Star Control & Star Control 2
Genre: Sci-fi Action Adventure & Shoot ’em Up
You may have noticed I’m doing an original and sequel once again. While I would normally spread these out across a couple of weeks, the second entry in this series is a direct continuation of the first in gameplay and story. Star Control is almost like a prequel to the real game, Star Control 2 in storyline. Really, the two games are an update and continuation on a much older franchise that can trace itself back to the origins of videogaming: a noble and successful take on Spacewar.
Before I dive into the games, a quick history of Spacewar. Developed at MIT and “tested extensively” by the student body in the early 60’s. According to my wife’s father who was attending in the mid 60’s (not just a regular college dropout who entered the tech industry, but a prestigious MIT dropout), the game had a constant long and winding line to play. He himself only played it a handful of times, but he attested to its addictive and fun qualities. Players controlled one of two ships – The Needle or The Wedge – and tried to shoot each other out of space while maneuvering around the gravity well of a star. The ships follow Newtonian physics, and so are constantly moving after you accelerate, allowing for some rather sophisticated slingshotting and spaceflight using the gravity well. Torpedoes and fuel are in limited supply, forcing the players to be conservative and tactful. The Star Control franchise continues and updates this science-based history of gameplay in a fun and unique way. Players can fight in space battles either against the computer or against other players.
Star Control had a basic storyline in which the player took control of one of two sides of an interstellar conflict, The Alliance of Free Stars and The Hierarchy of Battle Thralls. In a shocking turn of events, humanity is part of The Alliance of Free Stars, after having been contacted and invited by the sort of leader species of the group, a crystalline race trying to fight back against the Ur-Quan (who are at the top of this hierarchy of battle thralls). The booklet has a bit of a background on each of the races, along with fun little connections. For example, one of the races in The Alliance of Free Stars was sponsored by another one to become a space faring race, because they felt they had a strong warrior spirit – the race that has become sponsored now flies small, dangerous kamikaze ships for the alliance, which can fire a small gun or explode in a horrendously damaging nova.
Gameplay for the first game was broken into two modes: melee, a straight up star ship battle in which you’d try to take down the other ship using one of your own, and ‘full’ game, which was more of a tactical battle over a star system, involving capturing stars, building resources and defending a starbase while building different types of starships. When a fleet of ships from one side encounter the other, they then have a series of the melee mode space battles until one side is out of ships. Not all races are created equal – some races have ships that are lumbering monstrosities that can blast away half of a ships health in one go. Other ships can fire across the screen with ship-seeking blasts. Yet others have shielding, teleportation, transformation and other gimmicks that other races lack. Each ship has its own advantages and disadvantages, and ultimately most ships can hold their own against most others.
Star Control 2 has the exact same Melee mode with expanded starship options and new races. It also has a fantastic and epic story that starts with everyone at a very low point, and makes you really work for improving the fate of humanity. You play as a young hotshot from an earth colony out in the boonies of the galaxy, who decides to return home to the Sol System (the official designation of our star and solar system – something I give them kudos for. Not many people add that detail). Your crew finds that Earth has been placed under a giant dome (the fate of all races who are conquered by the Ur-Quan who don’t become Battle Thralls). Discovering this, you head first to the Moon, and then Pluto, encountering one of the oddest races of Battle Thralls being left to guard the Earth, the cowardly Spaathi. They fold at the smallest threat, release the Earth from it’s shield, and that’s when the game becomes a completely open ended sandbox. You can then start doing whatever you want across the galaxy, trying to fix whatever problems you want. Certain events take place or trigger after certain things are done, and there is an eventual countdown timer based on something in the storyline happening that must be resolved.
This is a major improvement, and the story is truly epic in scope, as you travel around trying to unite scattered races – not merely the former members of the Alliance of Free Stars, but newer races who have become aware of the galaxy at large and its politics in the meantime. Each of the races have a heavily developed personality that they built upon from the first games background plot, and the writing is both sharp and funny. Often the games humor is quirky and found to at least a small degree in each interaction. My particular favorite includes talking to The Vux, a hideous race of one-eyes, green tentacled monstrosities, made to look at vile as one could imagine, who find humanity to be utterly disgusting and reprehensible, and so will do anything in their power to try and kill you (with the exception of one “disgusting pervert” who finds humanity and many of the other ugly races “quite tantalizing”).
So while they are two separate games, it really feels like the first was a prototype for the second, a prologue rather than a first title. It is worth mentioning that a third game was developed and released by a different team – I haven’t personally played it, but from what I’ve read, many purists find it to be a deep dip in quality. The first time I encountered the original Star Control was actually on a Sega port of the game, which wasn’t bad compared to the original MS-Dos version. There is a large modding community out there for Star Control 2 that involves making an unofficial expansion, since the original game is in a hazy area of abandonware.
These two games are really worth checking out, though, and they’re easily available from many online venues. Star Control 2 alone is a classic that I go back to every so often, and I still find something new once in awhile. Really give it a whirl – you won’t be disappointed.