This version of Reach for the Stars is an update to the original 1988 release of the same name, a turn-based "4X" game of futuristic warfare and galactic domination. Though holding true to many of the themes and particulars that won popularity for original version of the game, developers took advantage of over 10 years' worth of advancements in both computer power and game design to offer new and engagingly sophisticated possibilities in this 2000 release.
Among the many improvements are 16 new species, the possibility for diplomatic negotiations and actions, multiple tech trees, and an empowering scenario editor. For the sake of comparison, its notable that the original version of the game ran at 320x200 resolution and required a 1MHz 8-bit system with 64K of RAM, while the 2000 version of Reach for the Stars offers a 800x600 display and requires a more contemporary 200MHz Pentium-class machine with 64M RAM.
Released in 2000, Reach for the Stars (RFTS) is a long-awaited modernization/update of the title with the same name released in the Late Jurassic Period (1985). The graphics of the game are acceptable, and the sound is inoffensive (though very unimaginative and forgettable).
Like its predecessor, RFTS is a 4X game (Explore, Expand, Exploit, Exterminate) in a science-fiction setting. The player controls one of a plethora of races, and oversees the chosen race's progress from the moment it achieved space travel to the final turn of the game. The map consists of a grid (of variable size depending on the scenario) not much different from a sheet of graph paper.
At various places on the map star systems are distributed, and each star system has a variable number of planets. Depending on your race, some, none, or all of the planetary bodies might be acceptable for colonization. As you create new colonies you will have to issue orders for the construction of facilities on those colonies. The planetary facilities are all generic (industrial, defense, research, and shipyards), have four levels, and are the same for every species. The only difference that might exist between your colonies is that some of the smaller colonies can only build level 1, 2, or 3 facilities, instead of all 4 levels.
The player can build ships as well as colony buildings, of course, and this is a crucial part of any sci-fi space game. Unfortunately, there isn't a lot of variety here, either. Ships come in four sizes, with multiple "level" versions you can research as the game progresses. You can customize your ships, but only to a limited extent; you can choose ship components, but you cannot choose how many shields/weapon mounts a ship will carry.
The research aspect of the game is likewise unimaginative. Your race will, unless you take action with the editor (see below), always have the same, or nearly same technologies. You also don't actually research technologies, per se, but rather more advanced components. Every group of technologies/components is assigned a "Tech Era", and you select your research from a list of components available during the current era.
The game includes one of the most comprehensive editors I have ever seen - you can change every detail of a race, technology tree, ship/building appearance. It also has a very good system for designing scenarios. The editor can be intimidating to use, but that is a known side-effect of powerful editors. In this case it isn't the complexity, its the sheer amount of time required.
The diplomatic system is, surprise, also very basic and unimaginative. The diplomatic state between the different races begins At War (unless the scenario dictates otherwise) when you first make contact, and you can attempt to change that status to Neutral, Alliance, or Unity. Some races are diplomatically compatible, some are not.
Some races are even in a state of eternal war with each other, and cannot ever make peace. Likewise, some races cannot be allies, and most races cannot become "unified" peacefully. Just as well - I couldn't find much of an advantage for the "unity" status, anyway.
Speaking of war, the combat system is also pretty basic, but that is usually a good thing when playing a grand strategy game. Unfortunately, the designers got away from the tried-and-true and decided to experiment here, and the results are rather disappointing.
Space Combat consists of all the ships of two fleets lining up in one to four formations (something about the number "4" with this game) and firing away. The player can choose his formation, and the desired range of the engagement - after that he just has to roll the dice and pray. While the game tries to provide cool data, most of the time I was unable to tell precisely why I won (other than huge numerical or technological advantage), so many of the aspects of this part of the game are wasted.
The game is not terrible, but it isn't very good either. I played it, and some of the time I had fun. However, the unimaginative design tends to make the game boring. You can't capture enemy colonies, only destroy them, your ships will always have the same hull types and components, you will always be limited to colonizing the same type of worlds, etc, etc.
Had this game been released in the early 90's, it would have done good. But this is the Modern Period of Earth history, and games like Space Empires IV (released about the same time) and Master of Orion 2 (released years earlier) have pretty much set the bar for turn-based strategy games in space. To be honest, even the first Master of Orion would have beat this game (or matched it) in every way except graphics.
One thing the designers did well, however, was the individual races. Most were not even vaguely humanoid, and they all looked and, more importantly, felt like they were different to play. Alas, the bland diplomacy, economic, and technology models kept this bit from really shining.
So, despite the fact that I really, really, REALLY, wanted to like this game, I gotta confess I cannot recommend it. If you liked the original RFTS and want more of the same (with just a hint of innovation), then this might be for you. Otherwise, break out a copy of MOO2 or SE4.
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Reach for The Stars, Railroad Tycoon 3, Railroad Tycoon 2: Platinum, Project Earth: Starmageddon, Space Empires V, Pirate Hunter, Port Royale: Gold, Power and Pirates, Panzer General 3: Scorched Earth
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