This review was originally on my old blog, Vongeekenstein. I think it belongs here now, so enjoy!
I love games with spaceships in them, and have played almost every game for the PC with a spaceship in it since the mid 1980’s. Why am I bringing this up? Because the game I’m reviewing in, Star Wolves 3: Civil War, is just littered with spaceships. Does that make me more biased, or maybe more critical? It’s hard to say, but as someone who really enjoyed the previous two Star Wolves installments, I was pretty thrilled to take a crack at this new one. Let’s dive in and take a look, shall we?
Star Wolves 3 is a…space-based science-fiction action/strategy/RPG hybrid of a game. *catches breath* What does that mean, exactly? This game mixes a few different elements into one pretty cohesive whole. At the core of the game is your control over your spaceships. You usually have an armed mothership and several fighters under your command. These fighters need pilots, which is where the RPG element comes in, as your pilots gain experience through combat, and these experience points can be used to increase their skills in specific areas, such as piloting, stealth, missile combat, etc.
The game takes place in a fairly expansive universe with over one hundred star systems. You begin the game as a lowly tug pilot, ferrying cargo back and forth between stations, until the story literally blows up in your face. From there, it’s a tale of intrigue as you make new friends, new enemies, acquire new ships and so on.
The gameplay itself is controlled by a fairly streamlined interface that hasn’t been changed much since the previous installment, which isn’t a bad thing since it worked well before. The game flows in real time, but you can pause at any time to give your ships orders, which is very handy in combat situations. The interface is fairly sparse, which usually isn’t a bad thing. Right click enemies to attack, or friendlies to escort, for example. All of your contacts show up in tabs on the right of the screen, making it easy to select them.
Star Wolves 3 isn’t all about combat, because there’s money to be made. Along the course of the game, you will be given missions from various people you meet around the galaxy, and these can pay money or other things (like a new mothership, for example). The missions vary from fed ex missions to combat missions, and quite a bit in between, keeping things fresh. You also have choices during and in between missions that help the game branch out and not be strictly linear. The choices you make do seem to have an outcome as to how the game progresses, so the choices aren’t simple nor cut and dry, which also adds to the variety.
Money from missions can be used for new fighters and equipment, which means you’re always searching for more money for that neat heavy fighter you saw a few systems back that was just out of your price range.
So with a large universe, a varied storyline, lots of combat and so on, how much fun is the actual game? Let’s take a look…
What I Liked:
Honestly, there was a lot more I liked about this game than I didn’t. The game plays well on older hardware, like mine, and still looks great, even though the engine doesn’t seem to have been changed that much since the last installment. The frame rates were smooth, and the graphics were varied enough to keep me interested and engaged. No two systems looked quite the same, and there was a good variety of ships, stations and planets to gawk at.
Much of the time, since this is a tactical game, you won’t see many of the ships up close since you’ll be zoomed out to have better control of the action. Zooming into the action shows a good amount of detail on all of the ships, and fairly creative designs as well. The graphics are complimented with good sound effects and a light, unobtrusive soundtrack.
The interface used to control all of the action is pretty good. Orders are given through a streamlined interface that works 99% of the time (I’ll talk about that in the “What I Didn’t Like” section), and after a while I found certain strategies that worked quite well in most combat situations. The interface is explained pretty well through a separate tutorial, which gives a good explanation about movement, combat and so on.
Gameplay itself is great, and I had a ton of fun (and good frustration) playing Star Wolves 3. The story is laid out in a series of branching missions and plot points, and several times you choose your next task from a list of options, each one possibly quite different. This can lead to a wide variety of situations, many leading to combat. The combat in the game is tense and exciting, and many times I was on the edge of my seat, watching the shield and hull indicators of my ships insanely closely, docking my fighters if necessary for repairs, and so on. The universe this all takes place in is also well constructed, and feels pretty alive, with random patrols and cargo ships going around and doing their thing.
I’ve played the game for about fifteen hours thus far, and I think I’ve seen maybe a quarter of the galaxy, and I’ve no idea how far along I am in the plot. That being said, the game feels big, expansive, and I feel like I have a lot of great gameplay ahead of me. The story is engaging too, and I’ve come to like the characters, which helps me get more attached to the combat since I want them to survive. I’ve been enjoying the story too, and one thing I particularly like is that there’s no voice acting. None. Everything is in text, which means there’s a lot to read, but I’d rather read and make voices in my head than have them use mediocre voice actors.
Truth be told though, this is a game wherein you need to think ahead and pay attention to what was written. I’m kind of impatient, so a few times I skimmed the text and missed something vital, only to see my ship get blown up. After going back and reading conversations more carefully, I was able to get through the situations presented without getting blown to smithereens.
Overall, as you can see, there is a lot I liked about the game. I like it enough to want to keep playing it once I’m done with this review, which isn’t true of a majority of the games I’ve reviewed. All is not roses though, and there were a few blemishes on the otherwise shiny surface.
What I Didn’t Like:
First off, I had a few issues with the interface now and again. There were a few times wherein my mothership or fighters wouldn’t attack a target I selected, but would keep moving forward on their original path. This didn’t happen often, but enough to mention.
It was also kind of annoying having to reselect the mothership and redistribute the fighters whenever I’d jump from one system to another. Most of the time, I grouped my fighters into one wing, and had that wing escort the mothership. Sadly, every time I jumped, I’d have to regroup them and re-escort the mothership. This is a relatively minor complaint, but still it’s worth noting, I think. There also seemed some odd omissions, like being unable to manually set waypoints on the galaxy map, or repairing your ship at a station (which I still can’t figure out, then again I don’t have a manual).
In the gameplay department, there were some things that either made me scratch my head or pull my hair out. First off, this game is hard, sometimes unforgivingly so, so you’ll need to save often and reload often. It was never enough to make me stop playing, but there were times I was thrust into situations I didn’t feel prepared for and got somewhat frustrated.
Also in terms of gameplay, some of the characters you will meet along the way are downright stupid. There were a few situations where I would yell “C’mon!” at the screen because I could barely believe what this one vital character was spouting, which took me out of the moment. Going along with this, the game had typos here and there that kind of took me out of the moment as well.
Overall though, these are relatively minor problems that could be corrected with a patch or two. It is odd to see that many of these complaints were present in the previous games, which makes them a tad less forgivable, but again, these issues are minor enough not to usually get in the way of the gameplay.
Whole Star Wolves 3 has a few problems, its positives definitely and thankfully outweigh its negatives. I had a great time playing through this game, and will continue to do so once this review has been posted, as I’m dying to see what happens next to these characters and the universe they inhabit. I can easily recommend this game to anyone who likes space combat games, role playing games, or tactical combat games, as this game successfully melds elements of all three into one fun and cohesive whole.
Final Rating: 4.5 out of 5 (I don’t do ratings anymore, don’t worry).
These seem to be lost for the time being, but I’ll try to add them.