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Star Control III


Reviewed by: Tim Chown
Author: Legend Entertainment Price: $50 US
Category: Space adventure Released: October 1996
Platform: DOS 5.0+, Windows 95, Version: CD release, Oct'96
Multiplayer: 2-player hypermelee (IPX/direct/modem) Under Win95: Autoruns from CD

Graphic modes: SVGA 640x400, 256 colours
Controls: Keyboard, mouse, joystick
Sound devices: SoundBlaster, General Midi
Computer Memory HD space CD speed Reviewer's hardware:
Minimum 486DX/66 8M 5M 2x Windows 95, Sound Blaster 16, 1Mb Diamond Stealth 64 DRAM, Panasonic 563 double speed CD
Reviewed on Pentium 100 32M 50M 2x
Recommended Pentium 16M 50M 4x

To Boldly Go

Don't ever believe what you read on a box. Star Control 3 is not what you might think from reading the glossy exterior - while proclaiming a definate strategy bent, Star Control 3 turns out to be pure space soap opera, with no more strategy than the majority of adventure games. It is well-presented, with some high quality animation and speech, but the adventure aspect boils down to an awful lot of click-click-clicking to weave your way through endless conversations with a wide variety of aliens. Despite that, it has a certain cute appeal, and a fun little (network capable) space combat game built in.

The very fabric of space is being disrupted - time for a hero!

Star Control 3 had a very successful parent, and was a game many people were no doubt waiting to see. It's a little sad then that the final product doesn't live up to the expectations held for it. Perhaps the problem is that it's too grand, too epic, and some of the gameplay elements really don't add to the excitement and intrigue as they should. Whether it adds up to enough of a game to warrant your hard-earnt cash is for you to decide ...

The plot concept is good enough - having vanquished the alien menace in the prequel, you have a vision of pending disaster for the galaxy. As the powers that allow space travel fade, you use your precious Warp Bubble transport systems in a one-off turbo mode to propel colony ships from the League of Sentient Races into the Kessari Quadrant, the suspected source of the galactic fatigue.

All is well at the newly established human base.

Exploring the Quadrant

Your first task is to establish your colony, then to use your last remaining Precursor ship to lead a fleet through the quadrant in search of the other races and a solution to the problem that threatens to end the galaxy's existence. Here, your prime consideration are resources and fuel. Fuel is they key, for you need that to explore, to travel. Starports which build new ships are a red herring, as there are really not many big fights out there to be had. There's (for example) a biggish scrap after the second star system caves in, but nowhere do you really have to defend a colony, nor carry out any strategic fleet deployment. Instead the ships you accrue by visiting other colonies follow you in one fleet. You can't remotely manage colonies, so your fleet is simply your muscle for fights you run into, and there aren't very many of them.

The colony screen: an alien colony, with various buildings.

The usual key to colony management is to crank up the mining and fuel refinery output, so that you spend as little time as possible waiting for enough fuel to make the next starjump; even with the game speed slider, you will do a lot of waiting around. Later in the game, fuel seems less of a concern as you have bases to visit where you can get tanked up. Setting up new bases requires a colony lander, which you can build. Then drop off the colonists (human, or any other race you pick up along the way) and watch them expand the base, with duties set by their building priority sliders.

The orbit screen: choosing a location and race for a new colony.

The orbit screen lets you place colonies and inspect possible artifact sites. Each planet can only have one colony, which can only be of one race; while your fleet's flagship can carry passengers from various races, planets have single-race colonies. These passengers are useful for replacing combat losses (from the hyper-melee combat) or starting up new colonies (if you have a colony lander).

Alien artifacts are valuable finds - they may have a number of uses but initially most will boost ship performance for the various ship classes supplied by friendly members of the League of Sentient Races. As you meet up with more members, your fleet grows accordingly.

The system screen: here you see planets around the system star.

Each planetary system, and there are *lots* of them in the game, has a number of planets, which in turn may have moons. While exploring, you may find some planets already occupied; by travelling to them you can start a dialogue with the owners. Alternatively you can set up colonies of your own, preferably on planets with high resource levels for which you have a passenger race who likes the planet climate. Extra bases are very important for harvesting much-needed fuel.

Quadrant screen: viewing the systems in rotating 3D.

At the highest level is the Kessari Quadrant screen, at which you can see all currently known star systems in the quadrant; ones you have visited are labelled and named. Using this screen isn't too easy at first, as the map is constantly rotating, but by pausing it you can plot and measure stellar distances quite effectively - planets in return-trip fuel range are highlighted in green. A handy "system finder" lets you type in part of a system name, eg. typing "P" would show only systems beginning with the letter "P". Fuel, races, and ships can also be selectively shown.

