Reviewed: June 10, 2003
Released: April 2, 2003
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Picking up on a theme? Good, it’s only going to get worse from here, but before the fun we must first make a nod to tradition and give you the lowdown.
In Battlecruiser you can play a ground or space marine, a fighter pilot, or a starship commander. There are about thirteen different races you can play and variations on those three different jobs, but there is really only a campaign for the Terran Battlecruiser commander. Everything else is just like playing a free game in Privateer or Freelancer. That does however lead you to believe that there is a game buried somewhere deep in the recesses of this snappily designed box. Again Mr. Smart, well played.
Which brings up a good question – Who is Derek Smart? What kind of massive egotism could possibly drive what I would assume is an otherwise fairly rational human being to plaster his name all over what is at best a mediocre effort at a game? I mean, he is pretty much responsible for getting the thing off the ground himself, and I’m usually all for the little guy, but there’s no reason to make sure everyone knows it’s yours. I defecate by myself but I haven’t announced that this toilet was flushed by Mat Houghton since I was about three. I also think that was the last time I was proud I produced a steaming pile of crap. There is one positive aspect to having an aspiring game designer with an ego that has its own gravitational pull; you have trouble missing the target. Remember "Get Smart", because somebody needs to be beaten for this.
Riiiiiiiiight, gameplay. The thing that you do with a game. The part of a game that I’m supposed to critique here. This game got a score of two for ambition in scope alone, and stayed a two for total lack of execution. I admit I expected something lacking in the playability department because of the trio of different styles mashed into one game. I did not expect to run for ten minutes on a completely featureless plain with nothing but ground and sky to look at. There wasn’t even an enemy on my radar, much less my screen. This was supposed to be a quick game, and let me tell you it was because I turned it off promptly after that.
How can that be excusable? This game is what would have happened if RockStar, in making GTA: Vice City built every building, tree, and bridge in Vice City and then completely forgot to add other cars, people, or missions to complete, and if you were really lucky they took all of that away and let you turn on your thousand dollar gaming machine and let you imagine a game. I mean if I’m moving at top speed on my ship and it takes a minute before I see a change in the graphics I think that there’s something wrong with the game, or my computer, or the space time continuum. Einstein claimed God didn’t play dice, well Mr. Smart; Ninety-Nine should have never let you out of retirement, let alone near a computer, or a craps game for that matter.
As if all that wasn’t bad enough the control will take you a couple of hours to get used to, that is if you can stand the thumbscrews that long. With an interface this complicated you would reasonably expect an extensive tutorial to show you the way. Ease you into the boiling oil so to speak. No, they throw you in head first and then hold you under. There are training modes that you can play, but you will get absolutely no assistance, just a, “hey here’s the ship—have fun.” On the FPS (first person shooter) side of things, that’s not too bad because that’s pretty easy to muddle through. Trying to control a capital ship on the other hand gets a little tricky.
While we’re taking issues with the controls, and believe me there are enough problems that you could start your own online magazine, let’s take a look at those menus. Wait, let me call them what they really are, "shitty navigation windows". Not only do most of them lack a back button to send you to a previous screen. That’s something no respectable net surfer is without. I mean the new version of Windows has a back button. Is Mr. Smart really living up to his name if he can’t do something as simple as follow Microsoft? Leaving that alone, when you actually start a campaign you “logout” of whatever fictitious system you've unknowingly logged on to. You get a “great”, “vivid”, “highly detailed” picture of a hangar bay, that Lucasarts did better back in 1998 with X-Wing by making it interactive.
Remember how I said before that there isn’t any population worth speaking of, well ten minutes of barren desert aside (did I mention that there wasn’t even a way point indicator or anything?) every other level I played had at most two or three things in them. This is including playing a battle ship commander and firing on a friendly station. I got messages that they had launched fighters and I was damaged and eventually blew up, but never once did I see an enemy fighter, or even a stray laser blast for that matter. Speaking of not seeing anything firing, you can drive a tank too. It basically works like the FPS controls, but you never see anything leave the barrel. I wonder why that is, Mr. Not So Smart? I guess he just got tired of writing code for little red bolts.
Pixellation, jaggies, and oodles and oodles of blank space, most of Battlecruiser looks as if it were state-of-the-art five years ago at best. The perspective on your arms and gun is laughable most often. Buildings, where there are any, are blocky and have little detail, if they have any at all. Pictures of people or your character’s mug shot are simple at best. I also wonder what the point is of having thirteen different races if when you choose a different race the only picture you see is a military issue helmet. There really isn’t any difference between human and otherwise so why even offer it?
If you are fond of gazing at sunsets or romantic nebulae or spending long nights walking around the beach longing for someone to join you, then this is the game you want to pick up. The backgrounds are actually colorful and eye catching. You end up wondering how they wandered into the rest of this visually corroded nightmare, and like I said, there won’t really be anyone around to disturb you—so go a head and bring your favorite cel-shaded girlfriend, just hope she doesn’t mind the mess.
This is the only thing I’ll give you Mr. Smart, your music is pretty good, maybe it comes from spending all that time with a shoe to your ear. The music is all techno or something similarly electronic, which isn’t a bad thing. There are a lot of good rhythms and melodies, and this would be the perfect soundtrack to some futuristic action/strategy title. Too bad it was wasted here.
Effects are tinny and sound like they were recorded from a low quality synthesizer next to the Grand Canyon. That is when there are any at all. Voices are used rarely and when they do pop up it’s like they’re using a crappy walkie-talkie in the middle of a hurricane. Yeah you could justify that they’re all coming in over a communicator so it’s a stylistic thing, but that would be giving Mr. Ooh That Smarts credit for having a good idea.
Hah! I got to review this game for free and I feel like I overpaid. I will say that there is a fairly massive universe to be bored in so there are a lot of different places for you to do nothing. You can probably spend lots of time “playing” this game, and figuring out the controls. You could also spend a lot of time at the dentist’s getting a root canal, or getting audited by the IRS, or reviewing the tape you have of Derek Smart’s head being jammed into a disk drive. I can tell you which I would find the most entertaining.
If you want to play a game that sucks then go buy Airport Tycoon 2 before you waste your cash on this game — at least it’s cheaper.
Additional Comments from GCM writer Dave Larson:
My colleague that wrote this review is being a bit harsh, and for that he has earned himself a sainthood. This game doesn’t even deserve the scores it got. This game lacks any point whatsoever. My real disappointment stems not from the game, but from Dreamcatcher. After the surprising uniqueness and quality of hidden gems like Superpower and Hegemonia, all I can stipulate is that Derek Du—uh, Smart has some sort of blackmail information on some of the executives. Fear not, however, Dreamcatcher will be bouncing back from this incomprehensible decision with Painkiller, and it will be tasty indeed. I bet all sins will be forgiven (and hopefully forgotten).
As for "Battlepooper" (my own pet name for this absolute loaf of dung), don’t buy it. Get some high school kids to program a new game featuring X's and O's or red squares vs. green squares. At least there will be a point to that game. The bottom line: Battlecruiser gets a one. A game with no point is not a game. Maybe we could give this to some Daoist scholars—they’d probably ponder this for years…