- Starmaster -




Computer Peripherals

Starmaster - February 25, '01 by -^Cro§Bow^-

1982 was a good year to be the proud owner of an Atari 2600 VCS system. Atari made several releases that year made possible by such previous successes as Space Invaders, Defender and even the bane of all conversions…Pac man. However, Atari weren’t the only ones making games for the VCS at that time. Another company comprised of basically ticked off former Atari game programmers decided that they could do things better. Hence the company Activision was born. Activision made many great games of which some were fresh new innovative games…while some were simply remakes of previous Atari ideas and releases. The game Starmaster fits into this second category of game types. Which borrowed the ideas from an already existing Atari release called Star Raiders.
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Starmaster’s basic story is an old one that has been done time and time again. Basically you are the lone fighter piloting your starfighter against the enemy starfighters in order to protect starbases in your home galaxy. Again, nothing new as far as story is concerned but the action is what counts after all right? So how does Starmaster hold up? Well before I get to in-depth with this review please remember that you the reader must remember the age at which these games were released. With that said…let us take to the stars in finding out what Starmaster is about and how much interest it can really hold.
Starmaster places you in the cockpit of your starfighter, therefore all the action takes place from a first person perspective. You warp from sector to sector blasting away the baddies at each sector. Deciding which sector to navigate to is accomplished with the aid of your Galactic Chart, which shows you all your starbases and enemy locations in the galaxy. You then warp to any sector shown to contain enemy ships to engage in battle. The neat thing about all this is that the game is semi strategic in where you decide to warp to as a number of factors come into play in your decisions. For one you have an energy reserve which ticks down anytime you warp, fire you laser cannon, get hit by enemy fire, and hitting meteors during the warp sequence. Also you have to watch the Galactic Chart to make sure none of your starbases become surrounded and overrun by enemy starfighters. If they do…Boom to you and yours on that starbase. The game ends when your energy runs out or you last starbase is destroyed. In addition to your energy reserves running down, you can also sustain hits to your ship damaging certain components like radar, laser cannon, warp engines, and shields. In order to repair these components you must warp to a neighboring starbase sector and dock with the starbase to return to battle once again. All of these elements combine to make for a really satisfying game.
The graphics in Starmaster are typical of Activision during this time. Which means to say that for the most part the graphics are really decent on the VCS hardware. There are a few beefs that I have with graphics in this game which I feel could have been improved upon easily. For one all the enemy starfighters look alike. No variety in ship design or movement. Once you have a method for taking down one you have the knowledge to kill them all. Also our starfighter shoots laser beams whereas the enemy shoots fireballs. These fireballs look just like the meteors you have to dodge in the warp sequence. But there are a lot of other areas where the graphics are quite good. For one the warp effect is convincing and the stars move like a nice episode of classic Star Trek. The starbases also look good during the docking stage. The Galactic map isn’t much in graphics…but it is functional and it is easy to discern between enemy and starbase. Also the Galactic map will show you how many enemy fighters there are in the sectors, which makes the decision factor easier when deciding where the greatest threat lies. All in all the graphics kick the crap outta Atari’s Star Raiders.
The sound is also good considering the VCS capabilities. Everything has a distinctive sound and seems to fit properly within the scope of the action. There are warning Klaxons alerting you to damage or when your reserves get low. When any of your starbases is destroyed you will know, as you will hear an explosion alerting you to the demise regardless of where you are in the galaxy.
The play control is where this game really takes off past Atari’s Star Raiders. Raiders required a separate keypad controller. This controller usually came with the game, however it drove the price of the game up originally. Atari could have learned a lesson from watching how Activision dealt with the multiple screen views. In Starmaster you use the BW/Color switch on the VCS to select between the Galactic Chart and your ship view. This method of screen switching eliminates the need for an extra controller making Starmaster avail to everyone who had a joystick controller to be able to play this gem.
Replay is hard to say on this one. Starmaster’s lower levels of difficulty are not that difficult at all. But attaining the rank of Supreme Starmaster requires some quick reflexes and even more efficient planning on your decisions of where to warp when. Plus the final score you achieve is based on how long you take, plus deductions for starbase dockings to repair. Also major deductions for losing starbases of course. All in all I find Starmaster to be extremely fun and very replayable but mileage will vary on this.
Starmaster was created to directly compete against Atari’s flagship starfighter game Star Raiders. Does Starmaster pull this off? I would say it most definitely does! The decision of utilizing the BW/Color switch was a wise move on Activision’s part. Also unlike Star Raiders, I have always been impressed with the fact that I know exactly how many punks are waiting at the next sector for me instead of warping in and finding out I may be way in over my head. Starmaster’s ability to have your components get individually damaged rather than having a simple one hit and your dead attitude makes the gameplay far more interesting at times. The adrenaline pumps when your down to less than a thousand energy units…and your lasers, shield, and radar have been knocked out as you desperately hide from those meteors and slip past the enemy shots on your way to that last surrounded starbase. Doesn’t get much better than that people. If you ever happen to find this one at your local Thrift store or pawnshop or whatever, grab it and get the instructions on how to play from the web. You won’t be disappointed.
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