Starships Unlimited: Divided Galaxies Review (PC)

I’ve been playing Starships Unlimited: Divided Galaxies by Apezone for about a week now & I still can’t really make my mind up about it. In today’s age of supah doopah graphics engines & instant action, Starships Unlimited shouldn’t really have a place to fit in – its like a retro game that you could have been playing and enjoying about 10 years ago on something like a 386 system, but there is something about it which makes me keep going back for more.

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SU is, in a nutshell, a game of galactic conquest, involving exploration, colonization and a fair bit of good old military action. The main problem as I see it, is that it is not a load & go game. I had to sit back & read the manual fully before I even figured out how to start the game, and you also have to make use of the full .pdf version to acquaint yourself with bits that are not covered very well in the ‘main’ manual (colonization for instance). The mechanics of the game are incredibly complex, but thankfully you can leave just about everything to be handled by the AI while you concentrate on which star systems to explore next.

You start with a home system and one scout starship, and you have to explore the galaxy in order to expand whilst also conducting research to improve your ships & planets capabilities. All planets have an artifact & are guarded, but should not prove too much trouble for your initial scouts. As your research develops, your ships become more powerful via technology developments or artifact ‘bolt-ons’. You can choose what sort of weapons research you want to specialise in, from lasers to full Antimatter standoff weapons, and they all have advantages & disadvantages – sticking to just one sort will soon see your ships being ripped apart by enemies with differing technologies that your chosen weapons cannot penetrate. It is, as usual, a fine balance between offensive/defensive weapons & shield/armour usage to come up with something that will stand the test of battle.

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You have the choice to take the helm of any ship yourself or just let the AI handle the battles (preferential AFAIC as the maneuvering & weapon selection is very fiddly). The battles are generally over fairly quickly, and the visualisation somewhat jerky and, dare I say it, reminiscent of something that you may have seen on an old Commodore 64 – I grew so fed up with them that I gave up actually watching the contest and just acknowledged the fact that a battle was going on somewhere. The only time you really need to keep an eye on the action is if your planets are under attack or you are doing the attacking – you need to be ready for nasty surprises like the enemies all seemingly being equipped with invincible shields (a very handy artifact delivered bonus).

As your conquests continue, new trade routes are set up between your home planet (or any colonised ones) and your civilisation spreads across the galaxy, looking something like a spider’s web. Eventually you meet with other races and have the opportunity to fight or co-exist peacefully – good relationships with other civilistations can lead to alliances and eventually a Federation at which point you take control of all assets belonging to the other race & incorporate it all into your own. The other (and definitely more fun) option, is of course to conquer via battle. To take control of an enemy held star system, you need to destroy the trade route linking it to the home planet – once done the star system goes into turmoil & will eventually be taken over. You do need to watch out for the same thing happening to your own satellite systems though, as the loss of any system also means a corresponding loss in revenue. A better way of taking over star systems is to conquer the central system, the point from which all the trade routes radiate. To achieve this you need to have developed assault pods & also have some heavy ships ready. Assigning your fleet to the conquest causes all ships to head back to base to prepare for the attack. Once sorted, the ships head out fully synchronised to all arrive at the target together, & the battle royal commences.

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Revenue is initially very slow to build up, once you have 10 or so systems and have researched up to a level 5 trader, the flow increases and you can start concentrating on your military build up. It is vital to keep an eye on your systems though – when looking at the map, any systems that are ‘squared’ are potential problem areas & need investigating. Pirates can be handled via the special missions available when assigning individual ship tasks, and these should not be left unattended as your cash flow will suffer greatly.

Graphics wise the game is nothing to write home about, and would play just as well without them. Other races appear to be a conglomeration of those seen in many space films, from Ewok types to Scecsis, including a Kilrathi lookalike. The sound is adequate, but the music terribly boring, so much so that I turned it off rapidly.

If you are heavily in to micromanagement, then this game will appeal as you can set it so that you do everything. It does have potential, but I am left with the overall impression that it is outdated and unfortunately does not deliver what could be expected from the box shots.

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