The storyline in Star Control II is clever, captivating and funny. The first alien you are likely to encounter is the cowardly Captain Fwiffo. Guarding Pluto all by himself, he sets the tone for the entire game with his opening line, "Attention big, mean, hostile alien vessel hovering overhead in an obvious attack posture," which he follows by blurting out the location of his home world and his race's secret codes.
Other races span a range of emotions from the comical Utwig, depressed over the loss of a gadget they bought from interstellar hucksters, to the disturbingly scary Orz and the tragic Burvixese and Androsynths who are exterminated before the game begins and are known only from rumor and ruins. But nothing compares to the horrible plight of the Ur-Quan, ostensibly the major villains in the game. By the time you learn about the millennia of enslavement and mind-control they've had to endure in the past, not to mention the self-inflicted excruciating torments they underwent to gain freedom, the Ur-Quan become more sympathetic than most of the friendly-but-fluttery allies populating your own fleet. This is a rare and praiseworthy design achievement.
Early gameplay focuses on classical strategy elements. In the grand tradition of the Starflight series, you need to explore nearby star systems and collect minerals which can then be traded for ships, upgrades, fuel and crew at Earth's star base. Capturing non-sentient life forms can also be rewarding, as they are the most commonly bartered commodity accepted by the Melnorme traders who sell advanced technology, useful data and starship fuel. Buy as much technology as soon as possible. Planet Lander upgrades are necessary to allow capture of the vicious animal desired by the VUX general and your vulnerable ship needs advanced weapons and energy generation systems to survive.
One of the game's few weak points is the dialogue engine. Though well written and often funny, most of the conversations are rather pointless. For example, a typical discussion with a friendly alien offers you a choice of five possible utterances, four of which describe horrible and unjustified threats of dismemberment. In the few cases where an aggressive posture is actually required, the game ignores nicer choices and gently prods you toward the optimal strategy. Departing from the expected line of discussion usually has no consequence (dialogue forces eventual correct responses) or results in loading a saved game after alienation of a crucial ally. In either case, the freedom of choice is essentially non-existent but, even so, doesn't detract measurably from the game's entertainment value.
Super-Melee, the game's action component, is an enhanced version of the time-honored Spacewar. While very simple to control (five keys for each side!), it provides enough diversity in ship design and tactics to justify many hours of gameplay, both within Star Control II and as a stand-alone game. Since a ships' hit points equal the number of its crewmembers, a good method of protecting your flagship prior to learning about effective weapons technology is to buy a couple of crew pods and fill them to capacity. In this way, your ship can absorb punishment in the few seconds needed to escape from the battle arena.
Ergonomically, the game is quite efficient and its color schemes are elegant. The main interface seems to borrow heavily from the earlier Starflight series with roughly 50% of the screen's real estate being devoted to the main view port, 30% to a window dedicated to dialogue and a planetary map while in orbit and the rest to menus and status indicators. The MS-DOS based Star Control II has one of the best original scores of any game heard to date. Overall, the game is a true masterpiece, combining the perfect balance of action, ambiance and story.
Graphics: What the game lacks in animation, it makes up for in colorfulness, elegance and beauty. And don't miss the "outtakes and bloopers" inserted in the final credits!
Sound: Without a doubt, the best music for a game this reviewer has ever heard.
Enjoyment: The game combines humor, thrills and sense of wonder in a very uniquely entertaining way.
Replay Value: Solving the game the first time requires running through the vast majority of content but you'll want to return to it just like a favorite book.
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