has been put into supporting environmental details, where planet surfaces are often barren except for landscapes and targets. Space combat is comparatively bare, maybe including a planet in the background.
    Similarly, the sound effects and music are a standard compliment to the game they achieve their purpose without offering anything groundbreaking.

    Overall Starshatter provides an interesting addition to an almost non-existent genre, as well as a refreshing change to the current games in the market. While it is far from flashy, it still holds certain entertainment value from the innovative game design from direct combat to larger scale strategic fighting. If these aspects were developed further with some of the flaws removed, Starshatter could have greater potential in the future.

    Final score: 68%

      Reviewed by Falcon :falcon@gamesurge.com

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