There is one style of game that has seemingly died out recently and that is the space combat simulator. For years games such as Wing Commander and Descent dominated in popularity but as the years have gone by the games have been released less and less and considering the joysticks continue to be released with new features its hard to understand. Surely people play more then Flight Simulator. However one developer is aiming to change this with the help of publisher Matrix Games. You may not have heard of Starshatter but if you're a space combat fan you really should have.
Starshatter is a space combat game very much in the style of the aforementioned Wing Commander games. You take the role of a fighter pilot in the Terrallian Alliance, who is under attack by seperatists who have caused a civil war. Obviously you have to stop this and this is how the storyline begins, other than the obligatory tutorial. One thing thats great about the storyline is that the information is played out via text and not cut scenes. Some may wonder why this is good, it is because it has allowed the developers to give a huge scope to the storyline for those who want it but also offers the opportunity for players to skip the entire story if all they want to do is focus on the action.
The scope of the game is quite large with numerous systems included in the game and five campaigns for players to get through. Another interesting aspect is the real time clock included which dictates which missions are available at which time. Each mission has a time associated with it, when it is meant to be performed. The great thing about this is you don't have to do the missions in any real order. If you don't feel like doing an escort mission you don't have to at that time, just select something else. The time moves forward depending on which mission you select and this dictates what missions come next. The time also moves forward even if you fail the mission so the game is ever changing.
The game is a typical space shooter in terms of how you play it. The heads up display gives a perspective of looking out into space with various controls available such as targeting systems and the ability to communicate with your wingmen. There is a great deal of depth to the gameplay as well, which some players make not like but others will really appreciate the detail the developers have put into the game. Not only do you have to shoot down targets, but also dock with the base and command your squadron. The variety of missions also helps keep the game fresh. In no surprise at all missions that may seem easy such as escort, often turn out to be dogfights with numerous enemies.
Once you have completed the campaign mode, you can also create your own missions with the very robust in game editor as well as play through some pre-created missions. There are over fifteen types of missions to create ranging from patrols through to escort and you can even make your own tutorial missions if you don't think the included ones do the job properly. Everything about the mission is customizable such as which system it takes place in, which sector, some story and background for the mission and place enemies and players as well. This really extends the replay value of the game and is one of the best features of the title.
One thing which can become a bit repetitive, and this is more a problem of the style of game rather than the developers, is that the level design. Naturally you're mostly fighting in space and therefore the only differences are the enemies and your local base. Other than that the graphics do the job fairly well but this is a game where gameplay very much outweighs the graphics and the same with the sound effects with no voice acting. It is a game which very much relies on the player to find the story out themselves but this is not a major issue.
Starshatter is a game which fans of the space simulation genre will like and probably create some great missions with the editor to share. However the fact remains if you've never liked the space combat style before, this game is not going to change that and nor does it offer cinematic style gameplay.