If you don't already, you should worship this game. Literally, dedicate at least a closet in your home. Light candles, incense, and give your virgins to this game. It really is that good.
The first Star Control game was a pseudo-strategy game released by Accolade. You conquered stars on a rotating 3D map by pitting star ships in a Asteroids-type top-down game map in real-time. It was a simple but fun game. Now comes Star Control II, which is almost an entirely different game altogether. If you've played StarFlight, you'll notice the similarities immediately.
Star Control II is a mix of an arcade and adventure game, with a deep lore universe filled with thousands of planets, dozens of races, and a very good story. It really epitomizes the “damn, that was the best game ever” feeling when you play it… and play it again, and again. It almost brings a tear to my eye how good this game is. Now that I've gotten the giddiness out of my system, here's the review.
The story so far is that humanity is in peril (naturally) and losing a war against the Ur-Quan. The humans have found an undiscovered very ancient Precursor installation hidden in a cave on a planet in a distant star system, which might hold advanced technologies that can help them win the war. After hiding from the Ur-Quans in the cave for many years, the stranded human explorers finally figure out what the Precursor installation is for… its a factory to build starships! So, you build a skeleton Precursor starship and start heading back to Earth to see what is happening with the war. The stage is set, and onward to an amazing adventure!
The game allows you to fly this Precursor star ship through a vast 2D universe. The game map is massive, with hundreds of star systems to visit. Each star system usually contains a few planets, up to around 8 or 9. Each of these planets in turn can be visited, with most non-gas planets landable with a shuttle craft (the lander) to pick up resources (ore, precious materials, etc.) à la StarFlight's mining rover.
Gaining resources gives you credits back at Earth. You can also get credits by destroying enemy spacecraft. The credits are then spent on upgrades to the ship, extra landers, more crew, and the most precious thing of all… fuel. At game beginning, you're fighting for the hope of humanity, and the scarcity of resources make you feel like you're always an inch away from doom.
You don't have very many choices of upgrades at first, and the few ways to get new modules to put on your Precursor craft is to talk with aliens and get blue prints from them. You can customize where the upgrades are placed on the ship, which do make a huge difference on many modules. Front and rear-firing cannons can be a god-sent during encounters. Speaking of combat… this is one place where SC2 resembles SC1… the battle screen. You can either fight with your Precursor ship (not always a good idea) or fight with a ship that's part of your fleet. You can have up to 12 ships within your fleet, not counting your Precursor ship, ranging from Human Cruisers to a Kohr-Ah Marauder (the Ur-Quan's mysterious brothers).
As you explore each star system, new side-stories pop up that fill the game universe with lore. Such side-stories like dealing with alien gods, practical jokes, going on treasure hunts, rescuing aliens, calming religious wars, etc. The game is filled with content to keep you busy while you continue to build up your forces, making alliances, and finding out the dark secrets of the Ur-Quans and the fate of humanity. You'll fall in love with the numerous characters and races as well. Each are truly as unique as their names: Mycon, Pkunk, Orz, Zoq Fot Pik, and so on.
One of the downfalls of this game is that… well… it ends. That's the game's biggest downfall. You wish you could keep going on, exploring more, finding new alien races, saving the universe again and again.
Star Control II. One of the best DOS games ever created, or maybe the best DOS game. Damn… now I want to play this game again. Thinking through all the fun I had, I want to relive those moments. So yes, light those candles and burn the incense. Pay homage to the deity-of-a-game that is Star Control II. I'm off to play this for the umpteenth time!