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     " I sent up a prayer to the Great Monkey: 'Please donít let this be a game about getting those dirty space commies.' My prayers were dashed. "

      Title: Starlancer by Microsoft

      Format: Space shooter for the Windows PC

      Reviewing Monkey: Chimpan-A

      The Hype: A space shooter promising 12 fighters, over 20 weapons, more realistic space combat, a dramatic story, and stunning 3D graphics. Well...Sort of. Read on moneys, read on.

      What This Monkey Thought...

      Graphics: The graphics for this game definitely donít disappoint. Ship models range from clunky slow blocks, to the sleek aerodynamic rigs that arenít really necessary for space flight, but that look damn cool. The ever present capital ships show much more of the former, managing to look appropriately threatening. The character models are equally nice, although youíll mostly only get the chance to appreciate them during the cut scenes. Cut scenes are a little grainy, but not to a distracting level. All together everything looks quite nice. 4 out of 5

      Sound: You know, you gotta love good space battle noises. A variety of zapping sounds accompany the various weapons (and letís not go into the whole "no sound in space" thing, okay?), and missiles. Explosions are less noisy, but just as visceral (especially when you fly through an explosion causing your whole HUD to shake). The music is great, evoking the proper feel (which, interestingly enough is a kind of WWII propaganda feeling. But thatís beside the point). Nothing is better than hearing the end of mission triumph music (more on why later, but take my word for it, by the time youíre hearing it, youíre usually happy as all hell to be done). 5 out of 5

      Game Play: The game plays fairly well. The physics are a little loose out in space, as your ship bounces off of obstacles. Also the whole inertia thing is ignored in favor of complete mobility. Thatís either a good thing or a bad thing, depending on how hard-core you are. A joystick is just about a requirement for this game though. Trying to play with the purely keyboard configuration (there is no mouse/keyboard choice) requires something like four hands to properly manipulate. You will face two tasks that will daunt you more than anything this game can throw at you. The first is getting your wingmen to actually be useful. Although they will occasionally follow the orders that your entire wing has received, these instances are few and far between. Often times you will find yourself carrying out the orders of the mission on your own. Although you can issue orders to your wingmen, navigating the communication menu in the middle of battle is risky business at best, and generally has about the same effect as giving orders to a cat. Theyíll look at you, and acknowledge you, then continue to do whatever they feel like. This is most felt in levels where you have to defend a target, as youíll find yourself defending them from the hordes all by yourself. From this first task springs the annoyance at the second task. My biggest gripe with this game, no in mission saves. You have to complete each mission in its entirety before you can save. This is no easy task, especially since a great deal of the missions are long, with several battles and several different objectives. Completing certain objectives will change parts of the story, but after a long battle where you just barely managed to defend a convoy from the eight thousand torpedoes, all by yourself, youíll find yourself not caring whether you did that well or not. Especially when this is the nineteenth time youíve played the level. Some of you may have an easier time of this, some of you a harder time, depending on your skills. The last mission in particular is a frozen bitch to play, as a mistake on that level will bring the wrath of the giant one hit one kill weapon featured there. I know some out there like the added challenge given by no saves, but in a semi dynamic game like this, with long missions over multiple objectives, not giving us the choice is a crime. The lack of in game saves drags a game that could have been an incredible amount of fun (believe it, taking out legions of space commies can be loads of fun, just not when itís the 80th time youíve done it) down into tedium. 3 out of 5

      Level and Environment Designs: Itís space. Itís black. Actually, itís black with little white dots. Considering the limited panorama though, the game does a great job with environments. Thereís actually a great deal of difference, and the addition of spiffy effects like glowing nebulas, planets, or a sun (with appropriate lens flare) in the background go a long way to alleviate the boredom of the arena. 5 out of 5

      Multiplayer: There are some very interesting touches in the multiplayer for Starlancer. In addition to being able to play through any campaign mission cooperatively with friends, there are some interesting death match ideas. For instance, in "Vampire" the first person to die is the vampire, which spreads his disease to all the other players. The last human standing gets a bunch of kills, and play resets for a new vampire. This among other interesting ideas lends a little life to the product after the solo missions have been worked through. Microsoft provides multiplayer support from its MSN gaming zone. The game functions fairly well over the net, with only the common problem of lag hurting it any. 5 out of 5

      Replayability: Trust me on this one thing. By the time you have finished the game, you will have replayed so many of the missions, you might as well have played the whole thing five times. Iím not sure if that gets a high score or a low one. After youíve finally beaten the game, the temptation to go back and see the outcome of a particularly bad decision can be overwhelming, but more than likely you will content yourself with the instant action feature or multiplayer. Those two options extend the life a bit longer. Instant Action could have been a much better option had they given you the chance to select your own ship, instead you are stuck with one of the low-end ships. At no point in the game can you fly a Coalition craft. Although Iím quite sure we would have loved to get into the cockpits of one of their nicer ships, we are denied. Too bad, that wouldíve been great too. 2 out of 5

      Story/Dramatics: You play a volunteer for the Alliance fleet. They suffered through a crushing blow at the hands of the evil Coalition, and need every hand they can get. When I first started this game, I sent up a prayer to the Great Monkey: "Please donít let this be a game about getting those dirty space commies". My prayers were dashed. As you go through the missions, slowly taking the fight back to those Communist bastards who apparently never learned that the cold war is over, you see the whole war-taking place around you. The game does a good job of building the world up to a real status. There is a propaganda... I mean news network that you can listen to which will give the scope of the war, relating the efforts of your fellows. As time goes by, you will hear more and more about your own efforts as you slowly become the Alliances top ace. The story is well put together, and interesting to go through. As long as you can get past the fact that youíre fighting space commies. The story is semi-dynamic. Meaning that something you did in one mission could have effects on future missions, but thatís about it, the story doesnít actually branch, and the missions are the same, itís just the in mission details that might change. 3.5 out of 5

      Instructions and Learning Curve: I can honestly say that you can go through the entire game without referencing the instruction manual. Still it contains a few useful tidbits here and there. The learning curve is not all that bad. If youíre relegated to keyboard control, figuring out a good configuration, and a way to cope with the 24 fingered setup can be difficult, but itíll come together soon enough. 4 out of 5

      Installation and Real System Requirements: The game asks for a Pentium 200 or higher, 32 Megs of RAM, and recommends a 3D card (not to mention a Pentium II 300). The game functioned perfectly well on the systems tested on (lowest end was a Pentium III 500 with 128 megs). Expect less graphical splendor on lower end systems, but it should function pretty well. Installation is a two-disk procedure, swapping back and forth between the two. 4 out of 5

      The Verdict:

       I donít ask for much here monkeys. Give me a save after a major objective is completed. Even just a halfway point save! Having to replay missions again and again does not a fun time make. Almost everything else is done so well, to have something as simple as lack of saves and forced repeats bring it crashing down like this is almost a tragedy. The game does have its moments, and Iím sure youíll get enjoyment out of it.

      The Good: Space shooter with some ship variety, good multiplayer, and lots of enemies to explode

      The Bad: No in mission saves means a lot of repeat missions.

      The Overall Ugly: Worth a look for the space shooter crowd. Those with a low threshold for frustration will want to steer way clear.

      What it's Worth: market

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