This week, Yahtzee reviews Star Control: Origins.
I think we've reached the point that sticking the word "origins" on the end of your prequel name has become the equivalent of taking your husband's name after marriage: not technically required, just a societally expected formality. Well, flip my bollocks up like Venetian blinds and tickle the hairy cervices below if it isn't a prequel to the classic Star Control series of PC space explore-'em-ups! Except it isn't, really, because according to Wikipedia, the original creators aren't behind it and sued for copyright infringement, so the developers of Origins couldn't use any of the plot characters or alien races from the old games, which rather makes me wonder why they were still allowed to call it "Star Control". Seems like that's a fucking big oversight if you're copyrighting things, but then, I don't know much about the law; if I did, I would've taken those Google Android motherfuckers to the cleaners years ago!
Still, Star Control: Origins plays well enough, like its not-predecessors; it's a fairly unique take on space games, which usually fall into one of two categories: the full-on 3D explore-dogfight-'em-up like your Elite: Dangerous, or your 2D strategic tedious-'em-up like your Eve Online, all making sure everyone's thermos flasks contain enough space tea before you mobilize the fleet to Sector Bum-Sex-Gamma, all about as fun as slowly inserting your head into a tank of cold centipede jizz. You might think, at first glance, that Star Control leans towards the latter, but don't be fooled by the menu-driven interface or the dry, mechanical titles. "STAR CONTROL. CONTROL YOUR STARS, MADAM; THEY'RE DISTURBING THE OTHER DINERS IN THIS FAMILY RESTAURANT."
No. Star Control is actually quite a light and fluffy affair, as space games go, with its main selling points being funny dialogue and pissing about; everything else - and there's quite a bit of "everything else" - in some way serves to get you to more places where you can see funny dialogue or make it easier for you to piss about unmolested. So with the core gameplay loop established, the premise is, just as the people of Earth are about to embark upon an exciting new age of space exploration with several "We Come in Peace" greeting cards under one arm and a load of nukes under the other, we suddenly find ourselves on the radar of an ancient and sinister alien empire who have enslaved most of the cosmos, and it's up to us to discover and unite the various slave races to restore peace, freedom, and equality to the galaxy. Just this galaxy, though; fuck those snooty Andromeda wankers!
So gameplay takes place on multiple levels. First of all, travelling between planets and star systems; it's all in 2D, so it's just "rotate until facing thing you want to go to, then press 'Forward'. If thing you want to go to isn't there, you either didn't press 'Forward' enough or pressed it too much". Blimey, interstellar travel's more complicated than I thought!
The next level of gameplay is exploring planets in your landing craft for minerals and shiny chocolate wrappers, and either your landing craft is about the size of continental Europe, or every planet is titchy enough that even Pluto could steal its lunch money. But you know, corners have to be cut when you're trying to render an entire galaxy; that's why there's only, like, eight types of planets and four types of wildlife, and why your lander is made of crisp packets and toilet rolls and occasionally explodes 'cos you parked it slightly askew. But you know, repetitive as the planets got, it was always pleasing to explore a new system and find a planet rich in natural resources, and as I touched down to rape it for its every last drop of potential, I ruminated on how lucky the galaxy must feel to have someone like me raping it, and not an ancient evil space empire, for once.
The third main gameplay mechanic is the combat, when the stars and planets of a nearby environment are condensed into little pinball bumpers around which you and your murder partner fight on two levels: secondarily with each other, primarily with the sodding controls. It ends up being something like a jousting simulator: you speed towards each other, let fly a bunch of missiles and lasers when you get close, speed off into the distance as you start wrestling your ship back around for another run, assuming you didn't slam headlong into a space brick wall. It's kind of like having a breakup conversation with your significant other while the two of you are on opposite ends of two funfair pirate ship rides, and you need to blurt out apologies in the brief moment you're in earshot.
Once you've befriended a few races and getting a good planet-raping groove going, there can be long gaps between needing to do combat, so you might get caught off-guard at inconvenient times, when there's nothing in your fleet but two wheelbarrows and a banana boat. For the same reason, you don't get much chance to practice combat, so you end up not wanting to use any new ships you've picked up, because odds are good it'll get blown up in two seconds 'cos you didn't realize it's got the turning speed of an old lady in a crowded charity shop and the main gun only works on alternate weekends. Might be just as well there's an option to have the computer do combat for you, but I'm not sure I recommend that, since it removes most of what constitutes the "game" part of this video game. The only other time challenging gameplay appears is when the planet you're raping occasionally rapes you back; yes, I do have to use that word, mother!
The interface is very janky, especially when using a controller; there's frequent confusion over what's currently highlighted and what will be highlighted instead if we start moving around. Sometimes, it does that thing where you press a button on one menu and it automatically presses a button on the next menu, leading to scenarios where we accidentally start combat in the banana boat when we wanted the wheelbarrow. And then we come to the interstellar map and star search engine, when the game officially fucking gives up and goes, "Oh, just get your keyboard out, for fuck's sake! Throw that stupid thing away!", and it's like someone melted a TV remote in a kidney bowl, hesitant as I am to complain in this age of patching it in post, which means it might be fixed after this comes out or the entire game replaced with eighteen hours of The Hampsterdance.
But all nitpicking aside, the main reason to buy Star Control: Revelations is for the writing, which is just as well, as every other mechanic lacks a certain depth. Most of the rest of its exploration boasted you'll be all explored out toward the end; even planet-raping won't excite you like it used to when there's nothing more worth buying, and sometimes, you'd rather just cuddle. The combat's officially over once you buy the one laser that auto-hits any ship or missile that gets close enough to ask you directions. The dialogue's all that's left, but it might be enough; it does the rare thing of being funny without seeming like it's trying too hard.
True, it's annoying how some enemies inflict the same prolonged dialogue tree on you every time you run into their ships when no combination of platitudes won't result in a fight; true, every species apparently only has one appearance and personality to share between them, but hey, Star Trek gets away with it! And every species/character has depth and a unique perspective. Even the ancient evil space empire becomes more complex the more you learn; you start to think they're all mouth and no dilithium crystals 'cos they're too old and mired in bureaucracy to maintain a decent oppression stiffy. So after all that, I liked Star Control: Revengeance; it's a light, snacky bit of fun and adventure in a somewhat awkward package, like an attractive, sexually curious Dalek.
- Space case: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
- Personally I find the Daleks a bit aggressive and that the Sontarans make for much more sensitive lovers
- Deep Space Nine is best Star Trek, change my mind