March 9, 2001
Believe it or not when I received a copy of Starlancer for review I had no idea what it was. Upon booting the game I discovered that this is a space combat game, similar to the Wing Commander games on the PC. In fact this game is extremely similar. It wasn't a surprise then that the game is actually created by the Roberts brothers who actually designed and developed the Wing Commander games while at Origin Systems. A new company, but very similar game. Not that that's bad at all as the Wing Commander games were very well received by the press and public alike.
Starlancer is actually a port of the PC game released late last year and has been converted remarkable well. First impressions are extremely positive with an excellent pre-rendered intro sequence setting the storyline of the game. Starlancer sees you playing a pilot in the 45th Volunteers during a Cold War in the 22nd century. After a briefing it's into the cockpit where you travel to your designated rendezvous point. Most of the missions usually deviate from the plan when the enemies spring surprises.
The game begins with only a couple of ships and weapons to select from, although this soon improves as you complete the missions. Controlling the spaceships is very easy, although the combination of buttons is at first very daunting. Soon enough you will be flying between enemy ships and blowing them out of the sky with much excitement. The enemy AI is fairly solid with pilots ducking a weaving to avoid your weapons fire. To help you complete each mission you are usually aided by one or more wingmen who become invaluable when you are in a spot of bother.
You may have looked at the above game info and wondered why I have put "Possibly" in the online gameplay. Starlancer is actually playable online however Ubisoft aren't promoting or supporting the feature here in Australia. There simply isn't the demand to set up a dedicated server. It is possible that the game will be playable online from servers in Europe. If it works, consider it a bonus. I haven't been able to try this feature due to technical difficulties. While it would have been a great addition, Starlancer is still an awesome game without it.
Problems with Starlancer are few and far between. At times during missions it seems as if you are taking on all the enemies yourself, as your wingmen seem to do little damage to the enemy, leaving you to do all the work. Another slight annoyance is that the targeting system is not effective on torpedos. This makes it extremely hard when you have to shoot down torpedos during most of the missions to stop them destroying larger ships in your fleet.
WinCE games on the Dreamcast have generally been below average graphically. Either poor frame rates or bland graphics with little texturing usually deter from the games. Fortunately Starlancer is totally different. The space ships are very detailed and well textured while the frame rate is very smooth. Make sure you play the game with the lights off or the brightness and contrast turned up as the game is very dark and at times seeing the enemies can be difficult. Still, it's a minor problem that is really a result of the games space setting.
Sound in Starlancer is also very impressive. The explosions are suitable and sound terrific through my amp. The cannon fire and speech is also quite good although I noticed the intro video and speech seemed to be out of synch ever so slightly. Music blends into the background nicely and keeps pace with the action in the game.
Starlancer is a surprisingly good game. The graphics and sound are possibly the best of any WinCE game on the Dreamcast to date, but it's the gameplay where the game truly excels. With complex missions, an involving storyline and some frantic action, Starlancer is a game that I can't fail to recommend. That is especially true for those who are sick of the numerous racing and arcade-based games on the system. Well done Warthog, Digital Anvil, Crave and Ubisoft.