Space Empires: Starfury

Space Empires: Starfury

Written by Tyler Sager on 11/14/2003 for PC  

Shrapnel Games takes us back to the Space Empires universe again, this time not as the leader of an entire galaxy-spanning race, but instead as the commander of a single starship. And while fans of the 4X-style game play of the original Space Empires series might become a bit concerned about Starfury’s move to a more action-oriented, real-time space combat simulation, they’ll soon find there’s really nothing to worry about. Starfury holds true to the spirit of the Space Empires franchise, and is quite a fun little game, to boot.

Like many of the space-combat simulations, game play in Starfury boils down to taking on a series of ever-increasingly-difficult missions. At first, while in command of a small vessel unable to hold its own against even the weakest space pirate, those missions may consist of simple cargo transport or planet surveys. After a few successful runs (and a bit more money in ship’s funds), the more dangerous (and lucrative) “search and destroy” or “protect the client” missions become the job of choice. After a while, these missions begin to feel a bit repetitive, but they still manage to be addictive enough to bring about the “just one more” response that causes many hours of sleep to be lost.

There are three campaigns included with the game, which give players a plotline to work through while touring the galaxy. Thankfully, these campaign plots are non-restrictive, allowing for adventuring in any way desired. This makes Starfury a very open-ended game, allowing players to take the role of merchant, privateer, vigilante, or pirate. The main plot is always there, just waiting for the player to return and begin another story mission, but until that time the player is free to roam the galaxy unhindered.

Adding to the open-ended feeling of the game is the huge amount of ship-customizability. Several ship types are available from each of the many races present in the galaxy, most of which will be quite familiar to Space Empires veterans. With an impressive array of weapons, defense systems, and ship components available, players can fine-tune their ships a myriad different ways. The game looks quite good, after one realizes a very interesting fact about the Space Empires universe: the entire galaxy is 2-dimensional. Every planet, star, and ship travels along the same plane, making space combat a bit less interesting and greatly increasing the chances of accidentally running into the occasional asteroid or planet. This will undoubtedly bother space-sim enthusiasts, but it works well enough. Other than the strange flatness of space, the graphics are respectable, with each ship getting a full 3D treatment overlaying a pleasant background of nebulae, stars, and remote galaxies. Fights also look decent, complete with particle-beams, torpedoes, and lots of explosions. The audio isn’t as impressive, but manages to convey all the sounds one would expect to hear in a space-sim that ignores the silence of the vacuum of space. Starfury also has a rather pleasant musical score which, for the most part, tends to stay in the background where it belongs.

Game controls are a mixed bag—most controls are laid out very intuitively, and are quite simple to use. Ship directionality can be controlled using either the mouse or keyboard, while a small set of hotkeys are available for setting ship thrust and firing weapons. While this usually works well, in some of the more heated combats I found the setup to be a little clunky. All the keys are configurable, however, so it might just be that I have yet to find the best layout for my personal tastes.

Combat itself, a large chunk of the play in Starfury, is done fairly well. Fighting is not the quick-and-dirty “one shot kill”; rather it is generally a drawn-out dance. Much of the fight is spent bringing weapons to bear as they are charged, jockeying to attack the enemy’s weakened points, while trying to keep the stronger shields and armor pointing toward the enemy fire. I enjoy this more tactical approach to fighting, but some may dislike the lack of reflex-intensive combat.

Continuing in the tradition of its predecessors in the Space Empires line of games, Starfury’s code is highly modifiable. I am always excited when I see a developer do this—it means there’s a lot of life in the game after the developer-designed content is exhausted. For those with a bit of programming know-how and time, this means designing campaigns and adventures quickly and easily. For those of us without those talents, this means we’ll be able to reap the benefits of our more creative gaming brethren.

Overall, Starfury is another strong title from the good folks at Shrapnel Games. While not the most impressive space-sim on the market, it certainly has the addictive qualities to eat away the hours. For Space Empires fans, it also gives a chance to dive into that rich universe once again. And given Shrapnel’s track record (and that of their fans) for continuing support for their titles, there’s sure to be lots of life in this game for quite some time.
A entertaining little space-combat simulation set in the Space Empires universe. Not mind-blowingly impressive, but still quite a bit of fun.

Rating: 7.9 Above Average

* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company for review.


About Author

I'm an old-school gamer, and have been at it ever since the days of the Atari 2600. I took a hiatus from the console world to focus on PC games after that, but I've come back into the fold with the PS2. I'm an RPG and strategy fan, and could probably live my gaming life off a diet of nothing else. I also have soft spot for those off-the-wall, independent-developer games, so I get to see more than my share of innovative (and often strange) titles.

Away from the computer, I'm an avid boardgamer, thoroughly enjoying the sound of dice clattering across a table. I also enjoy birdwatching and just mucking around in the Great Outdoors.
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