TOO LEGIT TO QUIT
Back in the early nineties, when Zubaz pants were all the rage, MC Hammer was tearing up the charts, and the Buffalo Bills were losing the Super Bowl every year, a plucky little company named Electronic Arts was starting to build a gaming empire by publishing unique, innovative and fun titles for the Sega Genesis. While many of these games were originals, the company also had a penchant for taking PC games that seemed completely unsuited for consoles and somehow converting them into fun Genesis games that remained relatively faithful to the original. Populous and Might and Magic and two well-known examples, but there were several others, including Starflight.
So what is Starflight about? Allow me to paraphrase the game’s introductory message:
Welcome, Captain. Your mission is to explore the galaxy, find new planets suitable for colonization, communicate with alien races, and above all else, mine for valuable minerals. Oh, and one other thing — all life in the galaxy is about to wiped out, and we have no idea why, so if you could also do something about that, that would be awesome.
Admittedly, that’s not an exact quote, but you get the idea. Starflight is a mix of exploration, business, action, and mystery…and of course, mining. It’s kind of like Mass Effect without most of the RPG aspects, or like Pirates! in space, but neither of those examples is entirely accurate. Basically, you fly around the galaxy looking for valuable minerals to bring back home and sell to buy ship upgrades. While exploring, you’ll communicate with aliens who will give you clues to the locations of ancient ruins, and hopefully solve the mystery of why stars across the galaxy are exploding. Or they might just try to blow you into little pieces. Aliens can be jerks sometimes.
A SPACE ODYSSEY
What’s really unique about Starflight is how completely open-ended it is. You can go anywhere you want at any time (as long as you have enough fuel), and you really start out with very little information. The base you start off in mentions a few locations of interest, and you get a bare-bones version of the backstory, but that’s about it. Going to the locations given to you at the home base takes you on a mini-quest that gets you some nice equipment, but ultimately, it’s a dead-end that won’t directly lead to you beating the game. Finding other places of interest, learning the full backstory, and figuring out what’s causing the stars to flare and how to prevent it is all up to you.
At first, this might seem a bit overwhelming. After all, the game has about 800 planets, and most of them are pretty large, so you can’t just expect to go search every square inch of every planet hoping to stumble upon answers. However, it quickly becomes apparent how well designed the game is. Before long, you will start running into aliens that will give you hints, and new messages come in to home base throughout the game which also give you new leads. However, Starflight doesn’t simply lead you from point to point like most games do. Most of the information you’re given are clues, you still have to put them together to figure out what to do. The way the game balances helping you out with letting you figure stuff out on your own is really superb.
Most of the information you get comes from talking to other ships, so the communication aspect of the game is pretty significant. You start each conversation by choosing one of three attitudes (obsequious, friendly, or hostile) to adopt, and then have a choice of five questions you can ask the other party. Repeating questions can get you different answers, and often, the alien’s attitude toward you changes depending on events that happen in the game. Play your cards right and they might tell you hidden locations of ancient ruins, how to sneak through enemy territory (a few alien races are outright hostile to you no matter what), or the secret codes to their planetary defenses. Eventually, they’ll even tell you how to save the galaxy.
Although the game can get frustrating at times, it’s still tremendous fun. Exploring the galaxy, piecing together the back story, and solving the mystery at the game’s core is a thrill that is missing from many of today’s more linear games that basically come right out and cram their stories down your throat. They just don’t make games like Starflight anymore, and that’s really too bad.