Wide variety of alien species
Contact 100 different people that know quite a bit about the history of gaming, ask them about their top 10 of "best games ever", and you will hear about this game a *lot*.. The game that still stands the test of time, even 13 years after it's initial release. It's one of a kind, you'll have trouble finding a game that is quite like it, and best of all, it's free, and is updated to work on modern system. I'm talking about The Ur-Quan Masters, a port of the 3DO version of Star Control 2. According to many people who played it, this is one of the best games ever made, on any system.
In The Ur-Quan Masters, you start out with a ship of unknown power, of an unknown alien race. You see, a few Earthlings have crashlanded on an alien planet, where they found an underground factory for making starships, built by an ancient race of again unknown power. Throughout the universe, these ancient aliens are known under the name of "The Precursors". Now, it's your job to return back to Earth, and help the Earthlings win the war against the evil, predatory Ur-Quan, which thrive to either encorporate alien races into their own army, or enslave them if they don't want to. However, things aren't what they seem, and when you reach Earth, there's a surprise for you.
So what kind of gametype does The Ur-Quan Masters have? Well, first of all, it doesn't just have *one* genre in it. It encorporates pieces of an Action game, an RPG, an Exploration game, but for the biggest part, it's and Adventure game. Add a large dosis of humor, and quite a bit of drama, and you're coming closer and closer to what this game is all about. According to one of the 24 alien races you can talk to in-game, it's all about "war, slavery, intolerance, heroism, justice, and the inevitable triumph of Good over Evil".
That's right. 24 alien races to have lengthy conversations with. Conversation-mode is definitively the largest part of the game, and the part which most of the players find to be the best (which isn't the standard for Adventure games). In Conversation-mode, you see an alien in front of you being displayed on a Star-Trek-ish screen, and below that are a few options you can say to the alien, ranging from "the friendliest kid in the universe" to "the biggest asshole you've ever seen, which uses sarcasm and humorous lines better than Zaphod Beeblebrox could ever do". The responses of the alien depend -ofcourse- on what you said, and on what kind of alien you're talking with. Is it an ugly green alien with a special disliking for Humans? Don't get your hopes up in forming an alliance with them. Is the alien you're talking with weak, and new to The Big Universe? Treat them nicely and try to form an alliance with them, you're likely to succeed. All aliens DO make a lot of sense, though. Their stories don't seem to have ANY plot holes whatsoever. Some aliens are also part of a moral dilemma, and throughout the game, you'll notice things that are part of our own world, even today.
The aliens you meet in The Ur-Quan Masters are like nothing you've ever seen. Forget the Star-Trek-ish humanoid aliens, and warp in weirder ones. Each and every one of them is different in most aspects. Even the fonts their text lines get displayed with are different.
If you add the speech package, you'll get an additional 11 hours, 22 minutes and 45 seconds worth of speech (which is really worth it, even though it's old)! The graphics aren't great, though, but they serve the purpose, and if you have nothing to compare them with, they're actually pretty neat. For it's time, they were really nice, though. Luckily, UQM has various "graphics scaling modes", which are able to soup up the quality of the graphics just a bit. The music was also top-notch when the original Star Control 2 was released. Today, they "just" serve as very catchy tunes. However, there's also a remix pack available, which -in my opinion- is as great, or even greater than the original music, and is of a nice, high quality!
The game itself has many different "subgames". Apart from the aforementioned conversation-mode, there's also exploration in it, where you must mine for minerals on the practically countless number of worlds to soup up your Precursor starship, buy new crew, new ships, some fuel, and more. Worth mentioning is that you're free to go in the game-universe. It doesn't have a fixed timeline, but to complete the game, you still have many things to accomplish.
Even though the game is currently in beta-stage, it's very stable. Probably more stable than commercial games released even today. One thing that bugs most of us, though, is that there isn't any speech which alerts you about a timelimit in the game. The original Star Control 2 for the PC didn't have speech (only text), but it DID warn you about the timelimit. Unfortunately, the developers of the 3DO version of the game forgot to add speech for this. So, before you start jumping around like a madman, let me warn you: THERE IS A TIMELIMIT IN THIS GAME! You can stretch this limit by about 1 year, though. And if you play the game like it's meant to be played (ask someone in-game about this, he'll know), you'll likely be able to finish this game long before said timelimit.
Also, as a last-minute notice, please note that the "2" in the original game's title doesn't really mean much when you look at the story. You won't miss much of it in this game when you haven't played Star Control 1, because of the fact that SC1 didn't have much story (it was a strategy game, not an adventure game), and also because of the fact that all SC1 history can be heard/found in SC2...
Another last munute notice: there was also a Star Control 3 game, but it wasn't made by the developers of both SC1 and 2, and according to most Star Control fans, it sucks big time. My tip? Don't play SC3, it's not worth your time.
All in all, The Ur-Quan Masters is a very nice game, that easily places itself in the top 100 of games ever made, and is definitively in the top 10 of best freeware games ever made. If you've played the original Star Control 2, get this one NOW. If you haven't played the original, well... shame on you! Go play this port now! It's a game you'll remember for a long while, trust me.
Note: You might also want to get this "UQM loader", which is a frontend (for windows) which lets you configure the game's options easilly: http://uqm.stack.nl/forum/index.php?topic=2193.0
Note that the size is ranging from 15 MB (minimal) to 286 MB (everything). Typical size on a windows machine: 142.4 MB (includes speech and music packages)
Review by: Megagun
Safe for all ages
- Pentium 200 running a supported OS.
- 64 MB of RAM (the game's footprint is around 30MB).
- A reasonably recent video card. The oldest cards anyone has tested on are TNT2 and Voodoo 3. For OpenGL support, your video card needs to be able to handle 512x256 or 1024x512 textures. (The Voodoo 3 can not do this.)
- If you're running the game with default quality levels (640x480 windowed), a Pentium 450 is the current minimum tested.