Star Control II: The Ur-Quan Masters

Star Control II: The Ur-Quan Masters
Star Control II: The Ur-Quan Masters Cover
Platforms Windows, Linux, Mac OSX, BSD
Genre Hardcore Sci-Fi Adventure
MtAMinutes to Action 5
Score 8  Clock score of 8Gameplay: 7
Fun Factor: 8
Gfx/Sound: 7
Story: 8
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Star Control II: The Ur-Quan Masters is a fifteen year old DOS game that has overtime gained a large following due to a variety of reasons. One of them is that the game is good, well according to the numerous accolades it has received at least. The second reason is that the source code of the 3DO port was released under the GPL license, allowing anyone to dive into the game's innards. A group of dedicated fans have taken advantage of this, and have Windows, Mac, and Linux ports simply known as Ur-Quan Masters. This open source game has had stable releases and I am going to play the first hour of version 0.6.2 of Ur-Quan Masters.

Describing Star Control II is difficult, but basically you control a spaceship on a 2D representation of space and visit planets and fight off evil aliens. The game reminds me the most of Pirates, a swashbuckling adventure where you roam a 2D representation of the high seas and visit towns and fight off evil pirates. Anyways, let's see if my first hour review of Star Control II: The Ur-Quan Masters can get a good idea of what the rest of the game will be like.

With Mass Effect coming out in about a week, I think we might see some comparisons pop up between Star Control II and Mass Effect. It will be interesting if Bioware was inspired by Ur-Quan Masters at all.

Minute by Minute

(minutes are in bold)
00 - I select New Game and the hour long timer starts. Some information on the open source release flashes by, and then the game begins. It's the story of what happened years before the game (not sure if this is Star Control 1's story or if they're in separate universes), there was a war between the Alliance of Free Stars (obviously the good guys) and the "evil Ur-Quan" (obviously the bad guys).

01 - But instead of learning more about the war, we cut to a team of nerdy scientists who are on an ancient planet where the Precursors once lived. Because of the war and the Ur-Quan's dominance, they were cut off from the rest of mankind and left to their own.

Star Control 2 Ur Quan Fleet Cutscene

02 - The surviving scientists have turned to colonizing the planet they were stranded on, and started building starships! The plan is for me to travel through hyperspace and return to Earth.

03 - Once I get there, if Earth is still fighting the Ur-Quan, I must help defend our home planet. A screen appears of what looks like our solar system.

04 - A ship is heading towards the center of our galaxy, Sol.

Star Control 2 Solar System View

05 - Whoops! I was actually supposed to be controlling that starship, I figured this out as it cruised past Earth and seemed to be on a collision course with the sun! Time to head towards Earth I guess. Woah, space control is realistic, if you thrust in a certain direction, you will continue to head in that direction unless you provide counter-thrust against it. I've been intercepted by the Ur-Quan, I am trespassing in their space.

06 - The creepy alien tells me I am not allowed to approach Earth. I'm supposed to wait here for the Ur-Quan... yeah right.

07 - I decide to head towards our Moon. It appears on my main screen, just rotating. I find out I can scan it for some information. Actually I'm able to do a bunch of different scans: Mineral, Energy, and Biological.

Star Control 2 Moon Scan Luna

08 - I tell my ship to land and I'm able to cruise around Luna's surface picking up basic minerals. There's some little robots cruising around by they don't seem to affect me.

09 - I have come across an alien base on the surface. It's abandoned, but I salvage what I can out of it.

10 - I pull up a detailed star map of the galaxy. Wow, there is a lot to explore! Literally hundreds of planets and solar systems. I am overwhelmed.

Star Control 2 Galaxy Map

11 - Leaving the moon now I head towards an orbiting space station. When I arrive there I receive a transmission. They tell me they are of the slave planet Earth and ask me if I'm the resupply vessel for their starbase. I get a list of replies like a typical adventure game and tell them I'm not the resupply ship but I'm here to help.

13 - The station hasn't been resupplied in 8 years, and they need materials to sustain life support. Maybe the Ur-Quan aren't around anymore? There's important radioactive elements on Mercury. Guess that's my destination.

15 - I arrive at Mercury, time to find some radioactive materials with my Mineral scan. It's empty of Energy and Biological readings.

Star Control 2 Mercury Surface

17 - I get some annoying beeps when hovering over materials... dang it, I think my cargo is full.

18 - I dump some stuff in my cargo menu and head back down. This time I'm able to pick up some Uranium. I have 32 pieces of it. Hopefully that's enough.

19 - I think some of my crew may have died on Mercury due to the extreme hot zones and earthquakes, I went in having 50 members, now I'm down to 43. Ouch.

20 - I'm back at the orbiting station and send them the radioactives. Power is back on right away. Oh by the way, there is voice acting when talking to this guy, not just text. This actor is decent enough that it seems realistic.

Star Control 2 Base Commander

21 - He asks me who I am, and I tell him. He doesn't believe me though. I can see Earth behind him, it's blood red. Looks like the last 20 years have not been good.

22 - He tells me that it's actually a slave shield stopping anyone from going in and out, so maybe Earth is normal underneath it. As normal as life can be without satellites and having a red sky.

23 - If I can eliminate the alien base on the moon, he will help me fight the Ur-Quan... but I already found the base abandoned!

24 - A ship is incoming! Looks like the Ur-Quan are still around, and still ugly. He almost looks like Fu-Manchu.

Star Control 2 Ur Quan Alien

26 - After babbling on a bit, looks like I have to pick a ship to fight with, I take the only large ship I have, The Vindicator.

