Personal Computer News27th April 1985
Published in Personal Computer News #109
While you're waiting for someone to convert Elite, you could get in some practice playing Starion.
Starion features the best wireframe graphics and perspective transformations since Elite - they have to be seen to be believed. It lacks Elite's detail, but it's fast, difficult and varied.
The aim is to correct faults in time zones: sort them all out and you become 'Creator' - I suppose it's a cut above merely 'Elite'. Aliens have disrupted various years in Earth's history by shifting key events to other timezones.
You choose a sector from a 3 x 3 grid. Then you're shown another grid. The sectors in these have 'AD' or 'BC' at the top with a year below. Select one of these and it's time to 'Battle with Enemy', so your computer prompts.
The upper part of the screen is the view forward into deep space. Below is a colourful instrument panel. Gauges and meters show velocity, yaw, hydrox, oxygen, and hulls remaining. But of most interest are the twin 'biplanar scanners' whose circular screens map your immediate vicinity. On the left the axes are X-Z, the right radar shows Y-Z. This is dreadfully confusing at first but you soon adapt. To get an enemy dead ahead you must get it above you on the left radar, and due east on the right. Then it's in view and you can fly by direct sight.
Apart from the radar you probably won't have time even to glance at the rest of the flying instruments. Flying SS Stardate by reflex, you bank and turn, accelerate, stop short, spin and rake fighters with twin laser. All against a sickeningly spinning, star-riddled backdrop.
Naturally the aliens resent your attacks and retaliate by firing at you. They're not as mobile as Elite ships, and the SS Stardate is very manoeuvrable, so they're quite easy to handle. But I suspect their aim improves as you progress further in the game.
It's the enemy fighters and their rockets that make games like this so compulsive. Fighters come in a variety of 3D white frameworks. Some resemble paper darts, others are pretty complex, and they're all hostile. It's quite a shock when what resembles an elongated brick whistles past your left ear and vanishes into the middle distance. And once you've got a fighter dead centre, it's almost a pity to blast it.
But you have to, because immediately after it explodes, its various parts reassemble to form a letter which you must collect as cargo. The letters in each time zone form an anagram of the displaced time-event in another zone. So, once you've gathered all the letters, your on-board computer asks you to identify the cargo. Most of the anagrams are quite easy, but matching them to the zone dates is harder.
Once you've got a zone's word it's back to the master space map. Select the zone showing the year which corresponds to the word you hold, and you're in deep space, searching for Earth. On arrival your computer assesses if you have the correct cargo for the year; if so, you're off again, blasting enemies and collecting letters.
The rules are more complex still - the initial letters of the words form a set of zones form an anagram whose solution is the password to the next set of zones. There are nine sets of zones in a 'time-block', and their initial letters provide the password to the next block. All in all there are 243 bottom-level zones to correct - but it'll take you months to do that.
Starion has nearly everything you could wish for in a computer game: speed, variation and superb graphics. My only reservations are that the sound is very limited, and the plot and rules too contrived. It's very good, and if more thought had gone into the game design it would be an instant success.