Game Review: Star Control 3

Star Control 3

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In the late 1990s a company named Accolade came out with a game series called Star Control. The third in the series happened to be ill received by the fan community due to its divergence from the plot and having a different developer—not to mention it’s also the most technically accessible as a narrative. In a way, Star Control 3 struck me as a game trying to be a video-book more so than a game to play for challenge. As I experienced it, this became something of a seminal science fiction work that welded together humor and the dark-edges of the galaxy with excellent design.

Chances are you won’t be able to play this on your computer, as it’s a DOS game—although I’ll bet that Windows Compatibility might do the trick. The Macintosh version may still run well enough even on modern Macs. It’s definitely worth a play although Accolade no longer publishes it; you might find it on a cloud-gaming service sometime soon. This game is a classic example of the way that science fiction writers approached a zany but grim style universe to tell a story.

The game of Star Control steps off from the end of Star Control 2 by providing a vision given to the main character of the universe being destroyed at the hands of a vast, invading force from outside space-and-time. These eldritch horrors that would annihilate all life in the known universe are come to be known as the Eternal Ones. The entire story is about how the human commander from the first Star Control sets a league of aligned races to leap out into the galaxy and discover how to stop these Eternal Ones.

The game itself presents the story while trying to put together all the league colonies that get scattered across space during their first jump.

It introduces each of them in a fashion that is actually extremely humorous with strange voices overlayed with 3D graphics. For example, the Spathi are erstwhile well-known cowards (in fact their ships are designed to do one thing well: run away.) Each time visiting them there’s a long discussion about how they’d like you to stick around and how they’re terrified of everything around them. In fact, in an earlier Star Control it’s discovered that their planet is covered in immobile, but lethal, teddy bears.

The game thrusts the player into a new universe filled with strange life forms. All of which have deep seated psychological problems of one sort or another. In fact, often these issues are almost literally cultural psychosis and they lead the plot essentially by the nose. The game also attempts to present strange moral conundrums for the player to engage against and decide how they’ll handle them—although this game certainly predates the “moral system” type games as seen in Mass Effect and Fable there is a distinct “right answer” for all of them and it ends the game quickly if that’s not realized.

In one case, there’s a race of sentient mice that are eaten by a larger race of sharptoothed anthropromorphic reptile-looking creatures. Trying to break them of the habit of eating the mice, the Harika and the Yorn—who also happen to be their diplomats—ends in a bit of culture shock. During a mission involving them the Harika happen to have become horribly sick with a plague, and without the Harika to eat the Yorn, their breeding rate goes out of control. So intercession is needed to fix them.

Although, it turns out that the plague is actually another sentient organism: the Xchagger. They just happen to be a microscopic germ colonial-intelligence.

The story unfolds as the player brings most of the original league back into the fold and meets the new and strange aliens in the region. Some of them hinder, some of them help, but mostly they’re just extremely funny. Most of the game is all about discovering what’s behind the cultural psychosis of each of the races and trying to act as a sort of go-between for everyone and solving (or outright stomping over) their problems.

While the game gets received poorly as being too easy to play, it really is more or less like an interactive story. The graphics are fit for the age of the game, but the different races are full of a vibrant, silly personality that makes them feel quite real and very interesting. It lacks the same sort of gravitas that the previous Star Controls in the series had; but it makes up for it by being an enjoyable science fiction play.

Keep in mind, although much of the game is humorous it does skirt some very grim concepts and it’s not afraid to poke its nose into very weird conundrums. Much of the game angles off trying to tilt the player’s intuition and moral sense about how aliens might behave or might approach the world—although for the most part they all have extremely human failings (except perhaps the Orz, who are truly alien.)

Diving into this game would give you a bit of nostalgia; but as a classic, it and the others in its series are something that any science fiction connoisseur and reader should probably brush up on.

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