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Starships Unlimited: Divided Galaxies (PC)
Starships Unlimited: Divided Galaxies is best described as a finely tuned upgrade to the shareware game. In truth it's more of a "gold" edition than a sequel.
By - William Abner

A Little Background

The original Starships Unlimited, released early in 2001, was (and still is) a shareware cult classic. Made on a shoestring budget by designer Andrew P. Ewanchyna, it's the kind of title that's easy to root for -- one man, creating an addictive game that spread amongst the strategy community solely by word of mouth and a handful of Internet reviews. A real-time game with the ability to pause the action, it's the perfect blend of grand, epic space opera strategy and small ship-to-ship battle tactics.

Ewanchyna focused the design on what was fun and engaging about space strategy (4x) games and didn't entrench users into worrying about the mundane. Starships Unlimited is about starships, not colonies, it's about exploring new star systems, not worrying about if the population of the city Zeus IV is happy or desires more entertainment facilities. This is not Civilization in space. The general design philosophy of the original remains intact in the sequel. This is pretty much the same stuff but with more financial muscle behind it, thanks to publisher Matrix Games.

The lifeblood is still its starships. They're more like individual characters than hunks of metal zooming around in the vacuum of space. They're used to explore new star systems, fight off enemy attacks, hail other races to discuss diplomacy, and discover ancient artifacts on planet surfaces. And they all have individual personalities due to the vast array of technological upgrades available. You may opt to deck a Scout ship with loads of equipment that make it a censor beacon, able to locate distant stars, but at the expense of firepower or defenses. Or you may try to make your Scout an attack ship able to defend itself forsaking censors altogether. You may use your Corvette like a Man 'O War, making it primarily an attack vessel. The options are limitless in how you can upgrade your ships. And they are the stars of the show.

The New Stuff

By far the most noticeable difference between Divided Galaxies and the original shareware product are the graphics and sound. There are gameplay enhancements, but the higher production values are immediately evident. The ships look crisper than before and the weapon effects are a lot cleaner. Granted, the game isn't going to win an award for graphic excellence, but compared to the original, it's a nice boost. The best thing about the graphics is that they don't get in he way, they look good enough and are not a distraction. The new musical score is very good, and while not on par with a game such as Heroes of Might and Magic II, it does provide a nice backdrop to the action.

The gameplay changes aren't as dramatic, but some of the subtle tweaks add quite a bit to its playability. Everything still revolves around capturing artifacts, wheeling and dealing with the other races, and building a powerful star fleet; but managing your empire is much easier now than before. For starters, you can play the game from the galactic map. This is an overview map of all of the star systems (similar to Master of Orion.) Being able to control your fleet(s) from this view is a huge timesaver. The general game interface is streamlined, making it much easier to issue, view, and change orders.

Next: Improvements...

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