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Starflight

Genre: Simulation Developer: BlueSky Software Publisher: Electronic Arts Players: 1 Released: 1991

Every console has gems that fall through the cracks. These brilliant games are either before their time, misunderstood, or unable to appeal to the masses. Back in the day, before they were the powerful empire we know today, Electronic Arts published quite a few of these forgotten classics on Sega’s 16-bit platform, and one of their most forgotten and pushed-aside titles is a little simulation/RPG mix called Starflight.

Fans of Star Trek will feel instantly at home, as you begin the game you’re given your mission objectives and one is literally “… to seek out new life and new civilizations, and boldly go where no man has gone before.” If you haven’t already inferred from the title, you’re in command of a starship, only unlike a shmup I mean you’re literally in command. You’re the captain in charge of hiring and training your crew, naming your proud vessel, purchasing upgrades for it and making all of the decisions in regard to your boldly-going.

And boldly-go you will; as soon as you undock from the starport you’ll find yourself in a single solar system that’s part of an absolutely enormous universe which you have free roam of. The game is completely open ended, allowing you to explore to your heart’s content. Unfortunately (For you at least) you live in a capitalist society and you have to find planets which your ship can land on, allowing you to explore with your upgradeable terrain vehicle and mine for valuable minerals or stun and capture native animals to sell back to the starport for cash. Another way to get money is to log planets that are suitable for colonization though you have to be careful because if you choose a planet that isn’t livable your HQ will level a hefty fine against you.

Finding worlds to colonize has a purpose that leads us into the main focus of the game. Your sun is dying. In fact, suns all over the galaxy are flaring up and destroying all life and no one understands why. It’s up to you and your gallant crew in your shiny new starship to solve this mystery. As you explore you’ll run into alien vessels patrolling their territory and you’ve got to question them and discover hints to what’s going on and how to stop it.

Throughout the course of the game you will also discover ruins hidden on certain planets that will also try and prod you in the right direction as well as artifacts whose uses you need to discover. Some aliens will be helpful and cooperative but others will require a bit of prodding and even a little combat and of course there are those who will shoot first and ask questions to your ashes later. Because of this, the game starts off a little slow as it’s going to take a decent amount of mining and intelligent spending to get a spaceworthy ship and crew as well as enough fuel to do some serious exploring and make it back to the starbase. For such an incredibly detailed game, Starflight is still simple for anyone to pick up and play thanks to basic controls and a friendly interface which is truly a testament to good design.

Graphically the game is passable, it doesn’t try to do anything fancy because it doesn’t need to. Even so, the Genesis version of Starflight is an incredible facelift over the simple graphics of original PC version from 1988, developed by Binary Systems. I’m not saying the game is ugly, not by a long shot. The galaxy is colorful and your ship looks fairly detailed. The alien vessels are a bit grainier but only because the alien encounters take place in a zoomed-out perspective to give you a bigger field of vision if you have to suddenly engage in combat. The surfaces of the planets are probably the best looking thing in the game, and some planets will also have earthquakes or sudden thunderstorms (with dangerous lightning and tornadoes) to threaten your little terrain vehicle. It’s always nice to look at and helps making mining planets a little less tedious.

Sound-wise you’ll find nothing to complain about. Music is sparse and Star Trek-esque which is to be expected and you thankfully won’t hear it often because it would get old fast if you had to listen to it constantly while exploring. Sounds are strange and ambient and help set the mood. None of the sounds really stood out for me but they weren’t bad either.

Starflight truly is a landmark game lost to time like other genius mold-breakers such as Herzog Zwei. Today we take open ended adventures for granted, thanks to series like Grand Theft Auto, but back in the day we had titles such as Starflight and Elite, which have been long forgotten for their innovations. If you’re looking for a fast action shmup — although the combat is satisfying — you should look elsewhere because this is a game of exploration and not combat. If you’re a fan of Star Trek, or an RPG or strategy gamer looking for something a little different, then Starflight is right up your alley. You may spend upwards of sixty hours before you “beat” it, though even then the vast universe is still left open for you to explore and find whatever you may have missed on the over one hundred planets you can visit.

If you’ve ever wondered what it was like to be the captain of your own starship then this is the game you’ve been missing all these years. If you let yourself get addicted, Starflight will grip you with its mystery and open-ended gameplay and never let go.

SCORE: 9 out of 10

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1 Comment

  1. tachi says:

    An amazing game with a wealth too do.
    I still have my original one with the starmap full of my old notes on travel distances and the like.

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