Starscape is the debut from a talented group of ex-professional game developers. The professionalism shines through this product, from the DVD artwork to the look of Moonpod's website.
Starscape, roughly speaking, is a cross between a research-and-conquer space game and a rotary blaster like Asteroids. The game is heavily plot driven and most of the action is indeed... action, the research bits taking up far less time than the shoot-em-up parts and no need for any strategic thought.
The story of the lost space station Aegis is set by cartoon style cut scenes, and characters of various species pop up every now and again to advance the story. A lot of work has gone into the animation parts and it was worth it. The Aegis has a regular compliment of crew each with a scripted part to play.
The graphics are as good as graphics can get for this type of game. I can't think of a single bad graphical effect or image, and there are plenty of good ones. The shield glow around your ship and the cannon fire from the Aegis are wonderful, better than most television special effects. The characterisation and animation is spot on. Enough text and enough story is there to give the characters some depth. The techno music might not fit the game as well as a more thoughtful sounding alternative might but it's good as it stands, and there are zero complaints about the sound effects.
There are twin aspects to this game. Side one is the research and construction parts where new components for the space station and your fighter are crafted. Ships must be designed, so components are slotted into a plan view. That is about is complicated as this part gets; you can move your ship through hyperspace on a chess-like space map but not much thought is needed.
Side two is the action part, an overhead Asteroids style rotary blaster where most of the time you are seeking resources.
Resources are essential. These little gems in three colours are needed to research, build and repair everything in the game and getting them is a matter of sucking them up in the action part and this normally means rock blasting. There is no chance of actually being killed by the asteroids and having to hold down your vacuum cleaner key to suck up the tiniest of gems makes this aspect of the game simply boring. Fortunately, you get to blow up alien space ships too and the bigger ones drop gems as well as ready built components. This can still be a little frustrating as you watch your gems smash away into each other and your ship because you forgot to hoover them up correctly.
The action when it happens is frantic. Generally the sniper-like accuracy that Asteroids and FPS games need is gone, and instead hundreds of alien ships charge into the thousands of bullets your vessel spews asunder. When the enemy manages to kill you it's by weight of numbers and there is little feeling of being beaten by a superior opponent. Watching your fully operational battle station take on the alien hoardes automatically is a wonderful sight to behold however. I often found it better than fighting myself. Bigger ships appear, and mother ships too, that serve as end of level guardians. There is more to the game than mindless fighting, but not enough more to be called tactical. Shoot-em-ups like this tend to lose out when friend and foe both take a lot of hits before exploding, and Starscape illustrates that a bit.
The graphics and presentation could not be better but some elements of the gameplay could be. I have played better shoot-em-ups and better space conquest games but ultimately, none that combine so well.
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