Don’t get me wrong, this is not me saying Star Control 2 is not awesome; this is very much like talking about Star Wars and Star Trek. Star Trek TOS is awesome for what it was, a ground breaking television program that helped bring sci-fi to a wider audience and Star Wars was awesome in its own right as a ground breaking film that helped define the concept of the summer block buster and without which the Star Trek films may never have happened. I know, I just laid down some geek fighting words but what I’m trying to say is both Star Control 2 and Starflight are vastly important works that have deeply influenced games today. The game was released on PC, MAC, Commodore 64, Atari ST and Amiga as well as a graphically updated version for the Sega Genesis in 1991 (oh how I coveted that version).
Starflight takes place in a large procedurally generated universe made up of 270 stars and 800 planets. You take the role of the commander of an exploration vessel from the planet Arth which only recently discovered its status as a former colony of the now long lost Earth and recovering ancient technology has now taken to the stars. Tasked with seeking out new worlds and exploiting their mineral wealth as well as new life and either stunning it and sticking it in a cage or killing it and taking it back for dissection. Due to the procedural generation no two games are ever exactly the same but some elements are consistent, at the top of the game you are given your introduction letter laying out some key landmarks like some ruins a planet over and some sectors of space where ships have been attacked by alien life forms and you should take caution.
Once you have named your ship you can leave the star base to start exploring, before you do you have the option to train your crew in different skills including navigation, science, engineering, medical and so on, each species have different caps and you can have single crew members manning multiple stations (so for example you could have a Captain who doubles as a Science officer). Any money you don’t spend will be automatically deposited in your bank account and gain interest while you are away.
Leaving Arth’s Star Port is a thing of retro beauty, for those of a certain age or older we had the pleasure of manual copyright protection. This could be as cool as getting a novel with your game (like the Ringworld game), as bizarre and esoteric as the trivia at the start of Leisure Suit Larry that served as an age lock (that was my job when playing with friends), or in the case of Starflight the wheel. Upon launch you are asked about a place, an artifact and a species you use this in conjunction with a wheel to generate a code that will let you off the base. Thankfully in the versions provided by Electronic Arts and Good Old Games tools have been created so you don’t need to deal with this but if you are coming about this game through more nefarious means you will not get very far without the wheel.
This is where we see our second technical glitch, to access the GOG Wheel tool you need to tab out of the game. When you do this it reduces Starflight to a windowed mode. Upon returning you will need to hold the Alt key and tap enter. Those familiar with DOSBox will be used to the drill but those who may be new to classic gaming could get confused by this.
Different colours represent different elevations with different life forms and minerals at these different levels. It’s amazing the detail they went to in creating this game! One of the really interesting elements is you can easily get turned around losing your ship (this depends on your navigator’s skills as well as your memory). The elements and the native flora and fauna can damage your crew (getting caught in a storm or being attacked the plant or animal life will damage your crew’s health). Upon returning to your vessel your medical officer can begin treating your crew who will over time heal.
As you travel you will encounter other life forms as well as worm holes that will help you travel the universe whilst saving some fuel, the game is surprisingly complex and really helps illustrate how programmers and developers could be with the limited tools of the time. Combat consisted of play very similar to what we would see years later in Star Control using your slow but deadly missles, fast but low damage lasers or powerful artifacts to overcome your enemies. It was great fun and still holds up today!
The legacy of this game is unquestionable, aside from the Star Control series who sited this as an inspiration we have Casey Hudson straight up calling out Starflight as an inspiration to Mass Effect and the game is often referenced in the press and among critics as an inspiration along with its contemporary Elite. The game is 5 dollars for both it and its sequel or 5 dollars apiece via Origin. Is this worth it? If you like fun and are a game historian yes it is worth it at twice the price.
- Funny story telling
- Procedural solar systems
- Fun gameplay
- Sturdy design that holds up despite its age
- Graphics are severely dated which could be difficult for newer gamers
- Some technical glitches with saves and window scaling on DOSBox