StarLancer

Wing Commander revolutionised the gaming industry with its Hollywood-style cut-scenes and storyline, graphics, and intense dogfights. Ten years later, the game's creators have once again turned their attention to the world of space combat with StarLancer, and it's a solid game that action fans are sure to enjoy.

Set in the 22nd century, StarLancer's story concerns a Cold War in space, with the noble forces of the Western Alliance battling the evil Eastern Coalition for control of the solar sys-tem. It can be confusing at times and is loaded with cliches, but the atmo-sphere evokes a World War II feeling that fits the game nicely. As a member of the 45th Volunteers, you and your squadron are sent on a variety of missions, ranging from escorting friendly ships to search and rescue.

Each mission begins in your quarters aboard the command ship, Reliant. Here, you can watch the latest news reports, read about the various ships and personnel, or practise your skills in the simulation pod. When you're ready for action, you can head to the briefing room where you will receive your orders, load up your ship, and jump into the fight.

After spending some time training in the simulator and memorising a few hotkeys, you'll be flying your ships with ease, and you'll definitely want a joystick for the best experience. The flight engine feels right, and with practice you'll be advancing in rank while your name will be climbing up the killboard.

Space combat certainly has never looked better. Everything is nicely detailed, from your ship's worn interior to the smoke trails of your missiles. The game is a little dark, however, and it's often hard to tell the difference between enemy ships and those of your allies. This doesn't get in the way of gameplay, though, because enemy ships are targeted in red, making them easy to spot.

The sound effects in StarLancer are first-rate, with unique sounds for various ships and guns, and the high-quality voiceovers and musical score create the feeling of being in a Hollywood movie. The radio chatter can be a little repetitive, though, especially some of the cornier lines ("Where should I send the flowers, Comrade?").

Another minor nuisance is that the missions themselves begin to feel repetitive and some can be overly challenging. This can be particularly frustrating 15 minutes into a mission when you think you're ready to head back to the base and another wave of enemy fighters comes your way. Also, there isn't as much character development as in the Wing Com-mander series and your squad-mates sometimes seem like generic clones instead of the buddies they should be.

Still, with over 25 levels and internet multiplay through Microsoft's Gaming Zone, StarLancer is a great space combat game that will definitely keep gamers' hands full until the much-anticipated sequel, FreeLancer, arrives next year.

Product: StarLancer

Developer: Digital Anvil

URL: www.microsoft.com/games/da/starlancer/TipsIn the third mission, when you find the flight recorder (follow your radar - it will beep faster as you get closer), approach it very slowly. If you are going too fast, you will run into it and it will explode.

Although Screamer missiles don't track their targets, they can be very effective in a dogfight when used properly. Either increase your lead or fire one off when the enemy is flying directly towards or away from you.

But, be sure to save your missiles (and your booster fuel) until later in the missions for when things really start to heat up.

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Brian Wright

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