Space Empires: StarFury Review

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Publisher: Shrapnel Games
Developer: Malfador Machinations

Platform: PC
Reviewed on PC
Windows System Requirements: Pentium 500 MHz, 32 MB RAM, 3D video card, 200 MB HD space, 6x CD ROM

Join the dynamic universe of Space Empires, but this time as captain of your own space-going vessel. Trade, fight for the authorities or engage in piracy – whatever you chose as master of your own fate in Space Empires: StarFury.

Kyle Ackerman

Aaron Hall, the designer and driving force behind the Space Empires series said in his designer note "I have always loved games such as Privateer and Elite which allow you to chart your own course through the game." Space Empires: StarFury aims to do precisely that, but in the Space Empires universe already developed by Aaron's Malfador Machinations. In this game, you are given a starship to pilot, and a universe filled with trade opportunities and ships both hostile and friendly. Like the aforementioned games, and other titles such as Freelancer or the upcoming X2: The Threat, StarFury puts you in a universe where you are free to construct your own tales as a soldier or a merchant. If you need more structure, there are a multiple scenarios you can follow that provide an overarching plot to frame the action.

Trade or Battle... Battle or Trade

On the most basic level, you can indulge in combat or commerce. Acting as a merchantman means stopping in at the local Merchant Guild and taking on delivery tasks. The cargo you assume then has to be delivered to a colony or base in another system before time runs out and the guild imposes a fine for failure. You can also work as a mercenary, winning contracts from the powers-that-be to hunt down lawbreakers. These tasks, like the merchant assignments, must be completed under a time limit, and involve destroying a ship that will retaliate with deadly force. Both of these guilds have their pirate counterparts, too. The Pirate Merchant Guild offers more lucrative delivery tasks, but they involve contraband that can cause the authorities to open fire on your vessel. Combat contracts from the Pirate Guild are also lucrative, but even more dangerous. Three campaigns come with the game (and more may be on the way from either the developer or dedicated fans). The campaigns string together the action by giving you larger goals (usually involving completing several trade or combat missions) that progress a plot conveyed through text and still pictures.

Space Empires: StarFury really does feel just as if you are a captain functioning on the periphery of Space Empires IV Gold. StarFury is to the above-mentioned games as Space Empires IV Gold is to turn-based games of galactic domination such as the Master of Orion series. Gamers who take on the challenges of this series get a detailed universe and the ability to easily customize and modify the game, at the expense of the window-dressing you've come to expect from games in the last six years. Star systems are two-dimensional, with small, dark planets resting on a flat plane. Those planets can be difficult to find against the background stars unless you are extremely close or use the blue reference grid. Ships, satellites, bases and planets are rendered in 3D, but all rest in the big, square plane that defines each system, and systems are connected by warp points that serve as transport gates. It's hardly the latest and greatest in visuals, but StarFury provides just enough to give you a sense of place.

Make the Game Your Own

The extensive mod-ability of StarFury is its main appeal. Nearly everything (short of graphics and sounds) can be changed by deciphering well-documented text files. That makes modding a lot more like changing the code for Eamon on the Apple IIe than trying to figure out the Quake II code. Even a novice should be able to jump in and quickly change the starting ship for a campaign or various combat parameters. A little patience or sophistication can give you the ability to create a full campaign or new graphical themes. Plenty of modifications for Space Empires IV are already finding their way over to StarFury, and you can already find mods such as the one that lets you pilot the Enterprise from Star Trek. Given the game's dedicated community, players can reasonably expect that mods will make the game even more detailed and robust over time.

StarFury is mostly about earning cash to improve your lot in the universe (and your ship). Merchant delivery missions aren't enough to convince you to spend your time shuttling between planetary spheres, but the game does have an exceptionally detailed combat model. The variety of hull designs and enormous array of components will appeal to the sort of person who used to spend all his free moments designing new 'Mech configurations in BattleTech. The starship interface forces you to balance firepower and functionality within the limits of your chosen hull, all the while managing the constraints of space, mass, power, firing arcs and weapons hard points. With so many components (if you count different technology levels, there are hundreds), designing a battle-ready vessel is a satisfying challenge.

Battles are Won Through Careful Planning

Combat is also the highlight of StarFury. While it may seem like a slow, tactical dance, the battles you see are a representation of the vast number-crunching detail going on just beneath the graphical veneer. That detail is what makes efforts in the design phase so rewarding, as you'll need to keep your best weapons and shields facing the enemy, or configure your ship to deploy and manage swarms of fighters. If you have the appropriate skills and cargo, you can even repair your ship on the fly, without having to haul yourself back to space dock. The question is: Is it worth dragging yourself around the universe to earn enough cash to get the ship you want? If not, you can just jump into the text files and give yourself the resources to fight the battles you want.

StarFury is a wonderful tool for gamers who would like to experiment in game and campaign design. It's also a fun game for the sort of players who enjoy miniature and board war-gaming that favors record-keeping over dice. On the other hand, if you are looking for a game that combines space exploration, trading and combat in an attractive package, StarFury isn't that game. What StarFury has is an exceptionally dedicated community eager to stretch the (just under) $35 dollars needed to acquire StarFury as far as possible.

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This page contains a single entry by Editor published on October 23, 2003 9:46 PM.

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