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                         Review: Star Crusader HD
  Carl Chavez                                         forego19@nwlink.com
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Review of Star Crusader (HD version)
 
Requirements:
A1200 with hard drive
extra memory recommended
 
Machine used for testing:
A1200, 2MB Chip/4MB Fast
130 MB Seagate HD
Supra external disk drive
 
Summary:

Star Crusader is one of a rare breed of Amiga games: the space combat
simulator.  As the name suggests, you are a member of a culture --the
Gorenes-- that is on a crusade to educate what is perceived as the wild
masses of the universe.  When education fails, the military does not.  Can
you conquer the aliens of the Ascalon Rift?  Or will you perhaps decide
that the Gorenes' crusade is wrong and aid the rebels?
 
Installation and running:

The game comes on ten compressed disks and will occupy about 15MB of hard
drive space.  Installation and decompression with the non-Installer script
takes almost a half-hour.  Much of the hard drive space is used to store
various animations (10 MB worth) and sounds (3 MB worth).  This should
satisfy the demand of some Amiga gamers that Amiga games should be more
PC-like (heavy with graphics and sound). 

To run Star Crusader, you must make sure that you have no important
programs in the background because it will not multitask.   In fact, Star
Crusader will actually reboot your Amiga!  I found this very odd; but I
guess it does free up a lot of resources.  Fortunately, it does warn you to
close everything before you continue start-up. 
 
The game:
 
You are first asked to select one of five difficulty levels.  The level
affects the enemy pilot skills, as well as other, less tangible things.

Star Crusader opens on the space station AR-1, a front-line fortress of the
Gorenes.  The Gorene Empire is the most powerful and advanced race in the
known universe and is attempting to civilize the barbaric alien races of
the Ascalon Rift.  You, Roman Alexandria, lead Gold Squadron: a collection
of the best pilots of the Gorene Empire.

When on AR-1, you can go to several places: the Tactical Map Room, the
Mission Briefing Room, the Computer Room, and the Flight Simulator, .

In the Tactical Map Room, you can see a map of the whole Ascalon Rift and a
representation of how much territory each of the five major powers
(Gorenes, Tancreds, Zemuns, Amiens, and Mazumas) possess.  The amount of
territory each power owns affects the rate of crew and spaceship
replacements, as well as the quality of pilot cadets.  The success of your
combat missions determines how much territory is won or lost.

In the Mission Briefing Room, you find out what you have to do in a
mission, and in the Computer Room you assign wingmen to help on the primary
mission and other pilots to various secondary missions.  These pilots can
be ordered to take or defend territory, to teach new cadets so you get more
pilots, to rescue captured pilots, or to raid the enemy's shipping for
resources to build more ships or to capture alien ships for use by the
Gorenes.  The ability to control the actions of your whole squadron adds
much to the amount of strategy necessary to play the game.  You have to be
aggressive with your goals but you also have to hoard your limited
resources.

Gorene ships have the ability to capture alien ships with a tractor beam
and jump back to base.  You can familiarize yourself with an alien (or
Gorene) ship's controls, weapons, and readouts with the Flight Simulator. 
There are a total of eleven different ships to fly or to fight against, and
you can set up a battle of up to 1-to-10 odds.  This is a good place to get
used to the control method of Star Crusader.  It does not support
joysticks, joypads, or analog joysticks.  The mouse and keyboard are the
only controls (this may be different on the CD-ROM version).  The mouse
cursor controls the direction of the ship.  This can be confusing at first.
Most flight games have "down-is-up" movement: pull down to climb and push
up to dive.  In Star Crusader, pull down to dive and push up to climb.  
After a few simulator missions, you should finally get the hang of flying a
fighter.

In the simulator and in actual combat, you will notice that the graphics
and graphic detail are very good for an Amiga game.  All of the ships are
made up of many polygons and have animated objects such as engine flare.
There can be lots of objects on the screen at once: up to eleven fighters,
as well as satellites, space stations, destroyers, cruisers, freighters,
laser fire, missiles, shield hit effects, beam weapons, and asteroids.  The
action between multiple fighters and capital ships present in some missions
may rival that in Lucasarts' X-Wing (although it is not near the action
level of TIE Fighter).  Accompanying the visual atmosphere is a small
amount of speech samples which I was quite surprised to discover were
included in the HD version.  Imagine my surprise to hear a doomed pilot
gasp, "OH SHIT, I'M HIT!" for the first time.   And this game was rated
acceptable for 3-10 year olds by ELSPA?!?!  Oh, the horror...  There's no
way to turn speech off if you get sick of it, but personally I don't think
a 'quiet' function is necessary.

The speed of the graphics engine is also worth noting.  With many of the
aforementioned objects on the screen at once, it can still be playable on a
A1200 + Fast RAM.  The polygons can be set on high or low detail if the
game does start to slow down.  Even on low detail you can still identify
individual ship silhouettes.  It is unfortunate that the programmers did
not include texture mapping as a detail option for A4000 or accelerator
owners, though, as they did for MS-DOS.

During a fight, your wingmen will do (and say) things that fit their
personalities.  Each pilot has a rating for piloting, laser shooting,
missile shooting, courage, and discipline.  Cowardly pilots will run away
sooner, which may cause you to be overpowered, but courageous pilots will
die sooner for their bravery (leaving you short a pilot and a ship, both of
which are difficult to replace).  Disciplined pilots will follow orders...
usually.  Some pilots seem to have special personalities.  Kayla Brool, for
example, has exceptional skills in all categories, but she still won't
follow orders all the time.  She also has a phobia about fellow pilots
stealing her kills, and she'll always whine about it.

