They tell us in advertising class that the best way to measure how well your product will sell is by its unique selling proposition. Most games have a pitch like this, whether its touting their mind-blowing graphics, one-of-a-kind gameplay, or simply being the sequel to last years blockbuster. Starlancer has none of these qualities, so during the Dreamcasts packed fall of 2000 it fell between the cracks while gamers opted for more well-known titles like Shenmue. It came, got some decent review scores from web sites and magazines, and disappeared without leaving so much as a dent on the medium. Is it worth sniffing around the corners of your local game shop for a look at this forgotten relic? Well, lets just say I now know why it was forgotten in the first place, and that knowledge was not worth a twenty.
From the plot to the missions to the control scheme, Starlancer doesnt do anything worth writing home about. Graphically, when stacked next to Dreamcast games with awe-inspiring visuals like Jet Grind Radio and Quake III Arena, Starlancer looks like the PC port it is. Its not that its technically deficient, but the ships are painted in bland grays and browns and cast over unimpressive backgrounds to make a truly awful art design. To paraphrase the great Daily Show correspondent Lewis Black, it gets so freaking dull you want to slit your wrists just to add some color.
The way the game advances the story in real-time is very interesting, but undeniably flawed. At the start of many missions youll have to sit through the same pointless procedure: your ship dropping from the home base, your squadron warping out, your wingmen gossiping about the new experimental fighter jets. Sometimes you wont have any reason to touch the controller for five minutes as your squadron darts around looking for baddies; you might as well be watching a loading screen. This is supposed to be a shooter, not Final Fantasy. Maybe I would be more accepting of viewing what amount to cutscenes over and over if the storyline was decent, but it combines the faceless characters and ships of Starship Troopers with a brainless Cold War cliche to form a plot that matches the tired graphics.
Mike felt that the plot advancement helped cover up the shallow combat, and I agree, but it didnt do nearly enough. Every ship you dispatch or capital cruiser you take out is done in the same repetitive way with the merely serviceable controls. Even worse, each wave of enemy ships tends to be so large that you get bored by the time youve finished it off. Knocking out these hordes is even more mind-numbing when youre piloting attack vessels that give absolutely no sense of speed or power.
I find Starlancer to be a completely mediocre game that doesnt excite or annoy in the least. Its a stunning bore, the kind of vaporware that sucks twenty hours away and leaves you bored and demoralized. The only people I could imagine being satisfied with this game would be newbies to gaming that have never laid their hands on classic shooters like Star Fox and Space Harriers. For the rest of us, Starlancer is another game with no compelling reason to pick it up. If you spot it in the bargain bins, looking at you with puppy-dog eyes, take a tip from me and back away slowly.