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Video Game: Starlancer
Starlancer is the predecessor to Freelancer. It is a space-combat game which takes place during an intrasolar war between The Alliance and The Coalition. It was developed by Chris & Erin Roberts and Digital Anvil, and is a Spiritual Successor (or perhaps a spiritual remake) of Wing Commander, just as Freelancer is to Privateer. (The game came out around the same time the Wing Commander movie did, and—whether by coincidence or not—the spacecraft in that movie would look more at home in this game than in their own franchise.)

As the product of the creators of one of the most acclaimed Spaceflight Simulation Game franchises in history, you'd think this game would have got somewhere. It was released simultaneously on the Dreamcast; it had decent graphics (even today); it had non-crappy voice acting, sound and music; and—a big deal at the time—it boasted online connectivity for not just Competitive Multiplayer but Co-Op Multiplayer through GameSpy, one of the first flightsims to offer either. Despite this, it met a tepid reception, possibly due to questionable gameplay decisions made due to the game's World War 2 IN SPACE setting. Planned sequels, linking the property to Freelancer more overtly, were scrapped.

Starlancer provides examples of:

  • Ace Pilot: several, on both sides of the line. The most notable allied ones are probably Klaus Steiner of the Vampires and Col. Tanner of the Pumas.
  • Always Chaotic Evil: Everyone in the Coalition, from the Top Brass and Government to the lowliest Mook are, to a Man, war criminals. The closest thing to a moral compass any of them shows is a Communication Officer giving a shocked raised eyebrow when Admiral Kulov orders the mass execution of prisoners of war.
  • Artificial Stupidity: IN SPADES. Your wingmates start off dumb, and get worse. It's entirely possible to lose the game because the computer screws up an objective. (You still get in trouble, of course.)
  • Asskicking Equals Authority: played straight, as these games are wont to. Promotions, and thus access to new ships, are scheduled according to when you hit a certain number of kills. (Top rank is "Squadron Commander" at something like 300.)
  • Back from the Brink: Inversion, as the player character's efforts on behalf of the Alliance turn out to be a delaying action to allow colony ships to escape to the next game the Sirius system.
  • The Battlestar: The Carriers from both sides are the biggest warships with the most weapons in the fleet. The enemy also has cruisers, which are just smaller Battlestars, since they carry fighters too.
  • Character Select Forcing: Wouldn't the medium fighter with the One-Hit Kill beam be useful in the Escort Mission part of the last mission, where you have to defeat those enemy fighters quickly? Yeah, probably, shame that without the cloaking ability of the light fighter to avoid the One-Hit Kill from the enemy Ion Cannon you won't ever get that far.
    • To a lesser extend, while ships with the Blind-Fire ability are always useful, they are all but mandatory when you need to protect friendly ships from incomming torpedos, which happens every other mission. Although any mission briefing that promises escorting capital ships or having your carrier duke it out with a Coalition capital ship is a clear signal that torpedo defense will be neccesary, a few missions briefings give no warning you're going to need to intercept torpedos.
  • Cool Ship: The Yamato is a definite upgrade from your previous home carrier, the Reliant. Even the interior is much sleeker, as you can see when you walk from your bunk to the briefing room. Not that the Reliant itself doesn't qualify either.
  • Colonel Badass: Maria Enriquez, commander of the 45th. Or so we're told.
  • The Computer Is a Cheating Bastard: In Mission 15, enemy bombers are able to drop out of warp, practically at point-blank range, and immediately launch their torpedoes. The resulting increase in difficulty is partially excused by Rule Of Gameplay (that, and not getting penalized for losing any of your carrier's ancillary support ships).
  • Creator Killer: Chris Roberts would leave the gaming industry for a time, before returning in 2012.
  • Dirty Communists: played in deadly earnest, to the "amusement" of some reviewers. While there are Middle-Eastern and Chinese forces involved in the Coalition, almost every enemy character is a Russian (including the Mooks, if you trust the voice-acting).
  • Distant Prologue: the whole game (and its franchise) is this to Freelancer.
  • Dodge by Braking: some ships have "Reverse Thrust", which basically allows you to do this.