Star Crusader has a feature called "Power Management".  It is similar to
X-Wing's power control: the pilot can assign priority to certain systems so
that they work better.  It is more complex that X-Wing's, in that each ship
has different power levels for each system.  Some systems will work when
getting less power, while others (like the all-important repair system)
will not work at all.  You can overcharge your lasers and shields to
increase their effectiveness, but this will cause permanent damage to those
systems.

Other good things: NTSC or PAL switch is coded into the game, and there are
intermission scenes featuring rendered characters and full speech (on the
HD version!).  The latter may be a disadvantage on certain systems, as the
intermissions are 10MB of the 15MB game directory.

All this stuff sounds great, except for the control system...  so what's
the bad news?

First of all, the game is missing many of its advertised features.  The
most obvious feature missing is the texture mapping, but that was to be
expected.  The most anticipated feature of Star Crusader is missing also,
though, and that is unforgivable.  YOU CAN'T CHOOSE YOUR SIDE!  In press
releases, in ads, and in the manual GameTek claimed that you could fly for
the Gorene Empire or be a Gorene rebel.  Not on the Amiga HD version.
Perhaps it's a bug.

You see, there's a mission in which your officers are ordering you to do
allow the death of the enemy and rebel leaders, and the enemy leaders and
your friends who have joined the rebellion are begging you to save them by
destroying a robotic explosives ship.   This is supposed to be the mission
where you make your big decision.  But no matter what you do, you praise
the Gorenes in an intermission and end up on the Gorene Empire's new base.
The first time I 'chose' to join the aliens, my rebel friend Hela told me I
had joined the rebels and I still ended up with the intermission and the
Gorene base.  The second time I tried, I turned the intermissions off.  I
was thanked by Hela, then I ended up on the Gorene base with a reprimand
for destroying a friendly fighter!

There's no other way to switch sides.  You can't ask the aliens if you can
join them.  The communications system of Star Crusader is totally useless
unless you want to goad a fighter into attacking you instead of a wingman.
All of the comm options are insults.  There's no way to negotiate with the
aliens unless it's in the game's script.  There is no effect on alien
attitude when you rescue escape pods containing alien pilots.  You cannot
deliberately fail a mission in order to become friendly with the aliens.
And in the Mission Briefing Room, a couple of pilots (including Hela)
defect during the briefings.  Also during the briefings, there is open
disagreement and unruliness in the squadron but you're not allowed to
choose your responses in a conversation.

Prime example: Your squadron is assigned to deal with the planet Hattin.
You know that there is satellite orbiting the planet that contains a deadly
poison.  The squadron is ordered to damage --not destroy-- the satellite
with lasers --the implication being that other weapons will destroy it-- so
that the poison will enter the atmosphere.  You protest (you don't get to
choose whether to protest or not; you must protest as the script demands).
You suggest that you tractor-beam the satellite and destroy it elsewhere as
an example of Gorene power.  The idea is turned down.  One pilot agrees
with the plan, and others, like Hela, disagree.  Hela rebels and is
arrested.  You can't choose who you agree with; you must go out on the
mission.

During the mission, you could try to destroy the satellite, but it is only
damaged by torpedoes and other heavy weapons, so the planet is still
destroyed.  You could try to tractor-beam the satellite and jump out, but
you're not allowed to.  You could jump out after receiving a message from
the aliens begging you not to destroy the satellite, but you're not
reprimanded for doing so, so you remain a Gorene.  You could blow away your
own wingmen but the aliens don't care.  You can't even eject to join the
enemy; they won't rescue you.  How come it's so hard for you to join the
enemy, and inferior pilots like Hela and a certain Krugar Dept find it so
easy?   THEY didn't need special jump coordinates.

I suppose it may not be a minus to be a Gorene.  The manual says that the
choice will be a moral decision, so if you're into cold-blooded murder,
genocide, breaking promises, and other benevolent acts, a Gorene is the
right (the only) choice.  It is somewhat fun...

Another important feature missing involves the presence of asteroid fields,
minefields, and nebulas.  They do exist in the game.   Your computer will
warn you of such places as you enter them.  You will notice when you enter
a nebula; your computer systems will start to go haywire.  But when you
enter an asteroid field, sometimes you will see no asteroids.  When you do,
it barely hurts (if at all) to crash into them.  You can fire through
asteroids to hit an enemy.  And minefields contain no mines!

Although pilots on both sides have personalities and skills, they tend to
exhibit little intelligence.  Gorene pilots obsessive about kills, like
Kayla Brool, like to crash into you as they chase your target.  Pilots of
Mazuma Buccaneers, the least-armored and -shielded of all the fighters,
like to kamikaze you.  For some odd reason, slow, unarmed freighters will
maneuver into attack position (even though they can't fire) and will try to
ram you too.

Summary:

Star Crusader is one of the few games that acknowledges that Amiga users
are upgrading their computers, and for that it should be praised.  It is a
sound action game, and a surprisingly adequate (for its genre) strategy
game, but Star Crusader doesn't deliver on many of its promises.