How come we don't get more war games set in outer space, eh? Everybody knows how violent space is. Blimey, you can't travel more than a few light years before coming across a load of wrecked planets and ransacked Empires. And what about computers - weren't they built for use in zero-gravity spaceships in the first place? [Er, I don't think so. - Ed]
Well, worry no more, dear Spec-chums, because Accolade seem to have reversed the trend by producing a classic 'Earthlings Vs Glob-People' game. Actually, instead of a simple battle between Earth and Aliens, it's a humongous great campaign, with 4 different groups of spooky space beings on each side which is even better! Let's sort it all out...
It all starts with the Alliance and the Hierarchy. They hate each other, so they've declared war. This war will only be over when the Starbase (a kind of Death Star) of either side is destroyed. To do this, the winning side must have built loads of fighters, using money given to them at the beginning of the game. They then go off into enemy territory to find the other side's base. (You can't miss it - it's the size of Jupiter, and made of aluminium.)All this takes place on a simple strategic map rather like a chess board. Your base and forces are marked as are the enemy's. All you need to do is build your blokies, move them towards the enemy using a cursor, wipe out the opposition, then take their base. Easy, isn't it?
Er, not very. You see, both sides can also capture and colonise the planets that lie around the galaxy. This means that while you've been marching off to dfestroy those scummy baddies, they've been getting loads of money from the planets they've conquered. So they can buy more spacefleets, and make it very, very easy for them to zap you and your little chumlettes into oblivion. Mmm. Looks like the old peaceful-colonisation-plus-extreme-mutha-bashing-violence approach might come in a bit handy here, eh, Spec-chums?
The battles themselves! Hurrah! These occur whenever opposing forces move onto the same square on the strategic map. There are 8 types of spaceship which can be involved, 4 for each side (although only 2 can fight it out in any one bit). You'll already have chosen which type of craft you want to build in the strategic chess-boardy part of the game. Each has totally different weapons and a weird way of moving, and it's all played out on this sort of wrap-around combat screen (a lot like the one in Asteroids if anyone remembers that), with a display of your weapons and strength positioned on the right.
As there's no gravity ('cos you're in space) your ship slides all over the shop - it takes a few seconds to stop and change where you're going so you're always moving off in one direction but aiming in another. It's well spooky - and takes a fair few gos to practice!
On top of that, each ship has special properties and weapons, and of course this adds the really fun element to the combat. Choose a mega-fast deathblaster against some pathetic woodlouse of a craft and it's "Eat plutonium death, alien weirdo!" - time for him. It's never a particularly even fight between the 2 spaceships, but your skills can often be the deciding factor.
This arcade combat element is fairly simple, I suppose, but very addictive. In fact, it's so good that Accolade have built an option into the menu which allows you to just play this, and not bother with the strategic element at all. You can either practice with just one type of ship, or you can go through all your ships, fighting against all the possible enemy vessels. This certainly gives you a taste of what they're capable of.
You can also set things up so that the computer does all the strategic thinking bits for you, leaving you to handle just the combat. Or, if you want, you can play all the strategic bits and the computer does all the combat (although only a boring anorak would select this option). But best of all is a... wait for it... 2-player option! This is stonkingly brill, especially against a pal who's as good as you. The combat can go on for ages. The Melee selection (where you cycle through all the available spaceships) is the best for 2-player action, because there's a random-choice option. You've absolutely no idea what ship you'll have, and nor does your opponent!
It's a bit of a pity really that the combat bit rather overshadows the strategic bit. If you're a great fan of war games (as I am) you might think that Star Controls attempt is a bit thin. Basically it provides some light relief between the bouts of violence. Once you've played the full game a few times, you get a feel for which strategic moves to make, so you should stand a good chance of winning every time. By then you'll also be an ace at the combat section. And that's the best time to invite a Spec-chum to have a go (except that after an hour or 2 he (or she) won't be your Spec-chum anymore, and might very well have pushed your Speccy down your throat!).
A bit of a split personality, this one. The strategy bit is a trifle limited, but the combat stuff's brill.