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SummaryMuch better than everyone wants to make you believe
The GoodIn the first place this is an adventure game. The game has a superb story and you are a key player in it. The story starts out rather simple and gets more exciting with every new race and artifact you discover.
The alien races are very well made. Apart from the races you already know from Star Control 2, there are a dozen new ones, each with their own particular voice and music. The dialogs are very well written, the voice recordings are well done an the races are highly interesting.
If you played Star Control 2 (SC2), the game will tie up lots and lots of loose ends from that game. I don't know if everything that is being revealed was already decided upon in SC2 but it all ties in very well with the original story.
When you are stuck with the story, you have some sort of on board computer on your starship that will give you clues. Sometimes so many things are happening in the story that you just forget something you are meant to do and then this feature comes in handy.
The BadThe strategy part of the game isn't anything challenging and you cannot really fail at it. Do not play this as a strategy game - you will find it very boring.
The ending is absolutely disappointing. After such an epic story, you get a short video sequence and some spoken text as you see the credits scrolling down. SC2 did much better in this regards.
There seems to be an occasion of bad event scripting in the game. I'm not sure if you can actually get stuck with the story but it can become very tiresome at one point if you didn't do something in the early game. Unfortunately this will make you want to start the game over.
The Bottom LineThe target audience for this game undoubtedly was the people that played SC2 before and it is not recommended playing it without having done so. While it is possible, lacking all the background story information from SC2 will make the game much less comprehensible.
Unfortunately, the fans of SC2 received this game very badly. The fact that it wasn't from the original creators generated a lot of bias against it even before it was released. Since it was somewhat different from SC2, most of those people saw their prejudices confirmed and didn't really give it a chance.
To me, SC2 was one of the biggest games of its time and still is today. SC3 isn't as good as it if you compare it directly, but it's very different and stays very true to the original story setting. It's less strategy and more story telling. At this it succeeds and even surpasses SC2 in my opinion.
If you found the resource collecting in SC2 tiresome at some point (I sure did) and preferred interacting with other races and being a diplomat, you will love this game.