The Ur-Quan Masters (2002)

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The Ur-Quan Masters, the open source version of Star Control 2, is one of the most brilliant and also most frustrating games I have ever played. It’s brilliance comes partly from the excellent story, that while not widely original, transforms the themes of old, classic space opera into something that feels much fresher than it has any right to be.

The storytelling is also first class, slowly revealing the secret history of the galaxy, a complex and richly layered chronology that stands in opposition to the simple good-vs-bad explanations that most of the early space operas used to explain the motivations of their alien races. That’s what makes this game so fresh, every alien race has a complex history, one that has shaped them, made them into who they are. That’s not an excuse for their actions, but it gives them considerable depth.

The frustration with The Ur-Quan Masters is entirely gameplay related. The battle system, taken directly out of Star Control 1, is fun for a short time. As a major game mechanic, it becomes soon very annoying. A strategic battle system ala Master of Orion 2 would have been much better than this arcade merger of Asteroids and Space Invader.

The second irritating thing about the game is the time limit, which, in a game with free exploration as such a major element, must have been one of the stupidest game design decision ever made. Despite those misgivings, it’s an excellent game and everyone who loves a good SF story should try it out.