Star Control 2: Half a ship, half a captain

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(This is part of my journey going checking out Star Control 2. You can follow the entire series on the Retro Gaming page.)

One of the reasons that the Retro Gaming series here on Bio Break is so personally compelling is that I feel like I’m making up for missed opportunities in my childhood. While I was a PC gamer back then, there were many “classic” games that I never played and have since developed regret about them. There were a combination of reasons going on here, mostly being that this was pre-internet, I wasn’t always aware of every game released, my computer couldn’t always handle them, and I didn’t have much extra money to blow on games.

Every so often I come across titles that I know, just know, my younger self would have vastly enjoyed if I had them at the time. I think Star Control 2 is one of these games. I can’t recall ever reading about it, but there’s always the chance it got lost in the crowd. I think if I had known of it, it would have gone right to the top of my most-wanted list. I loved the crud out of Starflight back in the 80s, and Star Control 2 seemed to take everything about that game and do it way, way better.

So let’s rectify the missed opportunities of history by playing through 1992’s Star Control 2: The Ur-Quan Masters for the very first time!

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The introduction sequence had me hooked from the first minute. Apparently, Earth and the Free Planets are in a nasty war with the alien Ur-Quan… and the Ur-Quan are winning. During this war, an expedition of Earth scientists find a planet of wonders from a wise ancient race, but then get cut off from home when the battle lines shifted. No rescue vessel ever came.

Flash-forward 20 years, and the scientists have colonized the world and investigated the underground factory, which apparently builds starships. Well, one starship. Well, one starship that’s not fully done, but it’s going to have to be enough. They then send out that ship to go back to Earth, reestablish contact, see what’s happened in the intervening years, and find out how to fight the Ur-Quain. Awesome!

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As if there was any doubt what I’d call my ship. After picking out names, I took a couple of minutes to familiarize myself with the controls. Turns out that, this being a 1992-era game, Star Control 2 is 100% keyboard controlled. And what’s really weird is that the escape key doesn’t seem to do anything. It’s mostly the cursor keys and spacebar doing the work as we navigate menus. Happily, it’s all pretty simple and very responsive. I can work with that.

Doesn’t look like I have a lot of fuel left, but at least I made it to Sol. Now let’s see what’s up. Did we win guys?

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Nope. No, we most assuredly did not win. Earth has an Ur-Quan orbital platform orbiting it and a drone delivers a warning to me before skeetering off to tell on me to its bosses. Not cool, squid-face. Not cool at all.

Earth itself is… red? I guess that’s coming from the giant red shield around it, or possibly its new candy coating shell. As I can’t land on Earth or do anything with it, I go to the starbase instead to see who is in charge of this mess.

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This fellow is the commander of the station orbiting “Slave Planet Earth.” You damn dirty monkeys, you did it! You blew it up!

Anyway, he’s under the impression that I’m a resupply ship from the Ur-Quan, which is desperately needed as the station is losing power and 1,900 people (1,899 of them not seen on screen) are about to die. This dramatic moment is undercut by the fact that the game is showing flickering lights while playing techno music. It seriously looks like this guy is broadcasting from a rave. But he claims he needs “radioactives” from Mercury, so fine. You guys party while I do the hard work.

As a side note, I really like the multiple dialogue options. Gives it a bit of that Mass Effect feel, I think.

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This is as good a time as any to get used to the planetary landing sections, so off to Mercury we go! Again, it’s actually well-designed and not too hard to grok, even without specific control instructions. Run a mineral scan to see where deposits are on the surface, hit the spacebar to send down the lander, drive the lander over resources with the cursor keys, spacebar to come back up. Oh, and avoid the fireballs (solar flares? wizards?) that kill several of my crew. Sorry about that, guys!

My only complaint here is that the surface action takes place in this relatively tiny box on the lower right-hand side while the rest of the screen sits there and laughs at taking up all of the real estate. I don’t like not being able to see in all directions.

The Bio Break heads back to Earth and dumps off the radioactive ore before my crew’s teeth and hair starts falling out. The commander thanks me and then gets a good look at us for the first time…

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The best kind, dude. Close encounters of the Syp kind!

The station commander unloads the backstory of the game from the Earth’s side of things. Turns out that, obviously, the good guys lost the war. Earth was offered a deal: fight for the Ur-Quan as battle thralls or be confined to a single planet as slaves. Humanity chose the latter and were closed off under an inpenetrable red shield. The station was set up to resupply the Ur-Quam ships and is manned by humans pulled off of Earth every five years.

The commander indicates that I, with my precursor ship, could be a way to fight back, but he’s going to need me to do something first before he throws in with our cause. Something other than restoring power to your station, you mean?

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That’s right, we’re going to the moon — to blow up an alien fleet. Probably need weapons before I do that, though. And combat training. Also, life insurance.

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