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|Rating:||3.5 out of 5|
As much as I loved space battle video games, I rarely felt like I was really commanding a ship until Activision released Starmaster. As I switched from the cockpit-view to the Galactic Chart, I was commanding that fucking ship. Oh yeah! I definitely felt the immersion in this game.
This wasn't you typical space battle game. In fact Starmaster was more strategy than shooting. You could assess damage to your shields while firing on enemies on your way to a base where you needed to repair & re-fuel. The player also had to decide which base to defend based on the Galactic Chart. You had to be quick to hone in on enemies and it took some skill to dock with a base, but this game wasn't based on high speed and reflex reactions. Few Atari 2600 games involved players in such a way.
Starmaster is a first-person POV single-player game with 4 levels of difficulty; Ensign, Leader, Wing Commander and Starmaster. Each level determines the quantity and speed of Enemy fighters and Meteors. There are four basic modes to Starmaster: Galactic Chart analysis, Warp travel to bases under attack, fighting the enemy and docking with starbases.
You may be tempted to begin by cruising the galaxy in search of enemies, but toggling the Color/B&W Switch will bring up the Galactic Chart which will show you where the enemy is concentrated and let you warp to that sector with a push of the fire button. During warp travel you may have to shoot or evade Meteors.
The Galactic Chart puts you in touch with the 36 sectors of the galaxy (laid out in a 6 x 6 matrix) showing your position as well as the starbases and enemy ships.
The bottom of the chart is both color coded for status and labeled for status:
If you're getting the impression that there's a lot going on in Starmaster, you're right and that makes it such a cool game. It may not be fast paced like other shooters, but it's technical side offers game play rarely found on the Atari 2600. To assist with it's complexity, the folks at Activision enclose both a Basic Instruction manual and a more specifically detailed booklet; The Power of Starmaster. The second guide goes into more detail about using the Galactic Chart to your advantage.
The first-person cockpit view is one of the more engaging features of Starmaster. Most 2600 games put you in control of a ship made up of 9 or 10 pixels. Starmaster lets you look out the cockpit window as enemies, meteors and starbases come in to view. When in attack mode, you'll see your lasers fire in front of you as they head toward your target.
If you monitor your Galactic Chart and keep your aim dead-on, you can actually win the game! Most space shooters allow you to stay alive as long as possible, but Starmaster is beatable. If you destroy all the enemy ships, you win. Additionally, you'll be presented with a Mission Evaluation that shows your stats for the game based on points earned by level and destroying enemy ships. elapsed time and losing starbases will cost you points.
If you pull off a high enough score, Activision would send you a Starmaster Patch to commemorate your achievement. It even came with level-specific chevrons. I imagine a lot of Moms were recruited to sew these on various jackets.
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