At the suggestion of my friend Grandy I have utterly blown off his request that I help him write a review of YET ANOTHER MMORPG that is fashionable for some reason, to play a game that was in vogue twenty years ago.
I'm speaking of Star Control II.
For our readers who WERE NOT ALIVE twenty years ago, and we have a number of you, I'm pretty damned old.
And yet old men occasionally have things to say that are worth hearing.
To be less abstruse, Star Control II was published by a now defunct publisher called Acclaim in 1992. It was developed by a pair of dudes who went under the name Toys for Bob, a reference that none of you children will get, I AM SURE!
Taking off my old man wizard hat, Star Control II was one of the last games written before Wolfenstein 3D came along and crystallized all games into distinct genres, in other words fucking everything up: Star Control II is, in terms kids would use today, an amalgamation of a Sci-Fi RPG, a flight simulator, a tactical battle simulator with side advancement for goal completion, and a Larry Niven novel. It was so far ahead of its time that it's still ahead of its time, easily, TODAY, one of the ten best computer games ever made despite the fact that the idea of a black man wielding as much power as Bill Clinton was SCIENCE FICTION on par with a Larry Niven novel back in 1992.
And it's freeware, though you have the option of paying five bucks to enjoy it in a version even more primitive than the freeware. I play the freeware, but I bought the five buck version to give back to the guys who made this game in hopes that Electonic Arts or Activision, two other long defunct game publishers which are still around for some reason, will buy the rights for a measly million bucks and create a modern version of something that's STILL better than anything they've ever published.
Still too abstruse?
Star Control II places the player in a near future in which a space traveling humanity has encountered alien intelligence, in fact a galaxy full of alien intelligence: Humanity joined the losing side of a galactic civil war between a "libertarian" coalition of races that wish to exist in chaotic individuality, and an "authoritarian" coalition of races dominated by the Ur-Quan, who simply wish to impose ORDER on the galaxy for everyone's benefit. While humanity almost turned the tide with our comically primitive ships (looking like space shuttles bristling with nuclear missiles and surplus SDI lasers), the freaks lost, and ORDER was imposed on the galaxy.
Until a lost human expedition to the galactic core discovers a "Precursor" starship built when all of the protagonists of the last war were using femurs as weapons against space leopards. You are the captain of this ship.
And yet there's so much more: twists and plot turns I won't mention, voice acting (from a console version on the sadly defunct and all but forgotten 3DO) on a par with James Earl Jones voicing Darth Vader (for the scary Ur-Quan who are the INITIAL villains), and dozens of riddles and hints for the future, like the information-trading Melnorme, who promise you secrets and mysteries about the real history of the galaxy which you can only almost afford, and the Orz, a race of friendly, smiling space-goldfish, whose speech is never QUITE accurately captured by your universal translator (the title of this post is one of the translations), who may or may not FREAK YOU OUT when you realize that they are in fact Lovecraftian horrors from another universe, who intend to merge our universe with their own in order to…
Your mouse will not work in this game. It's all keyboard. But you can configure the controls to familiar WASD standards in the freeware version that I therefore recommend you download, known as "The Ur-Quan Masters," which includes the wonderful voice work from the console version:
Don't be frightened by the less than zero version number. I've played about twenty hours (SC II requires about a hundred hours to complete) on a Windows 7 64 bit machine without a single crash.
After you're through with it, buy the official, DOSbox version from Good Old Games, both to give the developers money, and to reward Good Old Games for republishing this and many other good, old, games. As a bonus, you'll get the original Star Control, which is an entirely tactical, non-RPG game featuring great space combat with even more varied alien ships and races.
At five bucks, it's more entertaining, and less expensive to you, than a speech by a black man who wields as much power as Bill Clinton.