Starships Unlimited: Divided Galaxies

Published by Just Play/Matrix Games
Developed by Apezone
Platform: PC CD-ROM
Released – Out Now
Price : £24.99
You don’t always get what you expect do you? With Master of Orion 2 being such a good game the anticipation for number 3 in the series was sky high. What happened? To be completely honest it was one of the biggest disappointments, in the strategy game genre, of all time. The game looked OK but unfortunately it felt like you were doing nothing and that the game was playing itself. Those of you who were expecting a title that was equally as good as Master of Orion 2 would have been severely disappointed. However you might want to take a look at Starships Unlimited: Divided Galaxies.Starships Unlimited began life as a shareware product. Since then the game has undergone a few revisions with improvements being made to the game all the time. As a result the product we are reviewing today has had many of it’s gameplay elements finely tuned and it shows. Starships Unlimited was created and developed exclusively by Andrew Ewanchyna. Andrew, on his own, has managed to create a title that is far more enjoyable than Master of Orion and although it might not have the graphical niceties of a lot of today’s titles it has that all important addictive gameplay that keeps you playing long after you should have been in bed.

If you’ve played any of the Master of Orion games (or Star Trek: Birth of the Federation) you’ll have a pretty good idea of what Starships Unlimited is about. For those that haven’t played any one of these titles though we’ll attempt to give a brief summary of the gameplay. Starships Unlimited is a 4X game (eXplore, eXploit, eXpand, eXterminate). The game is a mix of real-time and turn based action. For the most part the game runs in real-time but when decisions need to be made the game will pause whereas when you are caught up in battle the game transforms into turn-based action. At the beginning of the game you choose which race you wish to participate as. There are 10 available races including the Terrans (Humans), Mirrshi and Gimpati to name but three. You can have upto 7 rivals in any game but you don’t have to play with this many and you can play with as little as 2 opponents if you wish. You also get to set such parameters as the shape of the galaxy, the amount of stars in the galaxy (from 50, short game, to 150, which could take a couple of weeks), the starting technological age, the style of your space crafts etc. You also get to choose between three difficulty levels: beginner, intermediate and advanced and you can also give yourself, or the AI opponents, advantages, which can also adjust the difficulty of the game.

As a gamer, you can take the advantage of speaking to the characters while the gaming is in its progress stage. This gaming software is so designed to decode the verbal conversations and convert them to the text on the screen. You can read more here about the advanced gaming technology.

Once the game is underway you’ll begin in the Sol system and you’ll have to make a choice of what to research. The game has four technological ages. These are the Atomic Age, Fusion Age, Anti-matter Age and the Singularity Age. To progress from one to the other you’ll have to obtain wisdom artefacts and have fifteen technologies from your current age. You obtain new artefacts from exploring new planets. Before you can obtain the artefact though you’ll have to defeat the planets guardian which isn’t always easy. You can choose whatever you wish to research but you must bear in mind that if you elect to build something, a space craft for instance, then research will be suspended. Of course once you control other planets and systems you can set the one to research and the other to build.

The game has quite an impressive diplomatic model in place. As per usual in games of this nature you have to earn trust with your prospective ally. The game allows you to trade between races and also send gifts that will help the smoothing of relationships. As relations improve you’ll be able to form an alliance and even a federation (where all the allies resources become your own). In a rather novel twist though you can only have one ally at a time. This prevents the game from being one big stand-off between a few major forces and keeps the game open. The idea of the game is to conquer the galaxy and it wouldn’t be much fun if stalemates could occur. Each of the games races has one out of a possible two philosophies. These philosophies are know as Big Endian and Little Endian. Those with the same philosophy as your race are more likely to become your allies as relations begin with you having a 50% trust rating. That said though with some well placed influence (such as causing unrest) it is also possible to become allies with a race of the opposite philosophy by subversion, given time.

Whilst peace is always welcome, soon enough you’ll be involved in a battle. At the beginning of the game you’ll have to deal with the artefact guardians and eventually you’ll come up against rival races or pirates. For battles the game switches over to turn-based mode. During a battle you’ll get the chance to choose from your available weapon systems, choose your target, pick manoeuvres and even quit the battle. Your space craft will gain experience from battles they take part in so it’s even possible that your lowly scout ships can even cause more powerful enemies a problem should they have the greater experience. Damage to your space craft is shown numerically, via floating text, and placing your mouse pointer over your craft will show you the condition of your craft (in the lower right of the screen) so that you can assess whether it would be prudent to pull your space craft out of the battle.

The only major disappointment with Starships Unlimited is that it doesn’t have a multiplayer mode. Whilst the single player game is thoroughly engaging there will come a time when you are not challenged by the AI and want to take on your friends and other gamers over the Internet. That’s not to say that the single player game is short lived. In fact it has all the replay value of games such as Civilization III etc. Creating a game with a 150 star galaxy is going to take a mammoth 50+ hours to complete so as you can see it’s certainly going to keep you busy for a heck of a long time.

Eye candy enthusiasts aren’t going to be impressed by Starships Unlimited. The graphics are simple and whilst they would have sufficed around 5 years ago, today they look a little out of date. Fortunately strategy genre gamers (especially the turn-based strategy sub-genre gamers) are more forgiving of the quality of the graphics if the gameplay is fully intact, so fairly low quality graphics aren’t really an issue.

Starships Unlimited is fine for deaf gamers. All information is given in text so nothing is hidden from a deaf gamer. The game’s printed manual is quite decent and explains the basics. There is also an electronic (acrobat) manual that explains the gameplay in a little more depth. To be perfectly honest there won’t be too much need for the manuals as the game does a wonderful job of explaining the game as you play and all tips and information are given in text. The game pauses so that you can read this text in your own time.

Starships Unlimited: Divided Galaxies is one of those games where it pays to take little notice of the screenshots. It might look out of date, to a certain extent, but it’s the gameplay that really shines. Given a straight choice between this and Master of Orion 3 there would be no hesitation, it would have to be Starships Unlimited. The gameplay is more involving, more enjoyable and plays very well indeed. The lack of multiplayer is a disappointment but as a single player game it is certainly well worth it.

Overall Game Rating: 8.2/10
Forget Master of Orion 3. If you want an enjoyable sci-fi based, 4X strategy game then Starships Unlimited fits the bill nicely.

Deaf Gamers comment:
No problems at all. All information is given in text.

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