Definitely flashier and better, but nothing new here...
Great graphics... The ships look better than just about anything out there. The weapons effects are GOOD, with missile trails, ship engine flares, and more. Even your bunk has animated graphics. The local jump AND the warp gates are quite cool also.
After a while, the extra touches gets distracting. Instead of comm screen comes on like with a bit of static, you get a "morphing" graphic icon THEN the video. You also get "transition movies" as you move from one section to another (and you can't turn it off, just "skip" it with a mousepress).
The mouth also don't sync with the words except in the pre-rendered movies.
The Coalition vs. Alliance storyline is about as old as you can get (where Coalition is USSR and China while Alliance is Europe+US+Japan).
There's NOTHING new here. You kill torpedoes, escort ships, kill enemy fighters, some of which can cloak, you kill turrets, etc. etc. etc. All of this has been done before, and Starlancer doesn't add ANYTHING to the genre. Even the plotline features your standard "kill the traitors" twist.
Some of the missions are also horribly hard, and if you fail the later hard part, you must endure the earlier EASY parts again (which could still take up to 7-10 minutes) just to fail again at the hard part. There is no provision to skip the mission after X attempts.
The Bottom Line
Starlancer is basically your next evolution of the space combat genre... With flashier than ever graphics, and not much else. It is essentially a flashier Wing Commander, and that's about all it is.
Starlancer is about the 45th Volunteers, called to duty after the "Pearl Harbor in space" where the Coalition fleet with its cloaked fighters staged a full surprise attack on the peace conference and the Alliance fleet. The 45th started as a scartch outfit, but would eventually help win the war by performing some of the most daring missions in the war, but I get ahead of myself... Initially you are assigned to the ANS Reliant, an old carrier reactivated for the war.
You start in your bunk. You can access your terminal, combat sim, your bunk for your medals or news, and even a "CD player". The graphics quite good as you can sort of "see" things from your viewpoint as if you move around.
When you go to the briefing, your "walk through" the corridors to the briefing room, and watch your squadron commander give the briefing of objectives.
Starlancer gives you the choice of choosing from available fighters based on your clearance level and customize your weapons loadout. As you advance in rank, you will get access to better fighters. Fighters are rated on acceleration, top speed, agility, amount of afterburner fuel, internal guns, and more.
The slightly new twist here is you can load "fuel pods", which would give you additional afterburner fuel. On the other hand, the missiles are still limited to your standard dumbfire, rockets, fast lock, slow lock, disabler, and such. Nothing really new here except a "shield buster" missile.
After that, you see a cutscene of you and your wingmen run for the boarding area, and you start in the cockpit. (All crafts are two-seaters)
The ship is then dropped into space similar to the way Babylon 5 launches its Starfuries (but you only get to watch). You then use a "local jump" drive to jump to the next jump point. You fight enemies by shooting your main guns or launch missions. You also have a special key to target torpedoes and/or bombers if they are present. Some ships have "blind fire", which is basically a limited-auto-aimming gun. All ships have "shot predictor" that will lead the target properly, but those with blind-fire will actually point the gun toward the shot predictor within the narrow cone that it can instead of requiring you to do so. There are also a few other special devices in the game, such as reverse thruster (sudden stop or fly backwards), spectral shields (limited duration energy shield), and even cloak (only on certain ships).
You can also adjust energy among engines, guns, and shields if you choose to do so, with obvious benefits and drawbacks. You also get ECM (which disrupts enemy target lock-on, but limited duration) and Countermeasures (chaff packs) that is supposed to draw off enemy missiles fired at you.
The ships are protected by both armor and shields. Shields regenerate, armor doesn't... Your standard stuff, nothing new here.
Combat is your typical "a few ships against everybody" type missions. While you are usually launched as a wing (with up to 5 other fighters), and they seem to hold their own in combat, they don't get too many kills. You will make kills at 10-20 per mission, and you never see any of your wingmen get on the killboard.
As mentioned before, some of the missions require you to shoot torpedoes, and you need to target them and shoot them ASAP to protect your ships. As torpedoes are usually launched in huge salvoes (up to 6 per bomber, with virtually NO locking) kill torpedoes is NOT fun, esp. when they've passed you and are now approaching your ships and you're in a tailchase.
Most missions have primary and secondary objectives, but often the secondary objectives are not stated or even mentioned. If you accomplish the secondary objectives you will get a great debriefing. If you don't... You get not-bad, bad, or even disgusting debriefing. Your mission log will explain what you may have missed, but it's in a paragraph format with no clear points on how to accomplish them.
Some of the missions also have a "Shoot the Hole" mission. For example, there's a mission where you need to blow the cover off of a base vent, then fire a missile into it to blow up the base. Of course, you need to blow up all the turrets nearby first. Does this start to sound familiar? Imagine then you get to do this again, then again!
Shooting turrets on ships and bases gets old VERY quickly, as are shooting torpedoes that just keep coming. There's almost no way you can shoot the bombers first, so you're always on the defensive, and turret hunting is just a matter of precise aimming, not much there.
All in all, the extra graphical touches in the game helped the game on some levels, but is distracting in other levels. The gameplay is virtually the EXACT same as Wing Commander or Freespace. Indeed, a lot fo the cockpit elements look a LOT like the ones in Freespace, but without the customizability or the usability features like the way FS2 tracks the ships you must protect.
Starlancer also fails to take full advantage of the storyline. The missions aren't that interesting to start with, and feels like an odd combination of Wing Commander: Prophecy and Freespace 2, but with Russians versus Americans instead of Terrans versus Kilrathi or Shivans. There's nothing new in Starlancer at all.