Colony Wars: Red Sun Preview

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Psygnosis' Colony Wars saga continues with the third installment, Colony Wars: Red Sun. It boasts improved textures, a soundtrack performed by a live orchestra, 30 new weapons, eight fully customizable ships, five entire solar systems, and more of the dramatic FMV that set the epic cinematic tone of the entire Colony Wars series.

This time around, you aren't part of the League or the Navy. Instead, you play Valdemar, a solo agent whose life is modeled after (you guessed it) Robert Plant's solo career. OK, not really. Valdemar, free man and space pilot, is actually modeled after Han Solo from Star Wars. How does a free agent fit into a complex military campaign in a mission-based gaming environment? The answer may set Colony Wars: Red Sun apart from the pack. Here is what Psygnosis says about the plot: "Life goes on ... and death as well. Sadly." Alexander Lyron Valdemar is a nobody among thousands who are employed to excavate resources for League worlds or export goods to the depleted Sol System, or who are for sale to the highest bidder among the factions that occupy the area of known space bordering the Gulf of Tears. This is how we first find him, bored and disillusioned by his mining chores, dreaming of better things in his squalid living quarters on Dendray, a moon of the Empiret homeworld, Peripolis. Inspired by the callings of the mysterious General and incensed by the omens of destruction that plague his dreams, Valdemar embarks on a journey from the remote, Empiret-ruled system of Magenta to the League system of Boreas and the center of conflicts already chronicled in Colony Wars Vengeance. Financing his journey by accepting mercenary work en route, Valdemar finds himself at the center of conflicts in each of the systems he passes through. Whether assisting pirate renegades fighting the spread of corporate rule in Magenta or joining the alien Hilachet/Donachet war for dominion of the perilous subspace that parallels his own, Valdemar is never without a sponsor in his pursuit of destiny and the deadly starship the Red Sun.

The second installment, Colony Wars: Vengeance, experimented successfully with a dynamic mission tree whose many divergent paths led to six different endings. The events of each mission created different scenarios, depending on how each was played. If you failed a mission you didn't die - you just switched over to another branch of the tree. If you solved the game with the "best" ending, the entire tree was unlocked, and you could go back and replay any part of the story you wanted, with any ship.

Colony Wars: Red Sun will take that a step further. As a mercenary, your allegiances are your own business. Depending on how you play the game, you may end up siding with either the Navy or the League, or neither. Though the game is still mission-based, and it boasts a whopping 50 missions, the overall directives are much more open-ended.

Of the 50 missions, six are planet-based and take place throughout five solar systems - three are new and two have returned from Vengeance. There are eight ships to control, each upgradeable with weapons (32 total) and a montage of other options. Each of the CW games has included a large number of models, and Red Sun is no different - there are 88 all-new ones.

Graphically, Red Sun is what you would expect on the PlayStation at this point in its life. While they are noticeably better than Vengeance's, they don't warrant any "oohs" or "ahhs." One thing that can be praised, though, is the frame rate. In the early playable we received, it was already running at a very nice, steady rate. Fog plays a role in the game, which obviously helps the frame rate, but, at the same time, it doesn't deter from the gameplay. In fact, you may even think it adds to it. Special effects have always played a role in the Colony Wars series, and Psygnosis doesn't plan on stopping, as they are including interactive nebulae, atmospheric gas, and hard lighting.

Colony Wars: Red Sun also features 28 FMV sequences, two endings (victory or defeat), an orchestral soundtrack, improved dogfighting AI, and a smoother learning curve. Introductory missions and tutorials are also included with the game, so you can train before getting into the heat of the battle.

Red Sun will be hitting shelves in March, and it should be given a close inspection by fans of the previous Colony Wars installments. Fans of space shooters, but not necessarily the Colony Wars series, should also keep a close eye on this title - It's new features and change-of-plot structure may make this title enjoyable for you.

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