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Space Empires: Starfury

by Robert Huntingdon

Space Empires, as many know, is one of the most popular and best followed games in the genre, in part because of just how much you can do with it via mods. Space Empires: Starfury is no exception to this rule. Unlike the traditional games of the Space Empires universe, however, this game is set in the Space Empires universe but is more of an RPG than a strategy game. For those of you who remember the old Wing Commander: Privateer game, you will find Starfury to be very similar in many ways. As I did like the old Privateer game that does color my outlook slightly, but overall Starfury is still a very good game in it's own right.

Startup

Pick a campaign
Getting started in Starfury was extremely easy. You simply load the game, pick the campaign you want to play, possibly select the model of ship you want to fly, give your ship and your character a name, and select a difficulty level. And you are only given a choice of starting ship if you start a game directly in the second or third campaigns. When you have beaten the first campaign you can proceed immediately to the next, carring over your experience level and ship and equipment and money, which makes those campaigns significantly easier than starting them raw.

 

Game Structure

Visit a starbase
The basic structure of the game is wrapped around a series of three campaigns that tell a story based in the ideas of the Space Empires universe. You play a Terran Confederation Navy captain who has to take care of a series of related problems that have cropped up and eventually become the major player in saving the entire Terran Empire. Can't have an RPG without a hero, and you've been drafted to fill that role.

Mission sucess!
Of course, you aren't forced into playing that role. While you might be unable to get a structured mission setup by abandoning the main story arc, you are never forced to follow that arc. You can simply pick up your starting ship and head out in search of adventure, fame, fortune, and a bigger and better ship. You can turn pirate, or mercenary, or even become a traitor to your people and begin a wholesale slaughter of TCN forces in an attempt to get on the good side of the Terran Empire's foes. Because which enemies you kill has an impact on your relations with the various factions, in theory you should be able to get the Xiati and Fazrah to eventually adopt you as one of their allies.

Gimme the loot!
Destroyed ships usually leave behind cargo you can pick up and sell for profit. Nobody else picks it up, they leave it all for you. How kind!
And if you don't feel ready to proceed with the mission (or you're coming back to a save point after getting trounced), it's quite nice that at any point you can 'put the story arc on pause' by simply not reporting in to your contact. You can then go take a few more missions (or haul around cargo) to make money until you feel your ship (and/or fighting skills) are up to spec for what's coming.

In search of either building your fortune or following the story arc, you will want to take missions of various sorts. Missons will vary in value but if you pick them carefully you can accomplish three cargo missions well within the deadline and rack in about 20,000 credits at a pop. Considering the cost of some of the later equipment, that isn't actually a whole lot, but missions are just where you start. As you develop your ship into the baddest fighting ship to hit the space lanes in the last few decades, you will soon be able to fight your enemies and destroy their ships. And that's where the real money comes from. By the point where you can get these kills, your skill levels will be high enough that your enemies will start dropping some valuable equipment when they die, and when you sell that back to spacedocks your credit balance will start to go up rather fast. And then right back down as you shell the cash out for the newer, fancier, but much more powerful (and expensive) toys the merchants have found to sell you.

Graphics

Battle Dammage
The graphics in Starfury are very well done. Although I did encounter a few bugs where sometimes a ship skin would not properly load (giving an invisible enemy you could target with the keyboard but never see to click on) these were not common enough to be a large problem. And I have to say it was sometimes kind of funny to see these ships start to burn and trail smoke but you still couldn't see the ship, just the fire.

The graphics are very well rendered in most cases and look very nice and majestic, a good imitation of the unmatched thrill reported by astronauts of actually flying in outer space. However, one thing I did find a bit annoying at first was the game was set in a 2D plane. This shouldn't come as a surprise to most since Space Empires has always been 2D, but Privateer was not and I found I missed that at first. However, once I better learned to use my firing arcs, I found I didn't miss it nearly as much anymore. Indeed, the firing arcs on your ships provide a huge area of strategic combat planning that would be almost impossible to have in a true 3D game.

