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Video Game / Starlancer

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Starlancer is the prequel 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 Wing Commander: 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 300.) Note that there are no other criteria; here, Lets Player BCSBuster completely flubs Mission 4 and gets chewed out for it, whilst simultaneously getting promoted for passing the necessary kill threshold.
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  • 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.
  • Big Bad: Admiral Kulov, who orchestrates the Deimos Betrayal that starts the war.
  • 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 extent, 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 necessary, a few missions briefings give no warning you're going to need to intercept torpedoes.
  • 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. She also qualifies as Spicy Latina.
  • 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).
  • Crosshair Aware: "The ion cannon's targeting us! Get out of its range!" Infuriatingly, this message from the Guy in Back can be delayed by other messages; under the right circumstances, and if you are not paying attention, Moose will barely have enough time to utter this line before your ship gets one-shot.
  • Difficult, but Awesome: The Grendel. Available right at the start of the first mission, it has the best gun recharge among all Alliance fighters in the game and is also one of the heaviest Alliance fighters in the entire game. The guns it can carry can also destroy most Coalition fighters quite easily as well. This is balanced by it having poor agility and absolutely no special ability whatsoever, which means the player has to rely a lot on how well they can aim manually in order to fully exploit the Grendel's strong points. However, in the hands of a player who can aim, the Grendel is one of the few fighters that can be used in virtually any mission except the last one.
  • 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.
  • The Dragon: Admiral Petrov, the Coalition's best fighting admiral. To a lesser extent, his sons, Ivan and Nikolai, who get into fighters and can really mess up your day.
  • 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.
    • There's something about that cloaking technology that makes people forget to use it: During the game, the Coalition only uses it to cloak their best fighters and torpedo bombers for about half a minute. During the intro movie, they cloaked an entire fleet of capital ships for a far longer time.
  • From Nobody to Nightmare: The 45th Volunteer Squadron. It starts out as a squadron of a bunch of randos recruited on short notice after a crippling surprise attack and becomes the deadliest squadron in the Alliance, earning the nickname "Flying Tigers."
  • 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.
  • Guns Do Not Work That Way: Late in the game, there's a cinematic depicting Alliance infantry attacking the Coalition base on Titan. Said infantry are armed with flamethrowers, complete with pilot light blazing below the barrel of the weapon. While there's a simple Doylist explanation for this — the weapons look awesome — it's hard to come up with a Watsonian reason for why every infantryman is equipped this way, despite the opposition canonically having Frickin' Laser Beams, Kinetic Weapons Are Just Better, and other armaments that don't have an Arbitrary Minimum Range.
  • 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 torpedoes, 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 intelligence 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. This is offset by reduced shot damage.
  • 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: Fort Vanguard, The Dark Reign and Borodin are this due to their underside ion cannon, which not only destroys anything in one shot, including Class 1 Carriers like the Victorious, but can also target fighters, doubling up as a pinpoint I-Kill-Fighters machine. You either get out of its range, hug the installation's hull, limit your areas of movement to sections of the installation that obstructs the ion cannon's line of sight to you, activate Stealth Cloak if you're flying a Shroud, or...umm, die. A lot.
  • 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 main use is the occasional One-Hit Kill of the player if you fly between the two ships and didn't check your blind spots. Otherwise, they will act as a time limit: the capital guns will deal damage, until the enemy ship either jumps out or you shave off its surplus systems for a torpedo strike.
  • Laser Sight: The Crosshair Aware of the three ion cannons in the game, which is very visible if your camera is set to chase mode.
  • 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. You are actually expected to give them orders to attack targets.
  • Macross Missile Massacre: your hard-points can accommodate 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 squad-mates' 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. Multiple squadrons are described as taking no prisoners either and there’s no negotiations or surrender ever, even when you run into unarmed vessels. Just points for the killboard.
  • 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: Mostly from Trial-and-Error Gameplay. Got the wrong ship? Tough. Didn't bring enough extra afterburner fuel to get to your objective in time? Try again.
  • Non-Standard 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. Wing-men 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.
  • Point Defenseless: A capital 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.
  • Prison Ship: Mission 19 has you participating in an assault on a Coalition Prison Ship, the CS Saladin. According to its ITAC file, conditions onboard are so bad, with rampant torture and abuse, and a bad air filtration system, the Coalition even has to force the guards stationed there to work on the ship, so it's almost as much hell for them as the Alliance prisoners.
  • 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 wing-mates 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 satellites. 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. Fortunately, friendly pilots often eject, and get recovered by Nanny Ships.
  • Scenery Porn: In general, every mission begins with you walking from your quarters to the briefing room. This walk is fully rendered as a Cut Scene, giving you an impressive glimpse at everyday life on your ship. (And, thank heaven, you can skip it if you're in a hurry.)
  • Shout-Out: Being an arcade space fighter simulator, it's a given — from Star Wars to Star Trek to Top Gun, it's all there.
  • 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 destroy Admiral Kulov's escape pod before your allies capture him. Even though the only thing he does before escaping admidst the corpses of Alliance personnel is give intelligence that sends you into a trap.
    • Your squad-leader 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 three Weak Turret Guns, leaving the ships harmless. But the mission won't proceed until you destroy them.
      • This is explained in the ITAC: Kurgens have a distinct bow designed specifically for ramming other vessels. Since you can’t disable their engines, they’d simply ram the Saladin or the Churchill that jumps in, messing up the mission.
    • In Mission 23 the Yamato and the Pukov get into a slugging match at practically point-blank range, throwing torpedoes and heavy weapons fire (whatever those fizzy blue fireballs are) at each other. Of course, the Yamato is also Point Defenseless and if you're to save her from the torpedoes, you have to fly in between the two carriers, dodging every single projectile from both directions (each of which is a One-Hit Kill if they should happen to tag you), not to mention whatever weapons fire and missiles you might catch from Coalition fighters as crazy as you, and shooting down the enemy torpedoes before they hit.
  • 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 until they are finished talking before warning you that, for instance, the enemy Wave-Motion Gun is targeting you and you should have cloaked 5 seconds ago if you wanted to survive.
  • Time Skip: there are 24 missions in the game, each separated by about 4 weeks, if the dates are any indication. Aside from those dates, there is literally nothing to suggest you aren't simply turning around and getting back into the cockpit five minutes after landing.
  • 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 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 wing-mates 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 artificial 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.