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      StarLancer Preview
Wednesday, Oct 24  

By Dale Wynn

Starlancer is a game that comes to us with one heck of a pedigree. The names Chris and Erin Roberts instantly gains respect when gaming discussions turn towards Space Combat. Chris is certainly well known as being the mastermind behind the Wing Commander Series with Erin working more on the excellent Privateer series. With Starlancer we seem to have a role reversal with Erin working on this combat oriented sim rather than the Space Trading style games he has been previously known for. Chris and Erin left Origin some time ago to create Digital Anvil, giving them much more control on the games they produce, and if this one is anything to go by, I am sure we will be seeing plenty of high quality gaming to come.

Starlancer sees us set in a time where the Cold War has taken a grip on the political landscape, this time far in the future. As always there are various sides in this conflict and as the war progresses you will notice changes in allegiances that will affect your mission structure. You are a member of the Alliance, which is basically made up of nations that form the current Nato , (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) your major foe will be the Confederation. The Confederation brings back our favourite wartime enemy, the cold war, Warsaw Pact countries.

Your character begins the game as a rookie pilot slotted into hastily created Squadron called the 45th Volunteers. Your squadron mates are a ragtag bunch of misfits slotted together to try and help stem the tide of the war (no real surprise there). The Alliance is on the brink for collapse and it is up to you and the 45th Squadron to turn things around and take up the attack on the Confederation. As per usual in these sorts of games you are outgunned and outnumbered and must struggle to survive.

Starlancer looks to have taken what was done right in the Wing Commander (WC) series and improved it ten fold. Combat is much more rewarding and the variety of missions available in the beta adds immensely to the overall game quality. Combat in most cases is not that different to the WC games however has a far more polished feel to it. There is a very wide range of weapons to use (depending on your gameplay style) and there is the standard customisation available for each craft.

Some of the guns available are just awesome and it is definitely worth testing different combinations to see which ones work out best. I was a bit disappointed with the available missiles, after playing around with them I found that I needed to use only one missile type in the majority of cases. The only time I had to use another type of Missile was when the mission structure only allowed for the goals to be reached by destroying something with a certain type of weapon.

I hope that some of the missiles are significantly tweaked in the final release version, as some of them did not seem to have much use. I found that with a lot of the missions you were severely outgunned by enemy fighters and it was more important to have a mass of missiles rather than the limited number of specialised missiles available.

The combat side of things is done very stylishly as is typical in these games. There is still the in your face dogfighting that the Roberts brothers do so well. There are a few problems with the scripting in some of the missions at the moment and some of the evasive manoeuvres of enemy fighters are very predictable. One of the best new enhancements to the game is the actual physical feel in the combat.

Rather than just be a ship freewheeling through space with little or no gravitational effects this game does attempt to add some controls over movement. Actual speed effects turning abilities with the higher the speed the tighter the turning circle, fighters will also drift and slide depending on momentum which seems much more realistic than most Space Sims. Of course these effects are very much an estimation of what may really happen should we ever get to the stage if screaming about space in high-speed fighter aircraft.

One thing that really impressed me was the fact that someone is finally getting closer to having the correct feel for the Cap ships. This game goes pretty close to getting it right and for a sneak preview of the other big Digital Anvil title I can actually tell you that they seem to have done this even better in Freelancer (we were privileged enough to get a sneak preview and actually meet briefly with Kris Roberts at E3 - more to come on this one later) Starlancer goes closer than most current Space Sims in getting the correct feel for the immensity of space, expect it to set the standard until at least Freelancer hits the shelves.

Graphics and Sound are also of a very high quality, explosions look pretty sweet and sound effects have very little to complain about, even for a beta. The only thing that needs to be picked up here is probably some lip sync problems in the character animations and voice over effects. There are quite a few occasions where they do not match up, but I fully expect such an obvious problem to be cleared up pretty easily.

The game interface is very clean and efficient; transitions and information are handled through some very cleanly animated screens with all options being clearly available. Some of the transitions could possibly be sped up a little but in general everything runs very smoothly. Mission briefings and information screens look excellent and really show a great improvement in design. Some of the in mission transition screens can get a little annoying because they cannot be skipped, this was probably my only major gripe with the interface as it gets pretty annoying, especially when repeatedly stuffing up certain missions.

Starlancer is a game that I have been waiting for since it was first announced with a heck of a lot of anticipation. Having played the beta plenty I can quite happily say that it is certainly going to live up to its potential, it is developed by a team with a proven record at this type of game and they have certainly improved a very solid concept and taken it a lot further. I thoroughly enjoyed playing the beta and I am pretty keen to get hold of the final release version. As a preview on a beta product I was pretty damn impressed with this one, make sure you grab it as soon as you can.

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