Editor's Choice

Editor's Choice
When the Stars Align

Erin Hoffman | 19 Jan 2010 14:40
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Worlds in the Sky

Those familiar with games on classic platforms like the Tandy, Atari 800 and Commodore 64 can take one look at a gallery of Starflight screenshots and tell that Starflight looks like six games in one. Where other games of its time like Marble Madness used single play fields, Starflight had five different play modes, including alien planet terrain exploration and resource excavation, ship outfitting and crew training, ship-to-ship space combat, alien communication and intergalactic space travel - all in an open "sandbox" world that nevertheless wove a sweeping and epic story.

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The year is 4620, and you are a human from the dark planet Arth - Earth, the "Old Empire," fell a thousand years ago, and refugees fled to Arth, whose irradiated surface requires that they live underground. You are a pilot out to claim your stake amongst the stars, most lucratively by locating new planets suitable for habitation by any of the seven alien races: humans; the peaceful plant-like Elowan; their sworn enemies, the reptilian Thrynn; the violent and aggressive Uhlek; the greedy insectoid Veloxi; the zealous octopus-like Gazurtoid; and the obsequious jelly-like Spemin. Mechans - mechanical intelligences left over from the Old Empire - and Insterstel-made androids round out the cast of creatures, five species of which are available to fill your crew.

The entire universe is yours to explore. The star map displays the many destinations available to you: Each colored pixel is a star system that you can travel to, containing between zero and 10 explorable planets, and the green areas are dangerous nebulae that defeat your shields and hide hostile aliens. In all, there are 800 planets, which for players meant months, not hours or days, of continuous play.

While traveling in space you encounter alien ships, some of which will scan you for threats and others (like the Uhleks) that will fire on sight. Train your Communications Officer and you can translate the alien languages; then, by adopting different tones of approach ("friendly," "neutral," "obsequious" or "hostile"), you can shape their attitudes toward you, opening up new story branches. As you explore and interact with other races, you must find or buy artifacts to improve your ship, collect alien life forms, mine for crystalline endurium star-fuel and explore planets, all in pursuit of MUs ("monetary units").

But the universe doesn't simply sit there waiting to be explored. Passing through known space is a strange body known as the Crystal Planet that brings destruction in the form of life-eradicating solar flares, leaving waves of fleeing alien survivors in its wake. This applies a natural time limit to the game: You must stop the Crystal Planet before it reaches Arth, your homeworld.

Oh, and one more thing: The game is hardcore. Play on the master disks (as the manual vehemently warns you not to), and you'll find your game is erased when you die.

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