  • Escort Mission: many, many, many of them. Made worse by the fact that your targeting system is very low-tech; if something needs destroying, you need to wade through the list item by item to find it. (Assuming it shows up at all: Mission 7 requires you to guard allied escape pods which are really hard to locate, unless you've memorized the controls for your fiddly radar.)
    • Many overlap with Luck-Based Mission, since there's no quick way to see, much less target, the fighter going after the ship you need to escort. Your best bet is to fly close to them, hammer away at 'Target nearest' until a fighter comes closer than the closest enemy capital ship (which you can't destroy and is rarely a threat but counts as your closest target all the same) and hope for the best.
  • Face-Heel Turn: Colonel McGann's Cobra Squadron and Viper join forces with Coalition deserters to become Space Pirates.
  • Forgot About His Powers: In the final mission, your allied torpedo bombers turn out to have an Invisibility Cloak, just like the Coalition bombers. In every Escort Mission of those torpedo bombers up to this point (and there've been a few), you tried and often failed to shoot down half a dozen enemy fighters within the minute it takes for one of those fighters to tear your slow, fragile torpedo bombers apart. The bomber's pilots do nothing but insult you or scream as they died instead of, y'know, cloaking.
    • Potentially justified in that other ships have received upgrades such as warping; It might be that those bombers never could cloak until that mission.
  • Funny Background Event: Mixed with Stock Footage. One of the post-mission news reports that crops up features footage from the Wing Commander film. It's easy to miss if you're not looking.
  • Gameplay Ally Immortality: your flight always comes with a CO (first Viper; later Bandit and Diceman) and a Number 5, who is called upon for science-officer duties (first Bandit; later Diceman and Hawkeye). Because they always have lines, no one can kill them—not even you.
  • Glass Cannon: The gamma-wing torpedo bombers. Can destroy an enemy carrier with a single salvo, but sitting ducks with paper-mache armor. And sadly, they don't remember nearly as often as the Coalition torpedo bombers to warp in at striking distance, launch all torpedos and immediately leave. Now guess which ships are the subjects of at least every third Escort Mission.
  • Guide Dang It: in the final mission, if you don't fly a Shroud, you will die. Nowhere in the game is this made clear.
  • Guy in Back: your backseater, Mike "Moose" Horrigan. He's like Cortana, but without the snark or the sexy.
  • Hero of Another Story: in between missions, you can view news reports on how the war is going, where your squadron's exploits are mentioned alongside that of NPC forces. More often than not, the game introduces those NPCs there, which means you can suddenly find yourself suddenly flying alongside the Ace Pilot you just saw on television. It's kind of cool: makes you feel like there's a war going on besides what you personally are doing.
  • Hit-and-Run Tactics: The Coalition torpedo bombers make a lot of use of this, warp in at opposite sides of their target, fire all their torpedos, and warp out. If you go after one of the bombers, you won't be back in time to shoot down the torpedo's from the other side. Sadly, your own torpedo bombers use this tactic only about a third of the time. At all other times...
  • Hope Spot: The entire second half of the game becomes this when you take the story of Freelancer into account.
  • I Am Not Left-Handed: A captured Coalition admiral reveals there is an Ion Cannon in the final stages before completion, and you're send in to destroy it before it comes online. Only... well, Alliance inteligence didn't watch Return of the Jedi apparently.
  • Improbable Aiming Skills: If your aim is terrible, be sure to stick to ships with the Blind Fire ability. The fire systems on such ships have a greater tracking scope and will automatically correct your aim when you're shooting at a target.
    • Game-Breaking Bug: when an enemy ship is disabled by an EMP, it will start tumbling through space in a straight line. Blind Fire calculates via the nose direction and speed of the enemy ship, as opposed to its velocity. Hilarity Ensues. (Fortunately, there is a keystroke to turn it off.) Not to mention the trouble you'll have if you ever start flying ships that don't have Blind-Fire...
    • However, Blind-Fire only works for one set of guns at a time. Select single-weapon on the most powerful gun on your ship and enjoy! However, learn to shoot straight without it and you have much, much More Dakka at your disposal.
