The Real SC: Star Control

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“You Will Soon Die. Make Whatever Rituals Are Necessary For Your Species.”

Some of you will recognize the above picture of a predatory space squid caterpillar.  I was reminded of these most wonderful villains a few days ago by a short little news item; it surfaced here in the daily torrent of Rock Paper Shotgun articles, and I found this informative tidbit through Ars Technica.

Star Control may yet ride again.

It appears that Stardock, makers of GalCiv and publishers of Sins of a Solar Empire, snapped up the rights to Star Control from Atari.  To be honest, I wish that the rights had gone to Toys For Bob (the studio captained by Fred Ford and Paul Reiche III), and I’m not at all confident that Stardock will bring about the revitalization that the Star Control series so richly deserves.  The last time someone tried to follow in the footsteps of Ford and Reiche, they stumbled in their execution, fell, and gashed open their palms on the hard pavement of disappointment.  Star Control 3, a game that most Star Control fans like to ignore, was the bloody result.

There are hints that this time things will be better: at least some parts of the rumor mill anticipate some form of potential cooperation with Ford and Reiche.  But why is it that people are so excited about this anyways?

If you ever played Star Control 2, you’d probably understand.  The ultimate drama of the game is actually fairly well represented by this downfall video (big time spoilers, but excellently done).

I love Star Control 2.  I’ve been playing it since it came out when I was 4.  I’ll probably still be playing it for years to come.  Its mano a mano space combat is excellent fun, even with all its little idiosyncrasies, and it allows you to throw down with your friends with simultaneous hotseat multiplayer.  The music is catchy, the visuals are all delightfully stylized, and the whole thing comes together into a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts.  And then you add the story game.

Star Control 2 offers a beautiful space opera, with exploration, negotiation, and the occasional fight as you rush from one side of the galaxy to the other trying to fix all the problems that you face.  Though you don’t know it at the start, the game is a race against time.  If you wait too long, your enemies will begin committing mass genocide, hunting down your allies (and sometimes your other enemies) and destroying them.  The fate of sentient life lies in your hands, and you’ll have to trick, wheedle, and connive your way to the finish if you want to save as many people as you can.  You’ll probably also blast a goodly number of foes into itty-bitty pieces on the way.  How you save the universe is up to you.

The aliens are spectacular.  Each group you meet has its own music, and negotiating with the many strange beings you’ll meet has to be one of the high points of the game for me.  They each feel interestingly different, and some of them are downright scary.  There is backstory for nearly everyone that you meet, and learning it often makes a huge difference to your struggles, in addition to giving you a deeper understanding of the creatures that you meet.  I always felt as though the universe of SC2 were a huge puzzle, and I could only slowly put the pieces back together, one chunk at a time.

If you aren’t using spoilers, and if you aren’t taking notes as you play the game, you’ll probably lose the first few times you play.  The game really is quite hard.  Some of the puzzles have non-obvious solutions, while others rely on you having a copy of the old map that came with the game back when it was still sold in boxes.  But you can play the game for free thanks to the Ur Quan Masters open source project, and you can find copies of the old maps (including shiny and retouched versions!) over here.  You can also buy it through GOG if that’s more your style, and they’ll also give you maps.

Furthermore, the UQM remake lets you turn on or off the alien voiceovers, which wins them big points in my book.  You can even sub in different voice files if you choose.  I grew up playing the game without voiceovers, so I’ve always found them to be a little disorienting.  They’re probably the most obvious part of the game where the fact that it was made in 1992 shines through.

I honestly can’t recommend this game strongly enough.  I’m apprehensive about how Stardock’s acquisition of the Star Control IP will turn out, but I love SC2 so much that I’m still dangerously excited.  I may explode.  Star Control 2 is one of the best games I’ve ever played, and I desperately want to play its true successor.

In other exciting SC2 news, there’s an HD remake that’s underway that you should be able to find over here.  All credit to Damon Czanik for the beautiful HD restoration at top.  More of his work for the HD project can be found here.

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