STARDRIVE II from ICEBERG INTERACTIVE
This, is well past any entry-level spacecraft combat game; it is a game of immense proportions, a myriad decisions and hour upon hour of strategic and thoughtful gameplay. This is not a frivolous game in any way, shape or form (okay perhaps in "form" if you consider some of the Alien races to be animalistic or monstrous in appearance). This is a science-fiction adventure wargame aimed at the highest level of player. It offers nothing to the player who thinks that "Candy Crush" or "Star Wars" games are highly strategic. This is a tabletop miniatures game set in the wealth of vast expanse that only a computer (or console) can offer as a game board. Once you install STARDRIVE II, ensure you have nothing to do for the next umpteen hours for your life is about to go down a very dark black hole where even dinner and the calls of nature will be forgotten. Your life will be turned upside-down and inside-out if you let StarDrive II gain its addictive hold.
Like all good long-term games there is a tutorial. In many games you can skip this and head straight into the main arena where you can quickly learn the skills required to pilot your ship (WASD) and begin combat (Left & Right Mouse Buttons) with whatever enemy ships the computer sends towards you. In STARDRIVE II it is imperative that you not only take the tutorial, but actually read and learn from it for it is basically the game manual and it is as large as you would expect the manual of the universe to be. It is you who first has to set up that universe in which the campaign game will be played. You can choose a Battle Arena style game which obviously has less depth than the campaign game but until you have completed the tutorial and are happy with your education then even that is out of reach to the new player - unlike other games, the Battle Arena isn't a quick-start skirmish which you can just bash through.You have a few regular choices, such as which Race you want to control, but otherwise you have a lot of work, yes it really is like work (though on some distant planet where you are the brains behind the military forces) hard before your first ship takes flight. As I said, you select one of the Races - there are 9 to choose from and I'll give you a very brief description of them in a moment - and then you can customise them to your personal thoughts on how you would prefer them to be by changing their statistics around, robbing Peter to pay Paul as you juggle and balance the points for each stat and ability. You can create quite powerful and useful Races but you can also design a Race so useless and inept that it is actually unplayable in virtually every given situation. You can do this but it would be a pretty pointless exercise, so basically don't do it, not even for fun as it takes up much required game time.
Here is a brief précis of the nine Races. Each Race has a name and an allegiance as well as a few traits, always at least one, maybe two, of these is negative, which go towards balancing their different advantages and disadvantages. I am going to list each Race and describe one positive and one negative trait just to give you an idea of their make-up.
Cordrazine - Inspired workers but slow breeders.
Chukk - Peerless space-fighters but come from a poor home-world (they are also ugly).
Draylok - Fantastic at trading but timid at fighting.
Opteris - Cybernetic peoples who make clumsy spies.
Vulfar - Come from a rich homeland but are shoddy engineers.
On the other hand the Kulrathi are excellent engineers but ponderous in space combat.
Rayleh - Live in a Holy Land but are poor farmers.
Pollops - are fertile but pathetic at fighting, and last but not least;
Humans - who are military professionals but corrupt.
So as you can see from the few examples of abilities and traits each Race needs time and nurture to grow successful and survive.
Each Race has a shipyard where you can build ships using basic shaped vessels and customising them. This isn't as easy as it sounds - my first attempts at doing this ended in abject failure and me giving up after over an hour of trying to create a ship as I wanted it - which, of course, was always against the rules of ship designing. Again it is a question of balance, getting the right equipment, ammunition, power etc for the chosen weaponry, defence, engines and onboard systems you wish, and have selected from the menus for each. Although the basic shape of the ship is shown with numerous boxes (colour coded by area) into which you can place the weapons, armour etc, you cannot just stick a phaser here and a rocket launcher there. Each weapon has some requirements which may be simply power as they fire bolts or whatever of energy, or they may need physical ammunition, and maybe power as well. The ship itself will need power and armour as well as onboard systems and it is here that once you have mastered the way of balancing correctly the requirements for each ship type (aka Hull), you will spend a good amount of time. Although you are not adventuring or fighting at this point in the game it is immensely satisfying to design the ships that you want your Race to have, you really do feel in control of your Race's destiny here and throughout the entire game - though of course once you get into the combat phases you are literally holding the Race's destiny in your ability to conduct a theatre of war.
My personal problem with StarDrive II is I do not have enough spare/free time to continually play it. It isn't a game you can put on for half-hour or so. It deserves your full attention. It is not a spectacular game, in fact the graphics and animations are minimal, though close up shots of the ships for example do provide quality detailed artistry. It is a real strategy turn-based game that takes real time to play. In some ways it is a throwback to the games I used to play in the early days of home computing - Elite and others of that ilk - though it is more attuned to being like an Avalon Hill wargame; full of constantly changing scenarios and heavily into Napoleonic style control and universe conquering. It is an amazing feat of epic game design that truly deserves to become a classic of its genre.