  • Interface Screw: On default settings, the keystrokes for looking around in your cockpit and for using the radio are the same, except that you press "C" to pull up the comms menu first. It takes about a full second to scroll into view, meaning that if you're in a hurry, you can end up looking out the left window and unable to look forward until you manage to make the comms menu go away again.
  • Invisibility Cloak: On four ships. Not 100% effective; they stop appearing on your radar and you can't target them, but you can still see them. (And shoot them.)
  • It's Up to You: In stark contrast to the storytelling aspects, actual gameplay falls squarely into here.
  • Kill Sat: the Ion Cannon, which unlike most Wave Motion Guns is basically a pinpoint I-Kill-Fighters machine. Either you get out of its range, get in really close to the satellite's hull, (if you're flying a Shroud) use your Invisibility Cloak, or, umm, die a lot.
    • Exacerbated when Moose's Oh Crap message gets delayed by other radio messages.
      • There is a big red Laser Sight beam that connects you to the tip of the cannon, which is very visible if your camera is set on Chase-Plane mode. But if not...
  • Kinetic Weapons Are Just Better: Torpedos are the only weapon that can destroy capital ships (not counting the Wave Motion Gun). When in battle, capital ships will fire at each other with fancy looking energy projectiles, but their only use is the occasional One-Hit Kill of the player if you fly between the two ships and didn't check your blind spots.
  • Lazy Backup: Oh yes very so. Your wingmen are good at defending themselves, to the point of even being able to Kill Steal at times, but attacking something that isn't actively bothering them seems to be beyond their grasp. So if you happen to drop out of warp far enough away from the objective...
  • Macross Missile Massacre: your hardpoints can accomodate both single missiles and multi-round pods. The pods fire basically as fast as you can pull the trigger.
  • Multiple Endings: every mission in the game has several objectives, some of which are mandatory (pass/fail) and others that simply add to your reputation, optional medals and rapidity of promotion. Even the first mission has this, by providing a Bonus Boss in the form of a Basilisk which retreats if you don't kill it fast enough.
  • Moral Myopia: While the Coalition seems to have a villain only hiring policy, your squadmates' anger over the cruelty of the enemy seems a bit dishonest when they will actively mock and taunt enemy pilots about their friends they just killed, and how much they screamed while dying.
  • More Dakka: Just about every fighter in the game has multiple rapid-firing guns, and is expected to use them for everything. Poo on missiles.
  • Nintendo Hard: the complexity of the missions in themselves isn't really that bad. It's just that you always have about five seconds to accomplish an objective before you run out of time. Additionally, making certain decisions can lead to a mission being Unwinnable (such as when you're called upon to defend allied bombers from a gunship, all three of whom just spawned five seconds ago. ...300 klicks away). That and it's a flightsim. Add it all together and we're down to Luck-Based, Trial-and-Error Gameplay.
  • Nonstandard Game Over: Three examples, which depend on how you fail the mission and/or which mission you're playing.
    • If you eject your plane within Coalition territory, an enemy vessel will retrieve your pod and bring you to their base. The last cutscene shows you strapped to a chair, waiting to be tortured for information.
    • If you commit friendly fire too many times, your co-pilot will take over the controls and send you back to base. The next cutscene shows you getting court martialed, and then getting gunned down by firing squad.
    • If you fail a story critical objective, you'll get disbanded from the squad after returning from the botched mission.
  • Numerical Hard: Difficulty Levels only change how much damage your guns do. Wingmen are just as stupid, Escort Mission victims are just as frail, Timed Missions are just as short.
  • One-Hit Kill: When it comes to shooting down enemy torpedoes, Ramming Always Works. Though it never works twice. (Now keep in mind that the smallest number of torpedoes you ever have to deal with is six.)
    • It is however occasionally possible to find torpedoes flying sufficiently close together that blowing up one will set off three or four others with its Planar Shockwave.
      • Or you.
  • Point Defenseless: The captial ship's Weak Turret Gun will shoot down the occasional torpedo, but for the most part there's only one decent anti-torpedo defense in this game: You.
  • Purely Aesthetic Gender: you get to decide whether your character is going to be male or female, and enter a call sign (which nobody ever uses). That's it as far as Character Customization goes.
