Time Controlled: 2 hours
Sponsored By: Myself
A space game that manages to make the galaxy feel big without making it feel empty.
Also, planetary exploration is a hoot!
I had never heard of Toys for Bob’s 1990 space RPG before I saw that there was going to be a sequel/remake/reboot of it a few weeks ago. The trailer looked good enough to make my game of the week, and in a rare fit of extravagance I went ahead and bought it.
What drew me to it, in part, was its apparent similarity to Escape Velocity. The resemblance is more than skin deep. The ship can only thrust in one direction, and it has all the ponderous momentum you might expect a massive starship to have, so if you want to slow down, you have to spin around and fire your engines in the direction you’re not going. It’s all two-dimensional, which might disappoint people who like their space to have more, well, space in it, but it does make figuring out which way to point your ship a lot easier if you want to slow down in a hurry.
Not that you can do much in a hurry at first. The basic ship isn’t any great shakes when it comes to turning speed or acceleration, but fear not! Star Control:Origins is an RPG, so you can look forward to leveling up your ship. All it takes is money and materials. Money you get by selling materials you don’t need, and materials come from exploring planets.
Planetary exploration is one of my favorite things to do in Star Control:Origins. When you come into range of an explorable planet, you’re given the option to land on it and look around. Landing is its own mini game: Your rover drops from orbit, and you try to keep it on a marked flight path. It’s worth learning to play well, because playing badly will cause your lander to explode spectacularly – and replacing landers costs money you should be using to upgrade your ship.
If you can stick the landing, you get to zoom around the surface of the planet looking for resources and other points of interest. The rovers are hovercraft, and they’re also subject to the whims of inertia, so zipping around the cratered surface of, for example, the Moon is like a sci-fi version of IronMan Stewart’s Off Road Racing, which is to say: floaty, jumpy and a whole lot of fun. Like your ship, rovers are upgradable, and a good thing too. Some planets are too hostile for the starter vehicle, either because of the environment or because of hostile critters and robots, so you’ll want weapons and better shields as soon as possible.
If all this sounds complicated to you, you’re not wrong. Fortunately all of the systems in the game, from exploration to combat, mesh well together and they’re easier to use than describe. There’s a classic simplicity to driving the ship that I appreciate, though someone looking for more simulation is going to be disappointed. Regardless, there’s more to an RPG than experience points and upgrades; there’s the role that all that play is servicing, which means you want a story.
I’m happy to report that the story is as solid as the gameplay. It’s not particularly original – saving humanity from hostile aliens is hardly an unexplored frontier – but the execution is solid. There are myriad alien races with dialog trees to climb. What’s more, everything is voice-acted and, to my surprise, funny. The first alien race you encounter has some linguistic quirks that make for some chuckles, and overall the game doesn’t take itself entirely seriously, which is always a plus in my book.
One of the things I don’t often talk about in these reviews is polish. That’s probably because I tend to play games that don’t have it. Star Control:Origins, however, does.
The graphics and sound both shine, and the voice acting is remarkably competent. What’s more, everything just works. I haven’t found a single bug or glitch anywhere in the game so far, which surprised me somewhat. It is an RPG, after all, and usually there’s at least a problem loading save files or something like that, but no: That just works too.
As a total package, Star Control: Origins is a solid buy. The gameplay is complex enough to be interesting without being overwhelming, the writing is solid and it’s got polish for days. If you like space RPGs, I can’t think of a better game to recommend right now.
Will I fly on?
One of the difficulties playing an hour’s worth of game every week is that I don’t get to dive deep into as many games as I might like to. Star Control:Origins is one that I want to spend more time with. I want to see how deep the systems go, and hear all of the dialog options for all the aliens.
Most of all, I want to see how overpowered I can make my ship; this is an RPG, after all.
But is it Dark Souls in Deep Space?
Combat in Star Control:Origin is straightforward dogfighting. You fly around, collect power ups and try to shoot your opponent while your opponent tries to do the same to you. The challenge, early on, comes from the fact that your early ship steers like a giraffe stuck hip-deep in cold molasses. I fully expect that to improve to, at the very least, a giraffe stuck hip-deep in warm molasses as I upgrade my ship. Since the game is going to improve my ship, rather than expecting me to become a better pilot, I’m going to say this game is not the Dark Souls equivalent you are looking for.