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When I first received "Star Lancer" from Microsoft, I groaned internally.

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98 / 95
Cow Rating:

Yet another space game? I thought. Homeworld already has this department in the bag.

And while Star Lancer is not particularly innovative in this genre, it is not trite. It takes a surprisingly non-alien approach to science fiction. Two hundred years into the future, and we are not battling a super race of computers we've created nor are we battling or allied with alien races. Instead, Earth is still at war with itself.

The bad guys... well, they should seem a little familiar. Apparently Russia is bad again, and they've joined forces with Iraq and China to destroy the world. Go figure...

Meanwhile, you're a rookie pilot assigned to the 45th Volunteers Squadron. You and the other good guys (Japan, Germany, Britain, Spain, France, Italy... all solid Microsoft OS supporters one and all) must rally the forces and save the day.

Well... it's a little trite, but what can be said in space that hasn't already been said, right? What's really important is the gameplay. Once you've memorized or worked out all the keystrokes, despite the simulator, flying is pretty smooth. J to Hyper Jump, M for Missiles, C for communicate, etc., etc. All these features aside, there are some minor design flaws I noted.

1. Missile rotation. You rotate your selection of onboard missiles by pressing a comma or a period on your keyboard. If you're out of one type, you better not try to fire. This can be frustrating and I would have liked to have seen only remaining missiles displayed.

2. During several missions you have to protect a convoy. That's no problem, until you've run out of missiles. At that point, you have to shoot down your enemies and their in-bound torpedoes. This is a perfect example of the "Ender Wiggins" syndrome that far too many games display. I've coined this term in honor of the title character from the Orson Scott Card classic Ender's Game. In it, young six-year-old Ender is decided to be the savior of humanity. No matter how many thousands of starpilots fight to save humanity, this one kid makes or breaks the deal. I understand that the game has to flow in certain directions, but when you've got a dozen wingmen and you're the only one who is able to destroy the reactor, or shoot down the torpedo, or shoot some bad guy, that's just annoying. I played several levels repeatedly because I blew some tiny detail 10 minutes into a 15 or 20 minute sortie.

3. I thought the missions were fairly repetitive as well. There seemed to be only four real sortie types and in 24 levels, that allows for been-there-done-that syndrome to set in.

But it's not all blue Mondays for this title. For one thing, the graphics are nothing short of beautiful. Watching a squadron launch stirs feelings of amazement and wonder. The cut-scenes also do a fantastic job of pulling you in to the game and each is quite well-done. I really got into character, snarling at every blast I took and trash-talking whoever happened to be in my cross hairs. The HUD was simple an uncluttered, a nice change from the thousands of buttons and doo-dads in most flight sims. That's another thing. I constantly forgot I was playing a flight sim. Flight sims are for old men and armchair pilot, right? Apparently not true, as this game shows. I was reminded of the game Wings by Cinemaware. I played my heart out and I cursed with every wingman shot down. Even beyond these praises is my favorite feature of the game: simple variety. Ok, I know I said the missions weren't terribly varied but the game offers you the choice each mission of 12 ships, each with its own strengths and weaknesses. On top of that you have the option of choosing your load-out. Want extra weapons? If so, which ones do you want? After all, you have your choice of over 20 different missiles and gun types. Maybe this mission is going to require another fuelpod. How do you figure out which ship needs which load-out for which mission? Play it and find out.

Glitches aside, this is a keyboard driven interface, and you'll want to figure out a configuration that's comfortable for you. It's worth checking into, if you enjoy the final frontier. Still, for my money, Homeworld has still got this one beat for now.


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