Game Over Online ~ Reach for the Stars

GameOver Game Reviews - Reach for the Stars (c) Mattel Interactive, Reviewed by - Adam Fleet

Game & Publisher Reach for the Stars (c) Mattel Interactive
System Requirements Windows 9x, Pentium 233, 64MB Ram, 350MB HDD, 4x CD-ROM
Overall Rating 57%
Date Published Tuesday, December 5th, 2000 at 04:01 PM

Divider Left By: Adam Fleet Divider Right

Every time a new 4X game comes along, I can't help but wonder who it was that first coined the term. 4X: eXplore, eXpand, eXploit, eXterminate. Aren't the children of the world confused enough? It's like the 3R's, Reading, wRiting, and aRithmetic; only one of which actually starts with the letter R. Why not call them 4E games? It's true, X is a pretty cool letter, much cooler than E. And we all probably wish that more words started with X. Of course, if there were more words starting with X, it likely wouldn't be as cool. Who knows. In any case, as a form of protest against the unnecessary confusion caused by this careless act of coolness, the term 4X will not appear anywhere within the review of Reach for the Stars that follows. Thank you for your cooperation. Have a nice day.

So right, Reach for the Stars. Based on the game of the same name that came out way back in the 80's, Reach for the Stars is one of those turn-based games of galactic domination that seem to be making a comeback. Colonize planets, build up industry, research new technologies, create a powerful military, and take over the universe by any means necessary. Just like all the others. And that's the problem. There's not a lot to set this game apart, nothing that makes it particularly interesting or fun. Before long, Reach for the Stars will have you reaching for another game to play.

Load up the game and you're "treated" to an intro movie that sets the tone for the rest of the game. Narrated by a man whose voice bears an uncanny resemblance to a physics professor I once had, this movie about a fight between two opposing fleets of warring spaceships drones on for a while and manages to turn something that should be exciting into a lecture on ship design strategy. Once you get through that, you're faced with the choice of game types to play. For the single player, there's a campaign of ten linked missions, as well as some twenty stand-alone scenarios with a variety of situations and victory conditions. There's also a random game generator with a fair number of options, and a mission editor for the creative gamer who wants to make scenarios. As for multiplayer, Reach for the Stars supports up to six people on a LAN or four people in an Internet game. Included with the game is software for using the MPlayer matching service to find a game. All of this multiplayer stuff is purely speculation as far as I'm concerned. I tried for days to get a game online, but there is nobody, and I mean nobody, out there playing this on the Internet.

Once you get into the game everything is very typical. You've got your star map, your productions screen, research, ship building, etc. In an attempt to de-emphasize micromanagement, many of the normal game activities have been simplified. Colonies for each of the sixteen different races feature the same six building types, four of which are upgradeable to four different levels. The compatibility of your race with a given planet, which depends on the planet's atmosphere, gravity, and temperature, determines the maximum population of the planet and to what level you can upgrade structures. Race compatibility is probably the most interesting aspect of the game. Races with radically different planetary requirements could peacefully coexist within the same area since there would be no competition for habitable planets. Races with similar requirements will find themselves competing for the same space, a natural conflict starter.

Like most aspects of Reach for the Stars, research is simplified to the point of not being very interesting. You use science points from research facilities to learn various technologies, most of which are starship related. Technologies are broken down by eras, but they mostly wind up being slight improvements over previous ones. Different races have different tech trees, and each race has slightly different strengths and weaknesses. For example, one race might be able to research powerful beam weapons easily and gain technology that grants them bonuses to industry, but have weaker missiles and shields. Much of what you will be able to do is dictated by what race you choose, and once you're into the game it's just a matter of keeping your science points up and letting the minor improvements roll in.

So if planet management is simplified, and research is simplified, what the heck do you do in this game? Combat, combat, combat, that's what, and not in a good way. Combat too is simplified, and as almost every conflict in the game is settled by wars of attrition, you'll be doing it a lot. When combat starts you'll see your ships lined up against your opponent's. You pick one of the four formations for your fleet, and one of three ranges you want to fight at, and then you just watch them shoot it out. Formations match up against each other in a rock, paper, scissors type advantage system. The range at which you fight is based on the engine speeds of the fleets and has a substantial impact on weapon effectiveness. But all considered, there really isn't much to do, and it really isn't very interesting.

Early in its development, Reach for the Stars promised a deep diplomacy system, allowing for enforceable treaties and such. I don't know what happened to that, but the diplomacy options included in the final version of the game are underwhelming. All races start out at war with each other, with the option to become neutral, allied, or even united through diplomacy. Races not at war trade openly, unless a trade embargo is in place. Likewise, races not at war can travel openly within each other's systems, unless a navigation embargo is in place. Bribes can be made to try and grease the wheels of the negotiation: a percentage of the current turn's production or science, a technology, or even a planet. There's nothing wrong with the system, just nothing really exciting either.

And that's what's wrong with this game in a nutshell. There's really nothing bad about the game, everything more or less functions the way it should, there's just nothing good about the game either. Everything is very simplified to allow for ease of gameplay, but what's left isn't really worth playing. Colonies are all the same, combat is boring and repetitive, and the list goes on and on. From the movie intro at the very start, Reach for the Stars is dull, dull, dull. The prospect of dealing with other alien races and making yourself a force to be reckoned with in the galaxy should be enjoyable, but there's no flavor here, nothing fun to do to keep you playing. The scenarios and campaign missions try to put you in interesting situations, but they can't overcome the pervading sense of tedium. Even the prospect of playing a game on the Internet against actual people doesn't do much. It's not the opposition that's the problem, it's the gameplay. Much like Birth of the Federation, Reach for the Stars only served to remind me what a good game Masters of Orion 2 was. If you're looking for a game like this to play, see if you can't dig up an old copy of MOO2. You can probably find it in the discount bin for about ten bucks. Reach for the Stars is unspectacular in almost every way. Do yourself a favor and leave this one floating with all the other space junk.

[ 20/50 ] Gameplay
[ 08/10 ] Controls
[ 08/10 ] Graphics
[ 06/10 ] Sound
[ 06/10 ] Multiplayer
[ 09/10 ] Bugs


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