In 1962 the first video game ever is made. Essentially the result of an open-source project of the students at MIT; it is called “Space Wars.”
In 1982 Paul Reiche III and Free Fall Associates produce a new type of game. They combined the strategy of chess with one-on-one combat so that you don’t merely “take” a piece without a fight. Archon is introduced to the world.
1990, Paul Reiche III joins Fred Ford to make Archon in space, using the combat of Space Wars and the unit variety of Archon. Hiding the name of Paul Reiche III’s previous work in the title, StAR CONtrol is born.
When I was in High School, a few years after Star Control came out, I had the game on a 3.5” floppy that I took with me to school. Countless hours were lost in the newly installed IBM computer lab perfecting my Melee technique against my friends and the AI there. The depth of Star Control’s strategy was even apparent in the Melee portion of the game. I sweated over picking a ship that would trump my opponent’s, while trying to maintain a fleet that could stand up to whatever they would have left. The whole time I knew that one error in combat or random slap of fate could undo my careful planning. In Melee, the planet was both a curse and a blessing. It devastated your ship’s crew if you accidentally ran into it, but a carefully plotted course would exploit the planet’s gravity and catapult your ship, providing slower ones with a much needed speed boost. However, an unexpected bump into an asteroid could bring your ship to an instant stop again.
Star Control Melee consisted of 14 ships divided into 2 teams. The teams are fixed and balanced so that choosing the ship to fight became an expanded rock-paper-scissors game. Each ship is a unique blend of two weapons, usually a generic forward firing weapon and a special weapon that gave the ship their unique personality. That personality was deepened by the use of captain pictures on the side of the screen which moved as the ship did.
But Melee is not the end of Star Control. Enter the Full Game portion and you find yourself in a game that has found no equal since. The Full Game is a strategy game in the vein of Archon, only instead of a fixed, flat chessboard, units maneuver around a randomly generated star map in 3D. To help you navigate the star map, since it is in 3D, it rotates constantly. While it is at first dizzying, after a game or two the gyrating star map becomes your playground. Navigating its pathways you learn to rush forward, putting up fortifications in choke points to control the board. Then you send your chosen flagship to seek out precursor artifacts, following up with some inexpensive units to mine and colonize behind them. Finally you spearhead a direct attack on their star base before picking off stragglers.
The Full Game comes with a variety of scenarios. Conquering each one from both sides could provide hours of fun in itself. But if you ever get bored with that, Star Control came with a Full Game scenario editor, so you’ll never be short of a new scenario to play or share with others. It is also in the Full Game where hints of Star Control’s storyline are found. But aside from the manual, it was left up to Star Control 2 to show us the true depths of that story. But the personality of the game still shone through in every aspect of it. It is for that personality along with sheer innovativeness that I would like to give this game 5 stars. Realizing I’m in the minority here, I’ll concede to 4.5.
Trying to run this game with modern systems natively will cause major slow down. To avoid this use DOSBox.