Starglider is one of a small but growing number of programs that make people buy Atari STs.
At the PCW show in September it attracted much attention as a sort of ultimate line-graphic space game - bigger images, smoother movement, more complex features and so on.
Now that game has been converted to the Spectrum and the truth is, in terms of graphics and gameplay, the two versions - Spectrum and ST - are virtually identical.
Furthermore, in terms of smoothness of animation Starglider easily outclasses Elite.
Starglider has a complicated plot. That's virtually mandatory for a game that costs €14.95, and comes in a box with assorted manuals and a complete 64-page story book.
The plot is relatively interesting and worth summarising. There is this plant called Novenia where the good guys once lived. Then there are the Egrons, your standard ugly empire builders. The planet Novenia has previously been immune to attack having armed itself with a whole series of vicious defensive systems, however in an act of total ecological soundness the defensive computers have been reprogrammed to allow the starglider - a rare species of bird - make its rare migratory visits.
The computers were told to let through anything in the shape of a starglider. This was dumb. The Ergons being not so dumb have started building bird shaped spaceships. You have to stop them. You, being Jason and Katra: teen heroes in command of a dodgy old space skimmer AGAV (airborne ground attack vehicle), get to take on the Egron Stargliders and you don't even have a proper manual.
Starglider has been programmed for Rainbird by 3D specialists Real Time (3D Star Strike, 3D Battle Zone, Star Strike II) and the result, as you'd expect is tremendous. Without question, it's the best thing Real Time has ever done.
Any comparison with Elite is partly a false one. Take a quick look at some of the more geometric space ships and you might be misled but Starglider isn't a particularly strategic game. What it is, is one hell of a shoot 'em up, a shoot em up with brains.
The screen emulates closely the Atari ST version. The cockpit frames your 3D view of the outside world. The Novagen defences are a mixture of Elite-like geometric shapes, diamonds and squares and vaguely Star Warsish mechanical monsters. The original Walkers from Return of the Jedi seem to have been the inspiration of a couple of the devices, in particular the stompers - two giant legs with a cab on the top that trudge across the screen dispassionately obliterating all before them.
Whilst the task on each level is to destroy the starglider, actually the game is really all about scoring points. It just so happens that destroying the starglider gives you zillions of points.
Many elements of the game are very familiar, you have lasers and missiles - lasers wear out slowly but missiles can only be used once. You are supplied with two and the starglider needs three missile hits to be obliterated. Some of- the other bigger devices are also immune to everything but missiles.
The missile launching sequence is one of the best moments of the game. Having got the enemy in your sights, going to missile attack changes the screen to a sort of 'missiles- eye-view' of the proceedings. You get a limited time and a limited degree of control of its direction but destroying a stomper is a truly uplifting experience. As with all the explosions in Starglider, the thing explodes into hundreds of tiny fragments...
There is, inevitably, a docking sequence - to replenish missiles (pick up two more) and restore defences. This involves finding a silo and entering it. The problem is that the silo is trundling around and around as though in a permanent skid. In a sort of horizontal version of the Elite e sequence you have to try to cope with the spin and zoom into the thing when the front is round your side. It's difficult but probably not as difficult as docking in Elite.
Control is mainly joystick with keyboard controls for speed. This doesn't in practice get in the way of the pace and energy of the game but getting a joystick you can stick down on the table so that one hand manipulates that whilst the other controls speed is definitely the most effective way of getting high blast points.
A 128K version will contain music and speech and extra missions although the details hadn't been finalised at the time of writing. The 128K version should be on the flip side of the tape, and it should be incredible.
Starglider looks astonishing. It just doesn't have any serious competition and I think it must be in my top five releases of the year so far.
Reviewer: Graham Taylor
A classic among classics. The best 3D line graphic game ever. Better than Elite, with the emphasis on action.
Flying at full speed. You manage to catch up with the starglider. But you need three missiles.
The missile launch screen. Guide the missile using the TV camera sights. Time and control are limited.
Inside the missile silo. Collect missiles and interrogate the computer.