27 - Ouch, no idea how to shoot! Okay, I was defeated very quickly, wtf. Guess I should have saved.

28 - Time to get back to where I was before, I should be able to do it a lot faster this time, if I can figure out how to skip dialogue.

31 - Okay, saving this time before I give them radioactive materials.

Star Control 2 Space Battle Ilwrath

34 - Lost again. I suck at this or something.

35 - And again.

36 - YES! Finally, it only took like five shots... Seems like the orbiting ship wants to help me now, sweet. I'm down to 25 crew members though, they really need to stop standing next to exploding computer stations!

38 - I get to name our new alliance, and it will be The Empire of Zelnick! That's my name - in the game, not real life.

Star Control 2 Commander Kick Alien Butt

39 - Time to question the starbase commander on the area. Seems like they're also able to upgrade my ship with tons of different upgrades. Wow, seems complex.

43 - The commander is still talking to me, there's so much to learn. This is like a combination of so many genres into one game (but not as obvious as Spore).

45 - After an exhausting chat, I'm shown a new screen of the starbase with options to outfit my ship. Time to check that out.

46 - Advancing my ship seems complex too, there's tons of different modules I can enhance. The commander gave me a few suggestions such as thrusters and weaponry, so I'm going to try and figure out how to "purchase" those.

Star Control 2 Spaceship Vindicator Module

48 - Currency is measured in Resource Units, I start with about 2000. I spend 1500 of those on two thrusters and one turning jet. Expensive stuff.

50 - I'm able to buy additional Earthling Cruisers for 1100, not bad. But probably barebones with no modules.

52 - Back to actually controlling my ship now! I head to Lunia to scavenge for my first materials.

54 - My cargo bays sure are small, I fill up without even finishing off the moon.

55 - I approach Earth but I'm not able to scan it, too bad.

56 - My next stop is Venus, a very green planet in this game. A quick scan shows very few minerals and nothing else. Well, that sucked. I was on the planet for approximately three seconds before my lander blew up! Lightning struck it from all over and before I could even give the message to get out of there, I was a goner. 12 crew members and a 500 RU lander gone without warning. Hardcore.

Star Control 2 Venus Scan

58 - With only 533 RU available to me, I purchase another lander. This is gonna be tight.

59 - Mars should be safe, right?

Star Control 2 Mars Orbit

60 - Well, I don't die immediately and I'm able to fill up on raw materials. I return to the starbase for the final time this hour and offload onto the commander. He tells me it's a small load. I have a feeling this game is in it for the long haul and the first hour is just scratching the surface of an incredibly deep game.

Now for some scores out of 10.

Star Control 2 Mars Mineral Scan

First Hour Scores

Minutes to Action: 5

Gameplay: 7
Gameplay in Ur-Quan Masters can be a mixed bag. Menu navigation is easy enough and the simple graphics lend to that. The spaceship controls just like a real spaceship probably would - objects in motion stay in motion. This can be difficult to handle as I overshot planets a lot, undoubtedly wasting precious fuel in the process. So thus cruising around on the planets in my land rover is disorienting because it controls with zero momentum. And finally we come to the ship-to-ship battles, which feature an insane combination of always facing the wrong direction and slow turning. I never felt like I had enough fingers to do everything I needed to do, which is probably why I forgot to shoot those first couple of attempts.

Fun Factor: 8
Overall I had a lot of fun, the only time I didn't was during my short space battles. I really enjoyed the adventure elements and learning about what happened to Earth since the scientists had left. However, within the first hour, Star Control II exhibits a lot of complexity that you don't normally see so early on. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but working on your ship is an intimidating process. Compare this game to something like Civilization 2, which by the end of the game can be quite complicated, but early on the challenge is limited to things on a much smaller scope. I am a littler worried that the later stages of Star Control II may get out of hand!

Graphics and Sound: 7
This is such a difficult category to rate. The game really doesn't look that great nowadays, even the art style isn't that unique or interesting. But, we have to keep in mind that the game is 15 years old so I would like to consider it as so. I think the best looking aspects of the game are the planets and the few aliens I saw. Each of them have a lot of potential to give the game a lot of variety and maybe add some humor. But what I saw was mostly mediocre, not to mention the graphics everywhere else. Everything is very simple but I have to admit it gets the job done. There's absolutely zero extra fluff. The HUD is laid out in a way that I was able to recognize all the important stuff instantly. The sound design is pretty simplistic but the voice acting was very good, especially the alien voices.

Story: 8
When I first started playing, the story reminded me of Battlestar Galactica a lot. I think it was how the scientists were stranded and needed to find Earth again. Well, it turns out they know exactly where Earth was so that didn't matter much. Either way, I've read quite a bit of science fiction and this story seems pretty original, at least to me. I like the idea of flying around the galaxy and potentially meeting new alien species and discovering new worlds, sounds very intriguing but I wonder if there is a solid story or if it'll just be mission after mission.

Overall: 8
Star Control II: The Ur-Quan Masters is one of the few games I have reviewed where I had zero prior experience with the game. This puts me directly in the position of someone else who may be interesting in checking out what this open-source game has to offer. I honestly found the game very enjoyable with tons of potential, if not a little rough around the edges. I understand the developers are trying to replicate the original experience on a number of platforms, but some additional things would be nice: mouse support, save hotkeys, and maybe some updated art to name a few. Either way, this is a classic DOS experience that is still greatly accessible today. I reviewed this game on the suggestion of a few people, so here's my thanks to them for recommending Star Control II. If you enjoyed this review, I would highly recommend you check out the totally free and legal download of Ur-Quan Masters at SourceForge, you won't regret it.

Star Control 2 Earth