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SummaryQuick arcade action - fun for the whole neurotic family...
The GoodStarscape is, in essence, an updated version of Swarm: you control a space vessel in top-down 2D space, and basically perform the same mission - blow up enemies, collect resources, fight the occasional boss. Starscape adds a bit of interest to the mix with micromanagement: you have to allocate your resources (three types of collectible minerals, plus crew allotment) to researching new technologies (via a very simple, linear research tree), building spacecraft and modules for them, and repairing your mothership and vessels.
Starscape aims to bring to the table a somewhat elaborate storyline, which is a nice touch but has its drawbacks (see the negative section); essentially you are a crew member of the Aegis, the first mothership (more like a portable space station) to feature a new kind of dimensional drive. During the first experimental interdimensional leap, the experiment is thwarted by an alien race called the Arachnids, and the Aegis gets stuck on a bizarre dimensional phenomenon called the Grid - a network of interconnected dimensional nodes, where space and resources are finite. While exploring the Grid looking for lost crew members, you (as seemingly the sole surviving fighter pilot on the Aegis) must collect resources to repair your ship and build better equipment, fight off the Arachnid drone vessels, seek aid from the Arachnid sister-race Xenarchs and, finally, wrest parts of the Dimensional Drive that were stolen by the Arachnids.
Starscape's most obvious feature is beautifully rendered graphics - ship models, asteroids, nebulae, weapons and special effects. 2D games have their advantages as sprites can be spectacularly detailed with no performance loss, and the result is that Starscape looks absolutely staggering. Again, however, this has its negative side - see later.
Along with great graphics, the music and sound effects in Starscape are great! While some of the music is pretty mediocre techno, a lot of it is simply terrific, and very reminescent of Zodiac's cool tunes for Piranha. The sound effects are very good - explosions, blasts, punches etc. hardly ever get annoying, and since I didn't immediately flinch (I'm very critical, audio-wise) I'd say that the audio quality is acceptable.
The variety of ship models, node types, weapons and enemies make Starscape an extremely addictive game, while the ongoing "plot" makes you want to go on just to see what happens when you complete the interdimensional drive. The game is very short - I'd say 5 or so hours total - which is actually good, since it would've been horribly repetitive otherwise.
And last but not least, the game is just plain fun!
The BadWell the most glaringly obvious flaw in this game is the horrible English - it's worth than a lot of "Engrish" games floating about. It's almost as if the ingame dialogue was written by foreigners with only a dictionary and a stack of Clint Eastwood movies! Reading the credits, the developers seem to be american, so what the hell's up with that?
Also, despite the relatively varied gameplay (jumping in and out of nodes, various enemy types, research, micromanagement) I couldn't help but occasionally feel that the game is incredibly repetitive. Well duh - it is! Good thing it's so short, otherwise I would've either given up on it, or finished it out of spite (Elite Force anyone?)
Last but not least, despite the 2D nature of the game, the graphics are choppy. What do I mean? The framerate is just fine, but the animation is not smooth at all. I would expect a 2003 game to give better than 16 (I think that's what it was...) rotating angles, and the velocity handling leaves a hell of a lot to be desired - the battlefield scrolling just isn't smooth. Too bad - had the game been smoother, perhaps it would've been possible to speed everything up and make the action a lot more intense. I would've enjoyed that.
Last but not least, the game is NOT worth $35 (or even $25 download-only); $20 maybe, but no more than that. It has very little replay value, is very short and the production values are just not high enough to justify the cost.