This game is the long awaited sequel to Star Control II, a graphic adventure (with strategy and action elements) which became historic and created a fan movement of its own. Those who haven't played Star Control II should do so before playing this third part. On the other hand, the first in the series, Star Control, doesn't have much plot relation with the sequels, but is nonetheless highly recommendable. The creators of the saga, Paul Reiche III and Fred Ford, left the second part's story purposely unfinished, but for some reason they didn't get to make the third part themselves. However the story told hooked so many people that the sequel had to appear, even though it wouldn't count on the original talents...
There is an almost unanimous opinion among fans that the third part didn't even nearly reach its predecessor's height. Nevertheless I'll focus chiefly on discussing this game's own quality, apart from the appropriate comparisons which must be done. Regretfully, this game doesn't come with flying colours out of such objective scrutiny either. To start with, the game soon gives the impression of having been released without enough developing and debugging work, among other things because it's full of bugs everywhere as we'll see. It seemed to me that the demand for a sequel must have made the developers think that it should be released as quickly as possible, and that it would be nearly indifferent if it was crafted anyhow. Just like Star Control II, this game is essentially a graphic adventure, perhaps with a greater strategic component, and it keeps the combat mode made popular by the first game of the saga. I'll presently discuss these three components separately.
One of the positive remarks I can make about this game is that it includes an extensive help system which can be summoned at any moment, so we'll take control of the game in a minute. Pressing F1 we get help about using the interface we're at the moment. Another positive feature of this game is that it recovers the original Star Control's rotating starmap, although this has no practical effect different from the 2D starmap in Star Control II: you may travel between any two stars with no need of following any route, and the only thing to take into account will be the distance (spent fuel).
The strategic part of the game consists basically of colony management: most of the species from Star Control II are now allied under you leadership (including the Ur-Quan and the Orz...) and it's your duty to expand them across a new quadrant of the galaxy. In order to found new colonies you've got to take colonists from inhabited planets or from the ships' crews. The colony management system isn't brilliant and it does have bugs. We assign colonist priorities between tasks by moving sliders. However, this doesn't work well in practice as portions of colonists assigned to a given task sometimes abruptly increase when you are actually trying to decrease them; it's better not to complicate matters trying to reach the optimum configuration. Anyway the expansion we achieve has little importance, because there is NO strategic confrontation with the enemy (the "Hegemonic Crux"): our colonies will never be conquered (and will therefore need no protection), nor will we be able to conquer enemy colonies, beyond the adventure's development. The amount of colonies affects only the amount of fuel or new ships they'll manufacture, but still if we lack something the only thing we've got to do is wait for the existent colonies to produce it. The passing time won't have any consequences if we don't make the story advance actively. Besides that, there are few combats, fewer than in Star Control II, and they're always predetermined in the adventure's story. All this makes the strategic element of the game, even if stronger than in the prequels, to lack any real objective.
This leaves us with the game as a graphic adventure. I find the story somewhat silly myself, it hardly managed to get my attention; whereas the story in Star Control II was simply epic, the one in Star Control 3 looks to me inferior to those in run-of-the-mill adventure games, and unworthy of the saga. As for the dialogue dynamics, I think it's poorly designed for many reasons. For example, you can have the same conversations over and over again when the situation has changed and they don't make sense any longer. Secondly, when choosing among several options during a conversation, the being you're talking to will often answer exactly the same regardless of what you've asked or told it. This, among other things, reassures me in believing that this game was developed in a haste. The humour is not so good as in Star Control II (even though there are some literally copied excerpts). What amused me most was the way the K'tang speak ("I'll crushify you, human!"), but that joke is old and plays down the epics by giving the impression of lacking a worthy opponent, like you bet the fearsome Ur-Quan in Star Control II were.
A big difference between this game and Star Control II is that Reiche's drawings of the aliens have been replaced with photographic images, often from puppets seemingly made by special effects experts. Personally, the result reminds me of a B-series sci-fi movie, apart from the unavoidable comparisons with Reiche's 320x200 pixels art in Star Control II. Into the bargain the fans will be disappointed because each species's personality hasn't been respected: now the Ur-Quan seem old instead of fierce, the Pkunk are disgusting instead of likeable, the Syreen... well, what they did to the Syreen is especially outrageous... In Star Control II each species had a specific soundtrack we heard while talking with it, and a specific text font for the dialogues; now the fonts are gone, and the tunes will hardly get our attention. As for the new alien species, well, they haven't been created by any sci-fi top gun, and they lack the depth of the ones introduced in the previous games of the saga.
By the way, if you're stuck or want advice you'll be able to consult the onboard computer, ICOM (a copycat of HAL 9000 in 2001: A Space Odissey). If you still don't know what to do, try exploring or just letting time pass. You should also be warned that the adventure game has yet another show-stopping bug that may cause, depending on the order which we complete the quests in, our game to get stuck from a certain point on. In this catastrophic scenario we'd be forced to load an old one or restart it from the beginning (!).
Just like in Star Control and Star Control II, in this game we'll also be able to play only ship-to-ship combats in a special mode apart from the full adventure game. Each one of the two players (humans or artificial intelligences) gets to choose a flotilla. The vets will know that there are some asteroids and a planet (with its gravitational pull) which will make the combat more interesting, and the ships' inertia as well. The main novelty, and I'm sure it will please many, is that the multiplayer options expand from only hotseat to modem, local net, etc. The other positive innovation is that pressing F5 will switch between the top-down perspective to a new isometric view. In the latter case the combat is still 2D, it's just an aesthetic effect that affects only the ships' look. However if we choose the isometric view we'll have to bear with yet another bug that makes the planet change its position suddenly. With the traditional top-down perspective we'll avert this. Nevertheless there's yet another bug (yes...) which will happen anyway: when steering the ship while propelling it, sometimes the propulsion won't change direction along with the ship as it should, and so the ship will keep advancing sideways following a straight line; although this can be quickly corrected, it can affects us negatively when we needed to react fast.
Also, in this game there are new ships (not appearing in Star Control II) corresponding to the new species. Honestly, some of them are quite bizarre. What is really annoying is that we'll no longer be able to play with the ships belonging to species not appearing in the full game, which amount to quite a lot, whereas in Star Control II we could play in combat mode with ships from the first game which didn't appear in the full game. Into the bargain we can't let the computer choose the fighting ship randomly, and finally the cool animations of the captain manoeuvring the ship no longer show, although it's true they wouldn't have fit the graphics.
Considering everything said above, I'm afraid this game doesn't deserve a pass. Albeit being appropriate to compare it with its predecessor, I've tried to judge it according to its own virtues and flaws. The strategic part, as I've said, isn't good at all and besides it lacks any real objective; the main adventure part is in my opinion inferior to the average graphic adventure, even if we don't compare it with the peak of the genre which its predecessor amounted to; and the combat part can pass considered separately, although the bugs which slipped into it (as well as into the rest of the game) and the omissions spoil it to some extent. All in all, and not being too severe I think, this game could deserve a score of 2 out of 5. Anyway I recommend you to play it, especially if you've played Star Control II (and if you haven't you should do so right away). After all I must admit that it got me entertained while I played it.
The digital effects, speech included, were ripped because it would multiply the download size by more than ten; therefore you may configure a drive for the MIDI music, but you must (attention) select no digital effects, otherwise the game will crash when the ripped files aren't found.