You'll find yourself blowing up other ships just to light the way.
The first sign of optimism was received from a quick glance at the back of the jewel case. "ANIMATED VIOLENCE." No, that wasn't it, though that surely helps. "From Erin and Chris Roberts, the award winning designers of Wing Commander...." That is a good sign. Wing Commander had a nice style and atmosphere for an original product, and each release helped flesh out the world and game even further. Starlancer, unfortuntely, lacks any such atmosphere. You are one of the 45th Volunteers, a bunch of nobodies assembled to help fight in the war to thwart the Eastern Coalition from decimating everyone else. Sounds like a decent premise so far, except Starlancer does nothing with it. Nothing. You do this. You do that. Mission briefings are bland, spoken by a woman with a knack for monotone. Your pilot has no character as does the rest of the cast. The game just never succeeds in providing an interesting atmosphere to provide a worthwhile background for all of the combat. The game just ushers players along, from one scene to the next, with the sole goal of destroying every enemy in sight. Without a believeable world, the action scenes quickly become pointless and repetitive.
Another key feature of Starlancer which aids in the repetitiveness of the missions is the complete lack of mission variety. No matter what you're doing, it always feels like the same old thing. Destroy enemy ships. Destroy enemy ships. Destroy enemy ships. While the game will tell you that you're performing a different mission objective, the means the accomplish those objectives rarely varies from simply destroying every enemy on the map. It's a real shame to see such a nice combat engine go to waste with such bland missions. Missions are a one way street in Starlancer as well. One objective -- you either win or lose. If you're looking for any of the mission depth or variety seen in any other acclaimed flight combat simulator, then look elsewhere.
Hear just how much you cheat by killing opponents in on-line death matches.
The presentation is sorely lacking, too. Although the title screen is well done, everything else varies from simply uninteresting to just poorly thought out. The ship selection screen is quite underdone with its still pictures of the ships you'll be piloting, while the death match option treats players to a single still "now connecting to the Internet" message which gives the impression that their Dreamcasts have crashed. The death match chat room only allows about ten characters to be typed in per line, and the text in general is too small to be legible without eye strain.
Of course, you probably won't be chatting much or playing too many death matches given the relatively low low low turn out on the server. I never saw more than a dozen people playing each time I went to try a death match. Sure, I can't really fault the game itself for a low turnout on-line, but the simple matter is if there's no one on-line when you want to play on-line, then any on-line option available to you in the game is useless. Hopefully people will continue to play Starlancer in the future, but being a fairly new title and already with only a handful of active users, I have my doubts about the lifespan of Starlancer's death match. Still, it plays very well, and you could allows resort to e-mailing others or posting challenges to gather enough people for a game.
That may very well be your best option, too, if you just want to play a game of Starlancer without having to trudge through the single player campaign. While the game provides for an "Instant Action" option, the action is all but over in an instant. You are timed and must defeat a wave of enemies within the time limit -- a bit over a minute. If you can't manage to destroy the last enemy ship within the time limit, the game rudely jerks you back to the main menu. Considering how simple minded the enemy AI can seem at times, this wouldn't pose a problem if the timer weren't cut so short. At every corner, Starlancer manages to suck the fun out of what could have been and should have been a prime space combat simulator.