Roberts Finds Redemption with Starlancer

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When I heard that Chris Roberts would be leaving Origin to found his own company, Digital Anvil, I had a lot of skepticism about how his Wing Commander series would turn out. As it turns out, it did have its highs and lows. On the high side, Origin released a worthy successor title back in 1997 called Wing Commander: Prophecy which did a good job carrying on the WC tradition even after the Kilrathi’s extermination and Roberts’ departure.

Contrasting to the darker side of Digital Anvil, we were exposed, or in my case, tortured to that abomination Wing Commander theatrical release, and anyone who read my take on it knows how much I hated the film.

It also seriously hampered my belief that Chris Roberts was a genius. How could someone who made such a great game series tarnish that reputation with a horrid film? And also, how could he make up for this?

Easy. Just develop another Wing Commander-esque shooter, but alter the storyline to fit a more Cold War setting. And thus, Starlancer is born.

It seems that in the Starlancer universe, the conflict between the Americans and Eastern Europe has escalated to the far reaches of space. A peace treaty is finalized, but turns out to be a double-cross, as the European "Coalition" stages a surprise attack on the "Alliance," leaving most of their Sol facilities in ruin.

The attack has also dwindled the Alliance’s fligt staff, so volunteer pilots are requested to enlist. These pilots are joined together to their own flight unit, the 45th Volunteers, and are immediately stationed to the Reliant carrier.

Being grunts, the 45th will be assisted by other flight groups originating from other parts of Earth (Japan, Germany, England) and other planets, but still the fate of the Alliance lies in the hands of the 45th.

Starlancer still feels like the Wing Commander series that we have loved for 10 years. The game’s engine will look familiar to those who played Privateer 2, and for good reason because Erin Roberts, who designed Privateer 2, worked with Chris on this product. I always felt the combat engine was the best part of Privateer 2, and it is definitely put to good use here as well. The interface will display any information you need whenever you want to see it without cluttering the screen.

And as for the combat itself, it is still very effective, with each ship having their own yaw, pitch, roll rates, weapon and missile configurations, and special abilities. For instance, Blind Fire allows a pilot to lock on a foe as long as he stays in sight. Spectral Shields provide a temporary defense from energy weapons, and Reverse Thrust does just what it says, moves you in reverse. Each of these special abilities can be used for maximum strategy.

Also, considering the engine it’s running on, Starlancer still looks darn good on the right 3D card. It also sounds good as well, with excellent voice acting, especially from your wingmen, and the enemy forces with their Eastern European accents.

I have noticed, however, that some of the missions can be tough. For instance, one mission requires to fly into an fuel dump, blow up fuel cells, and get out of Dodge before it goes up. This is a time-critical situation and if not done exactly right, your ship could get caught in the blast. Also, a lot of the missions have a set time limit. Getting these objectives complete can be near impossible. Even at the easiest level, it can still be quite a challenge.

Starlancer is a worthy return for Chris and Erin Roberts. It almost makes me forget about that movie. Almost, mind you. Starlancer gets 4 1/2 GiN Gems for its strong effort, and I hope that more titles like this will be available soon.

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