Most of you will find its DX-7, low-polygon graphics a little antiquated, but you’ll also find that they get the job done in fine style. The game is graphically pleasant and does what it does well, graphically speaking. Further, it does so while barely taxing today’s high-end, fast systems. Recommended system for Starshatter is a Pentium III / 700, 512MB RAM, 300MB available disk space, DX7 or better, and at least a GeForce 2 board. Most gamers have better already. Any modern machine can run Starshatter at 1024×768 with FSAA and aniso filtering full out, and get a really pretty look.
The mission on the previous pages comes from the last of five dynamic — yes, you read that right-dynamic campaigns within the game. The campaigns take you from a guerilla war to the defense of the Terellian Alliance, then into the heart of enemy space. You’ll confront multiple types of enemy ships from fighters to carriers, and you can choose your own poison from piloting fighters off a space-borne aircraft carrier to commanding a squadron of heavy cruisers in action against an enemy fleet.
Flight modeling is best when one considers the heaviest ships-cruisers and destroyers. They move like large, inertia-laden vessels should. If you’ve played games like Independence War, you’ll be right at home with Starshatter. It models spaceborne fighters equally well, with a six-degrees of freedom, Newtonian-physics flight model that allows you to perform great Babylon-5 style maneuvers. Ever wanted to do the Commander Sheridan thing and flip your Star Fury end-to-end, blasting the enemy while traveling in a totally different direction? You can do it here; I did it in the first campaign with a Falcon, one of three flyable Terellian fighters. And enemy AI is pretty darn good — especially for the larger ships. DiCamillo has also taken pains with the larger ships to model things like damage control and systems — you can target specific systems in enemy ships, and they all have repair times. There is a screen you bring up to queue repairs that reminds me of seaborne ship sims like the Great Naval Battles series. For me, Starshatter’s greatest fun is in navigating a battlecruiser in combat and directing its consorts against an enemy fleet. I believe that is where its greatest strengths as a game lie.
If you want to build-your-own game, go with God, my friend, because Starshatter comes with a full SDK for modders. You can build your own ships, missions, full out total conversions, even. The only thing lacking is a way to edit the order of battle in the dynamic campaign; you can’t take your creations into battle in the campaign, but you can build killer missions to fly them in the game’s very detailed single-mission editor.
The game’s weaknesses are largely in its atmospheric flight modeling-that’s pretty wonky, feeling like you’re flying a large brick at all times. Also, there’s a total lack of detail on the ground, and an apparent lack of gravity from planetary objects in space. You’re doing most of your work in planetary orbit, with moons around, and you don’t really see celestial bodies having much of an effect on flight. You won’t be doing slingshot maneuvers around planets or moons here. Also, the transition from space to atmosphere for fighters is via cutout, and so you can’t do things like bounce off a planet’s atmosphere. I’d like to see these things modeled in a space sim; when one is damaged, falling into a gravity well should be a real concern! There also is no way to bombard planetary starbases from orbit; one would think an advanced star fleet could do that. And you’re flying in HUD view, what most simmers deride as “flying a camera.” It works well for the big ships, but lacks reference points for fighters. I’d like to see some form of 3d art there, and be able to see the structure of the fighter around me, for reference in combat. There is no real virtual cockpit, though DiCamillo has taken gamers’ requests into account and given a “slewable” camera view in-cockpit that works pretty well. Also, large ships didn’t repair damaged hulls between missions until version 4.0.2 — forcing you to take very heavily damaged starships that logic dictated should be withdrawn for repairs-into combat to be destroyed. DiCamillo has instituted limited hull repairs now between missions and it’s been a boon for me.
These penny-ante concerns aside, it’s fun. That’s all. The concerns I’ve listed above don’t translate to the entire game; I finished Operation Nightfall without ever stepping into a fighter once and thus never dealt with space-to-ground attacks in the last campaign. I would like to see an ability to repair damaged ships more comprehensively than we see now, perhaps from the in-game damage-control menu, and the ability to take a favored starship from campaign to campaign; I get attached to a particular ship and miss her in subsequent campaigns. If you ever thought someone should do a space sim that’s not a silly Wing Commander and more of a flight-sim-based game (I wish someone would do a Mechwarrior or MechCommander with a dynamic, mission-based campaign), then do yourself a favor and buy this one. It’s forty bucks through Matrix Games, and ten additional dollars if you have Digital River send you the backup CD. It’s the most fun fifty bucks I’ve spent since Total Air War came out in 1998.
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- AMD Athlon 3000+ processor
- MachSpeed N2PAP-Lite motherboard with onboard Aureal AC97 sound
- PNY Technologies Verto GeForce FX 5950 Ultra
- 1GB Kingston PC2700 DDR DRAM
- Creative 12x CD-ROM
- Maxtor 40GB main drive
- DirectX Version 9.0a
- Windows 2000 with SP4
- Thrustmaster Fox2 Pro USB joystick