By Scott Parrino 21 Jun 2004 0


Many years ago, I ran a website which covered the full spectrum of the simulation genre, including space simulations. One of my underlying philosophies as a game reviewer is not only to cover the larger releases, but also to cover the little guys, the independent developers who made mods and shareware releases. One of the titles I came across in my research was called Starshatter, an ambitious title which, according to an interview I conducted with its creator, John DiCamillo, is ?about giving the player the tools and setting in which he can create a new story every time the game is played?. This is the underlying theme upon which Starshatter is based.

Starshatter is a space sim, but not in the traditional sense which many readers familiar with space sims will be accustomed to. Typical space sims, such as the Wing Commander series, Freespace 2, or Tie Fighter, follow a specific path and a specific story. Again, according to a previous interview, Mr. DiCamillo finds that, ?the Wing Commander ?interactive movie? concept is an evolutionary dead end.? Therefore, one of Starshatter?s main selling points is its dynamic campaign engine. This means there?s no plot to worry about, no missions to fly again in order to advance the story, and no cut scenes. This brings the game towards something more akin to Falcon 4.0, something rarely seen in the space sim genre.

Choices, Choices, and more Choices...

Starshatter is also about giving the player options. The player can choose the missions they?re to undertake during the dynamic campaigns, make new missions and campaigns if they so desire, create whole new universes to play in, and tweak the game to match their playing style. This is one of the main attractions to Starshatter, because not only will it be an engaging game in its own right, it can also allow the player to let it be whatever the player wants it to be.

The build of Starshatter I was provided is a near-final release, so all of the features were intact. When the player first loads Starshatter, they?re given the option of choosing their callsign, flight model, and experience level. There are two different flight models in Starshatter, Arcade Style (which is more akin to Wing Commander), and Standard Model, which is more realistic (and akin to Independence War). The two levels of experience determine whether the player will take part in the training campaign or not.

Once the player has gotten past this initial screen, he can go to the Options screen to change almost every facet of the game, from video resolution, control method (Starshatter can be played with they keyboard, joystick, or mouse), and so on. Once the player is happy with the options chosen, it?s time to either select a single mission (the version I have includes several), engage in some multiplayer action (I was unable to test this, but it is available), or take part in one of the dynamic campaigns. The first campaign, Operation Live Fire, is where most new pilots should start, as it gives tips on combat, control, communication, as well as planetary combat and capital ship command courses.

Once training is completed, it?s time to venture into Starshatter?s next campaign, Operation Highland. Once enlisted into this campaign, the player can receive intelligence updates, news, information on current forces in the area, and so on. This portion of the campaign seems very similar to other games with dynamic campaigns. Once the player has gotten all of his information, it?s time to choose the first mission. The first missions in the campaign are the typical patrols, sweeps, and even clearing minefields. Eventually, as the campaign progresses, the player will be given meatier targets, such as capital ships and starbases. Combat can take place in space as well as planet side. In the hours I was able to dedicate to the campaign, I took part in assaults, patrols, strikes, and so on. The missions are different each time, which is a testament to the dynamic campaign engine. For example, I began two separate campaigns and chose the same type of mission each time, a sweep, just to see what would happen. On my first sweep, my carrier was already under attack as I launched, requiring an immediate response. On the second sweep, I encountered no enemy fighters at all.

The campaign engine also keeps track of the player?s own pilot?s statistics, and will promote him accordingly. With the rise in rank, players can eventually command entire squadrons or fleets, depending on whether they are a fighter pilot or starship captain. Now this is all well and good, but I?m sure some readers are thinking ?the dynamic campaign is fine and all, but it doesn?t mean a hill of beans if the game itself isn?t fun to play?. This is where Starshatter?s varied approach to gameplay shines.

Commanding the destroyer Durham on an escort mission.

Commanding the destroyer Wraith, as well as other ships, on an assault mission.



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