  • Ragtag Bunch of Misfits: The 45th Volunteers, later nicknamed "The Flying Tigers" after a Real Life equivalent; the Artificial Stupidity of your wingmates is suddenly kind of justified when you realize that they consist of anyone the Alliance can find with a pulse and a pilot's license.
    • Justified, yes. Forgiven, no.
  • Ramming Always Works: ah, Captain Foster and his Naval Piercing...
    • In the final mission, Klaus Steiner pulls the same thing, though at least his ship comes with an Ejection Seat.
    • Pretty effective for you as well, if your Deflector Shields are still up. (Caveat: only on fighters.)
    • And very useful against the sentry satalites. They're tiny, so you need to be very close to hit them anyway, and they have no armor or shields so ramming them is an insta-kill that doesn't dent your own armor.
  • Recycled INSPACE: World War II, right down to the Pearl-Harbor-style attack which opens the game and cripples the Alliance war effort. Even better, the Player Character's unit is the 45th Volunteers, later renamed the Flying Tigers.
  • Red Shirt: anybody in your squadron who isn't CO or Science Officer can get blown out of the sky. And will. Screaming for mercy. And not getting it.
    • You ALL Look Familiar: Of course, this is somewhat undermined by someone else with the very same callsign and voice actor getting killed in the very next mission.
  • Story-Driven Invulnerability: Two Aces in particular—Ivan Petrov, The Butcher, and his brother Nicolai—have Plot Armor in your first encounters so that they can be Recurring Bosses.
  • Stupidity Is the Only Option: It's game over should you kill the enemy admiral before your allies capture him. Even though the only thing he does before escaping admidst the corpses of Alliance personel is give inteligence that sends you into a trap.
    • Your squadleader will order you to destroy two Kurgen ships with Alliance prisoners on board, saying they have 'no choice' as the Kurgens are attacking a rescue vessel. It is in fact not difficult to destroy their 3 turrets, leaving the ships harmless. But the mission won't proceed untill you destroy them.
  • Subsystem Damage: If you get your shields and armour chewed up you start taking damage to either your engines, shield generator or weapons.
  • Talking Is a Free Action: Sadly averted. If anyone else is busy talking over the radio, your co-pilot will wait untill they are finished talking before warning you that, for instance, the enemy Wave Motion Gun is targeting you and you should have cloacked 5 seconds ago if you wanted to survive.
  • Tim Taylor Technology: You can re-route extra power to engines, shields and weapons depending on whether you want to be more of a Fragile Speedster (to get somewhere fast; see Mission 7), Glass Cannon (to shoot something fast) or Mighty Glacier (while strafing Weak Turret Guns). Other than in the situations just described, this feature has no use.
    • Well, it is nice when you want to go faster without wasting afterburner fuel.
  • What Could Have Been: further games in the series, and stronger links to the Freelancer property, were planned. See the trope entry for more details.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Bandit is inexplicably replaced with Diceman as the Tigers' squadron leader with no explanation, nor any mention of where Bandit went.
  • What the Hell, Player?: too many friendly-fire incidents and Moose forcibly stands down your plane. (A friendly-fire incident includes accidentally shooting a ship that was already going boom.
    • Made obnoxious when a friendly ship dies from a torpedo that you were trying to shoot down. If you fail, the last few of your tiny laser shots meant for the torpedo will probably hit the exploding ship, and Moose will immediately decide you just destroyed the ship on purpose.
      • There's a bug in one mission where, after a certain point, if your wingmates die from hitting a mine, you get blamed. Cue Moose standing you down, and hauling you back to the Reliant. That's right, glitch in the game gets your character arrested and shot for treason. Mix in the artifical stupidity mentioned above, and, well...
  • Weak Turret Gun. All capital ships have them. An Acceptable Break from Reality, since the final missions shows how difficult it can be to keep your small fighter alive in the presence of an effective anti-fighter gun, even if there's only one and it has a long charge cycle.

    Creator/Digital Anvil    
Spider-ManSega DreamcastStar Wars: Episode I - Jedi Power Battles
Star Fox CommandScience Fiction Video GamesStar Made
FreelancerSimulation GameFreeSpace
'Splosion ManCreator/Microsoft StudiosSudeki

alternative title(s): Starlancer
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