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The older members of Abandonia will no doubt remember the old Starflight games. When said member does download Protostar, they will undoubtedly feel a strange pang of déjà vu. But this does not mean, in any way, that Protostar is unoriginal or boring in any way. Quite the contrary, in fact.
Protostar is one Tsunami Media’s best known games. A bestseller in its time, this game is known to many fans as the forerunner to many, many other popular game franchises. The genre is generally classified as “Simulation” but it could just as easily be placed under “Action” and “Adventure”. I mention the latter because of the familiar “point and click” interface we all remember from the old Lucas Arts adventure flicks. The former is also named because of the occasional shooting and rapid reflexes that are needed in the game. But game is, and will remain, at its heart a space flight simulator.
Now, on to the plot:
The situation is surprisingly complex. You are a star cruiser commander in the far future. Earth calls on you for aid, because the “Human Alliance” is under attack by an alien race called the “Skeetch”. Your job is to encourage trade and friendship with the other powerful, but xenophobic alien species. If you can begin trading with them and using their militaries, you may be able to put a significant dent in the massive Skeetch fleet. Because the Skeetch will surely attack an important military leader such as you, you travel under a secret identity. Several corporations on the edge of the galaxy have refused to join the Human Alliance. You take an identity under the name of the largest corporation, Newfront. Because this company is not allied with the humans, the Skeetch will hopefully leave you alone.
The catch to all this is that in order for Newfront to allow you to use their identity, you must support them financially with some of your trade. You must also support the defenses of Earth regularly.
Okay, whew! Got that out of the way. At the beginning of the game, you are located at a large space station. You have to talk to the locals, gather information, and then board your ship. Don’t worry about crew members; you will pick them up on the way (you have to pay them, too. It seems all you do in this game is pay, and not earn). On your ship, the controls are difficult to use and confusing, but after a while you get familiar with the controls and the crew stations. It is on this ship that you will spend quite a lot of your game.
Travel around the galaxy in your ship, and follow the directions people give you, much like an adventure game. When talking to a person, you will interact with them using an option table, just like an adventure game. You should be careful when talking to alien nations; you don’t want to get on their bad side, you are trying to get them to join you. You trade using a variety of minerals and resources which you buy. Also, if you anger the sentients you are bargaining with, or if you are attacked by the Skeetch, you will have to make a very fast escape with your guns blazing, so there is some shooting to take your mind off of politics, but not much.
Commander: “Gunner, prepare to attack enemy ship. Fire!”
Gunner: “Roger that. Ship has been shot.”
The game is massively complicated, but you get the hang very fast. I could explain it all in this review, but it would be giving away too much. If you need help, a manual and a solution are included (again, adventure game!)
Graphics: Reasonable. The pixels are big, but manageable. I’ve seen better, though.
Sound: Does not work if played without DOSBOX, works with it.
Controls: Suck majorly. This game would be good 5 star material, but the controls completely cripple the game.
It just scrapes by with a 4 rating. The story and the versatility are excellent, and the character interactions feel very authentic, but the controls are terrible, and you probably will have to view the manual or the walk-through at least once. I would say that a first time player could have a good two hours worth of fun playing. Most people would give this game a 3, I think, but I gave it a 4 because you have to get deep into the game to truly appreciate it.
Updator's comment: The game runs fine in DOSBox, so I suggest you to use it. The game also works with WinXP, but it has no sound. You might try the VDMSound, but it gives you the »not enough memory« message. So once again – I recomend DOSBox.