Starshatter: Gathering Storm
At a basic level, Starshatter: Gathering Storm is a space combat game in the same vein of X-Wing, Wing Commander or Freespace. But unlike every other space combat game, Starshatter throws in a heavy dose of strategy into the mix alongside a character-building element and an evolving storyline. So you can engage in typical zero-G dogfights with enemy craft, but also receive promotions that allow you to command your own fighters and eventually entire fleets in a real-time strategy setting similar to that from Homeworld.
The production behind Starshatter is a hit and miss. The briefing screens, for instance, aren’t narrated, and the are engine-rendered and not exactly Wing Commander quality. The sound and graphics are sharp but not extraordinary. The upside to this is that it’s very customizable experience, allowing you to create your own missions and campaigns. Much like Neverwinter Nights, Starshatter is commendable for providing a broad space sim toolkit alongside the base game itself.
The missions range from typical scripted skirmishes to organized assaults against enemy installations, convoy defense and all of the usual stuff. While you can play with both the keyboard / mouse combo or a joystick, chances are you’ll die either way since the game is pretty unforgiving. Like in most space flight sims, you can’t save during a mission, but the real kicker here is there are no rechargeable shields to protect you. Instead you have to survive from start to finish with limited hitpoints, which turns out to be pretty damn difficult.
Later on you will grain sufficient rank to command your own capital ship. You can control it from a first-person perspective (it’s as awkward as it sounds) and also via several third-person views. In the third person view you can select and order units around, and can also engage in ship-to-ship combat with your own weapons – torpedoes, lasers and whatnot.
In all, Starshatter is an ambitious and innovative title that is held back by a few annoyances. It has a great interface and a detailed campaign, planetary battles (you can fight in both space and on the ground), and an innovative RTS component that makes it stand out from other games of its kind. For all of its novelty, however, it’s not a particularly high quality space combat sim or strategy game. The included toolset allows players to create more eloborate content, but judged on its own merit, Starshatter is more of a pleasant curiosity than a classic.
System Requirements: Pentium II 400 MHz, 128 MB RAM, 100 MB HDD, WinXP