In the early history of electronic gaming, players would happily accept the requirement to spend days and even weeks wandering through chunky, 16-color environments, building up the strength and experience necessary to actually get to the main plot. Eventually, this "role-playing" idea became passť since it wasn't much fun in the long run. A basic design change saw the addition of sub-plots, intended to expand player interest while pursuing the main goal. Sadly, Protostar: War on the Frontier lacks any such peripheral "quests," and, as a result, fails to realize its potential.
An aggressive alien race, the Skeetch, have completely surrounded human-held space. Your job is to prevent the invasion by traveling around the Thule sector, a frontier area inhabited by several sentient species and potential allies, and somehow rally them to the cause. You must assemble a crew from encounters with other ships, planets and space stations, then search through the many star systems for clues on how to convince each of the races to help fight the Skeetch, no easy task.
The Thule sector is composed of 50 or so systems, each with anywhere from zero to eight planets. Not only are you tasked with uniting disparate alien elements, but also must keep your ship supplied with fuel and state of the art weaponry. To earn money to upgrade your ship, you first must search for planets with abundant supplies of minerals or exotic animals, much the same way players of old fantasy-theme RPGs were required to slaughter monsters and collect gold during their meandering quest. The actual process of collection is boring and involves no challenge beyond clicking the mouse button. Combined with the overall interminable process of building up funds, this segment of the game is very frustrating.
Additionally, the game is set up such that you begin with no direction. You simply start exploring and piece together information as you proceed. While this is challenging on the surface, in reality you have but one purpose in the whole story, and can play for hours on end without any sort of clue or breakthrough. The point of the exercise becomes lost and muddled.
Protostar: War on the Frontier does have some good aspects. The individual characteristics of the four species whose allegiance you're after are well designed and nicely planned. Species range from the purely intellectual or wholly destructive to a collective (a hive-mindset) and one with serious self-esteem issues. The divergent idiosyncrasies necessitate a different approach with each species. Also, the amount of design detail put in the various exotic non-sentient animals to be collected and sold is incredible. Examination of a captured creature gives you information ranging from how it moves to its reproduction proclivities. Although it has no direct impact on accomplishment of objectives, the thoroughness is certainly impressive.
In short, the concept is fairly innovative -- instead of simply flying around smacking down opponents, you must find a way to unite them. However, the lack of any sort of peripheral quests, coupled with the length of time it takes to get anywhere in the main plot, invites frustration born of impatience.
Graphics: Decent graphics, featuring skillful use of available graphical tools.
Sound: Enemy fire sounds like a dying trombone and some of the music could be used as a general anesthetic.
Enjoyment: Far too much time spent between plot points, with little or no initial direction to help bring the story together.
Replay Value: Completing the game one time requires an enormous expenditure of time spent in tedious resource gathering with long dry spells between plot connections. Not much to warrant a replay.
Protostar is a space trading/exploration game in the same mold as Starflight and Star Control series. With a large universe, lots of trading options and a strong story, fans of the mentioned series will like this game.
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