Reviews: Star Control

Truly Great Today, *Incredible* For Its Time

Judged today as a freeware indie title, The Ur-Quan Masters still mostly holds up. There are a couple of annoying moments of Guide Dang It related to some of the sidequests (QuasiSpace and the location of ZEX's beast are standouts), the Early Game Hell can put off first-time players, the lack of Mercy Invincibility in HyperSpace is legendarily awful, many "antagonist" ships, like the Terminator and the Avenger, benefit disproportionately from being computer controlled, and several quests have nasty time limits the game doesn't actually tell you about, while actively recommending you Take Your Time.

But, really, that's about it. While the gameplay is difficult out of the gate, once the player gets the hang of it and starts getting upgrades and better ships, it quickly turns fun and engaging. Exploring the galaxy and encountering new races is exciting, and though the unlabeled star chart is a bit archaic, it certainly adds to the atmosphere.

And the story is amazing. The jokes and parody are genuinely funny, but the drama is intense, and the diplomatic portions often require careful thought on the player's part to come out on top. Even the more-generic aliens, such as the supox or the zoq-fot-pic, are interesting to learn about and contact. And the tragic story behind the villains of the piece is rightly-famous. In short, an excellent example of how to do a Dramedy right, avoiding the pitfalls of tonal dissonance.

This game is a great resource-based sandbox RPG even today. I can't even imagine what it must have been like to when it first came out in the early ninties. Story-based video-gaming wasn't exactly in its infancy, but it was definitely in its awkward teens, and the high-camp parody married to well-executed drama exhibited here demonstrates a level of maturity in story telling, in both possible senses of the word, beyond much of the competition.

An amazing piece of gaming history and a great video game in its own right that remains, unlike many relics of the time, thoroughly fun, engaging, and playable even today. (Once you get out of the Early Game Hell, anyway.) If you haven't tried it yet, give it a whirl!