Saturday, August 18, 2012

Star Control 2 For MS-DOS

From the antediluvian muck of the early 1960s arose the very first computer game, Spacewar! It was a top-down view of two rocket ships trying to take each other out while avoiding falling into a star. It accurately simulated thrust, inertia, and gravity, and it only needed a computer the size of a house to run it. 30 years later, Star Control 2 took this simple concept and ran with it to make one of the most memorable video games I’ve ever played.  

In the first Star Control game, you assemble a team of space ships from the Alliance of Free Stars or the Hierarchy of Battle Thralls and engage in one-on-one Spacewar!-style ship combat. Each ship has unique characteristics: Some are slow and powerful, while others are fast & weak. Some have shields, some have homing missiles, some can launch waves of fighters, and some can self-destruct in a massive shockwave. There’s a rudimentary strategy game included, but the focus of that game is the combat.

Star Control 2 lifts the combat elements out of the first game and drops it into a huge action RPG. As it turns out, the war detailed in Star Control did not go well for Earth and its allies. A series of still images, drawn in a nifty retro-futurist style, tell the story of a space expedition that became stranded on an alien planet when Earth was defeated. They discovered an underground starship factory built by a powerful, extinct (aren’t they all?) race called the Precursors. They used the to build a new ship and return to Earth, only to discover it has been enslaved by the Hierarchy, and its leaders, the Ur-Quan. Thus begins your struggle to free Earth and defeat the Ur-Quan.

Star Control 2 is a huge game. It encompasses a whole galaxy of star systems you can visit, most of which have planets you can land on. You spent much of the game gathering resources from those planets, upgrading your Precursor ship, making allies and building a fleet to combat the Ur-Quan. The events in the game play out in real time, so it’s possible to miss critical moments and even lose the game if you waste too much time. The game is funny and engaging, with a Hitchhiker’s Guide cleverness to it that extends down to the design of the alien species and their ships. For a save-the-whole-entire-galaxy RPG, it stays refreshingly tongue-in-cheek. It explores the aftermath of Star Control’s war in surprising depth, too. In your travels, you learn that allies and enemies from the first game have switched allegiances, withdrawn or completely wiped themselves out.  Several new alien species are introduced too; some with pretty sinister motivations themselves.

Though the focus of Star Control 2 is on the single player game, it has a fun two player mode too. Players assemble teams of ships from both games and fight each other to the last ship. The game assigns a point value to each ship, which helps balance out the teams. You can load your team up with nothing but heavy-hitters if you want, or you can mix & match. Personally, I derived immense maniacal pleasure from blowing up my buddy’s Ur-Quan Juggernaut with my chumpy little Shofixti Scout and its divine wind bomb.

The original DOS version of Star Control 2 can be played through DOSBox, but it can be pretty temperamental. Fortunately, the game’s developers released its source code to the Open Source community, who developed a copyright-less version called The Ur-Quan Masters. It’s available for free on Windows, Mac, Linux, etc. Check it out at You’ll need a copy of the starmap too, which served as both a guide and the original game’s copy protection. You can get a copy here:

Thanks for reading my review. Next week… Umm, I don’t know. Anyone out there have any requests?

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