Game Play

Spacedock
You get full control over how your ship is configured, up to the limits of what you can afford.
The controls for the game are fairly simple to master. Like most modern games, if you don't like the default keyboard layout you can adjust it to your taste, and I ended up doing this for the speed controls but little else.

Starbase Options
Over the course of the default missions you are given harder and harder enemies to combat. Every enemy does have a weakness, and once you learn this and learn how to combat it they become a lot easier, but challenges remain all the way up to the very end. I did find that the final boss of the last mission was surprisingly easy, but by that point I'd captured enough of their weaponry to be more than their equal in combat ability.

When picking up the droppings from enemy ships, the dammage is usually 100%. I found that a bit funny. I mean, I've got some totally destroyed equipment sitting in my cargo bay -- or in other words I've got peices and parts that are so totally twisted and burnt as to be barely recognizable as originally from a functional peice of equipment -- and somebody's willing to buy that off of me for a significant fraction of its original value or repair it to original specs (even if it's of alien origin) for a pittance and then buy it off of me for a LOT more than the dammaged price plus the repair cost. But in Starfury if you find something you think is unrealistic, it's really not very hard at all to change it by just adjusting the files that drive the game.

Sound Effects

I found that these were pretty well done, especially in the area of combat. Which makes sense, combat is supposed to be exciting in a game like this, and it only stands to reason greater attention would be paid to making this seem realistic. The sounds in spacedock weren't quite as well done but they didn't really get on my nerves. And like everything these are quite easy to mod if you feel the need.

Modding

Lost? Handy maps are included free of charge.
As I already mentioned I found modding the game to be very easy. Sometimes it's almost too easy. You do have to be careful to get it right, of course. At one point I tried to edit a peice of equipment and I messed up, telling the game I had three "effects" for that component when I only had two, and the game was completely unable to load a saved game or start a new one until I fixed it. Perhaps a future patch could add an error message when parsing a modded file causes a major hickup like that, but the fault for the problem was entirely mine.

Another huge plus from the ease of modding Starfury comes from the fact that if you want more adventure when the primary story arc is over, just write your own campaign onto the end. Want to go fight another Terran-Xiati war? Just write the scripts. Or create a new enemy and head out to other new challenges. Whatever works for you.

The Bottom Line

When you get right down to the bottom line, this game is really quite good. It has a few flaws, but most of them are minor and almost all of them are easily fixed (if you feel the need) by modding. It's fun, easy to learn, and even replayable to some degree. Even when you know exactly what's coming in the story arc, you still can have fun with the struggle to build up your ship to be able to defeat the bigger enemies.

Overall I really did like the game. There were things I didn't like, but nothing was so awful that it ruined the game for me. Some things I would like to see fixed officially, most of the rest I figure I can fix myself if I really feel the need. Regardless of my like or dislike for certain aspects, the game was and still is fun, even after playing completely through it and knowing everything the enemy will probably do. It's not a game you replay 400 or 4000 times, but few games today are, and if it entertains you for a few months then it's money well spent. Starfury fits that bill.

Pros & Cons

Warp off to new adventures
Pros:
  • Fun!
  • Open play style -- proceed with missions when you want, take time out to build your ship up when you don't.
  • Easy to learn
  • Well designed strategic options to outfitting your ship.
  • Combat is easy to handle, but still challenging enough to keep it fun.
  • Cost is not bad for a modern computer game ($40.00).
  • Easy to mod, with endless possibilities for expansion of the game limited only by the time you're willing to put into it.
Cons:
  • Equipment sizes and balancing could use a bit of work.
  • No warning if you screw up in a modding attempt.
  • Occasional invisible objects are a collision risk.
  • Fleet-based missions are a bit weak -- the other ships help but there is no leadership or working together towards the common goal.
  • Fighters are too weak and are almost unusable.
  • Commodity trading doesn't give profit commisurate with the effort expended.




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