Doogs, Ktangs, Spathis, Daktaklakpaks? After playing Star Control 3 for a few hundred hours, these will be household names to you. In fact, the four interstellar races mentioned above are but a few of the motley cast of characters that you're either allying with or warring against in this epic space oddity. And Star Control 3 is a vast oddity, integrating real-time strategy and action elements with the exploratory playability of an adventure title into one game. It may take up eons of play time to finally solve, but one thing's for sure: you will become absorbed in the Star Control universe that unfurls before you.
An adventure game is nothing without an engaging plot and the premise of Star Control 3 is infused with such a complexly woven history, you're bound to become engrossed in its narrative. Following the storyline established in Star Control 2, Star Control 3 casts you as the leader of the League of Sentient Races. Your mission takes place in the Kessari galaxy, where you are exploring strange inter-dimensional anomalies which you think may have something to do with the universal cessation of inter-space travel. Ostensibly, the only thing standing between you and resolving this mystery is an enemy alliance called the Hegemonic Crux.
Your ship is a Precursor vessel (invented using the technology of the proverbial Precursors, an ancient founding race) and is the only ship known to exist which can circumvent the current inter-space travel restrictions. On board is a sort of HAL 9000 computer called ICOM that helps you out with tips during your mission. Armed with this equipment, you start on a colony founded on an Earthlike planet. You explore the Kessari by pointing and clicking on a rotating star-map interface. During your travels, you will encounter other race colonies, friendly and otherwise, who are either members of the League or else potentially complicit with the Hegemonic Crux. These races can offer you ships and items to be used later in the game. You have the option of picking up friendly colonists to form new colonies on other planets. At the colony interface screen, you can adjust sliders that control the emphasis of your colony's production, skewing it toward ship, fuel, or resource production. There are seemingly a hundred different solar systems, all with colorfully rendered planets which can and, in many cases, must be explored. Many of these yield artifacts left behind by the Precursors, which can be researched to add exciting new resources to your space navy.
To like any adventure game, you have to like its characters. So it's a good thing that the creepy critters and droids who inhabit Star Control 3 are its strongest point. There are 24 different races you can interact with, all of them animatronically controlled renderings, and each with its own distinct personality. From the slouch-shouldered, cowardly Spathi, to the brazenly bellicose Ur-Quan, to the haughtily omnipotent Arilou, each personality must be judged correctly, for some, if not all, of the races you encounter might betray you. Most of the characters have pretty delicate temperaments, and your replies, which can range from obsequious to rude, must be chosen wisely. All is not what it appears to be in the Kessari, and often you will find yourself going toe-to-toe with an erstwhile ally.
Actually, the fun really starts in Star Control 3 when things come to blows. You continually generate ships and add them to your ever-expanding armada, employing them when need be. When one of the enemy wants to rumble, the game immediately goes into combat mode. Choose a ship from your fleet and off you go, into a real-time space battle. Each type of ship has its own weapons, maneuverability, and special abilities. After a while, you start to figure out which of your ships is strategically suited to take down a particular adversary. You'll need to keep a pretty formidable fleet because if your Precursor vessel is ever destroyed, the game's over.
The fact is, Star Control 3 is basically two games in one. If you finally solve the game and no longer are challenged by the adventure aspect, you can still customize your own fleets and play in Hyper Melee mode (just combat) against the computer or a friend over the network. One could go far enough to say that this one of the best titles to come out this year. If you're one of those game fanatics who doesn't mind living a cloistered existence in your room, playing space commander into early hours of the morning (and carrying on excited conversations that make your friends worry), consider picking this one up.