StarLancer Hands-On

The popular PC space-based dogfighter comes to the Dreamcast. See how it's looking these days.

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The year is 2160 and Earth is at war. The Eastern Coalition, the name assumed by Russia and its allies, has taken up arms against the Western Alliance - the United States and the other democratic nations. It seems that peace was short lived and the Cold War is once again upon the face of humanity. It's up to you and your group of green pilots from the 45th Volunteers Squadron to ensure that peace and prosperity continue to exist.

In StarLancer, you play as one of the Western Alliance's pilots dedicated to stopping the Eastern Coalition at all costs. You pilot one of 12 different ships loaded with several of 20 different weapons in all-out space combat. The story-driven gameplay is simulation based, so you must intelligently employ your radar, thrusts, and weapons to stave off wave after wave of enemy attacks. Whether you're protecting a convoy or dogfighting in the emptiness of space, you must rely on your cunning and instrument implementation to get the job done.

Each level begins with a cutscene detailing the directives to be accomplished. As the level proceeds, new objectives are dropped into your lap that may be completed or ignored. Usually, these on-the-fly objectives are not essential to completion of the level but may alter the story later on. Playing the game is similar to playing Starfox 64 except that the world is completely free roaming. As each directive is established or new concerns arise, a small window displaying the head of one of your mates from the 45th will pop up, and one of the 6,000 voice samples included in the game will tell you pertinent information, such as whom you need to attack or defend next.

StarLancer's graphics are already smooth, and the frame rates remain steady no matter how much action is taking place. There are 80 types of aircraft in StarLancer, and most of them look great. Whether it's a massive troop carrier or a stealth fighter, the visuals in the game are both engaging and, most of the time, believable. The full-motion-video shorts between levels help bring the human element into the game and establish a sense of urgency that carries over into the gameplay. The explosions and smoke trails from injured ships are very convincing, and the audio pulls everything together nicely in one tight, immersive package. The orchestral score that accompanies the gameplay is appropriate, but at times it seems like the game may be trying too hard to be Star Wars despite its cliché Cold War plot.

In addition to the one-player mode, there is a cooperative mode, where multiple players can take on the one-player missions. You may also partake in deathmatches via SegaNet and blast your friends across the country into space dust. Although the alpha version we received was missing the online component, the training mode, and cooperative mode, what we were able to play looked very promising. Those who are into flight simulations or even Star Wars will enjoy StarLancer's gameplay the most, but the intertwining and evolving plot along with the constant chatter from fellow pilots will keep things interesting for others. Look for more on StarLancer as its October release date draws closer.

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