Close Encounters

Perhaps Star Control 3's most endearing feature is the quality of the alien animations. With over 20 races in the game, there's plenty of variety in the creatures you meet, from robotic "Daks" through the cowardly one-eyed Spathi to the crystalline Chmmr. Each race has its unique features, with well-filmed digitised sequences and quite clever speech styles. Some of the humour isn't that funny, but each race is very interesting to meet first time around. The Chmmr are my favourites, reminding me a bit of an old and very early Star Trek episode where Spock ends up in a mind meld with a living rock creature.

The Vux. Awfully nice people. Really.

The problem with the alien encounters is that while the animation is very good, and given the variety in races probably some of the best I've seen in a PC game, sadly it's rather let down by the system for having conversations. There is an *awful* lot of clicking to be done, and the dialogues are presented in such a way as you often need to follow all branches of all conversation to leanr what you want to know. While the alien backgrounds are very interesting to hear, the dialogue is unnecessarily drawn out.

That's a big shame. Some people may be happy to sit there and listen through endless chit-chat, but there is much more there than I can bear, given that I want to get to the crux of each conversation. In a sense this is disappointing - the scope of the game is great, in that there so much space to explore, and a good variety in who you meet. Had this been a Star Trek themed game, I may be a lot more "into" it; the "boldly going" bit is there, exploring is fun (when you have the fuel), but somehow it doesn't all quite fit into a coherent whole.

In the end, Star Control III is like many other adventures; go to place X, use item Y, go back to X, speak to Z, use the Thragian Floogleblender and get a new clue. If this is your cup of tea, then good luck to you; however, in most other adventures the artwork changes more significantly, certainly the locations and backgrounds do. Here, you're always at a star screen or speaking to an alien, though there are rare video cut-scenes in between.

Hyper Melee

Every now and then you will have to fight, and this is where the rather abstract real-time combat mini-game comes into play. Here you get to play a 2-player space shoot-em-up against the computer's ships, fighting with ships in one-on-one combat. Controls are very simple - rotate, thrust, fire primary weapon and fire secondary "special" weapon. The combat is never too easy though - there are 20-odd ship types each with its own special weapon. This makes combat a little more interesting since as you square off against your opponent picking your ships for one-on-one you can pick your next ship to best suit the ship your opponent is using.

The "old" style of hypermelee

This mini-game is fun, and can be played as a standalone 2-player game over a LAN, direct link or modem, though you may require 2 copies of the game to do this! The ship graphics are very good, and the firing, secondary weapon and explosion effects first class. Some ships are very strong, but in head-to-head they cost more points. Ships have energy and crew; energy comes back with time, but damage means lost crew, and once all your crew is gone, so is your ship.

The newer optional 3D hypermelee view

The hypermelee view can be 2D overhead, with optional zooming when ships get close, or a (new) 3D view from behind your ship. I found the 2D system easier to play, and the hardest difficulty setting a fair challenge (the others are too wimpy). This mini-game is no great classic, but it breathes a bit of extra life into the otherwise somewhat repetitive planet-hopping routine.

Ethereal Qualities

The game music is rather tinny. There's no riveting orchestral music to rival The Planets here - given the investment of time in the alien effects you might have expected it, but it's not to be. The hypermelee music is OK, it reminded me of the Warhammer: Shadow of the Horned Rat theme, which was rather bizarre.

If you get stuck, there's an aid called ICOM which you can call on to give you clues. I guess Accolade put that in there because sometimes it really isn't clear where you should be going next. Sometimes you have to wait for a time-based event to trigger more action, like when a star system implodes. The game speed bar is handy there. Other times you just have to revisit everyone to see if they have any new conversation lines to be followed.

While the digitised animations are great, the lip-sync is not what it might be. Maybe it's my old double speed CD drive, but it did spoil the otherwise impressive visuals somewhat. Having said that, there's one race who "speaks" without moving their lips; instead their heads bulge with thoughts - another example of some of the imagination put into creating the races which inhabit the Kessari Quadrant. They are good.

Mission Aborted?

Star Control III is a game I definately wanted to like a lot, and the quality of the graphics, the alien animations and storylines, and the hypermelee action should all have added up to a favourable product. Yet somehow there's something missing - beneath the generally professional exterior is a rather repetitive trudge through a very large star quadrant. The conversations feature too much clicking, the plot requires a lot of hit-and-miss planet-jumping, and as a result you're never quite grabbed and propelled through the game as you should be.

But, if space opera is your thing, and you've the patience to listen to all manner of alien dialogue to get that one clue you're after, and waiting for fuel to jump from system to system doesn't worry you, then by all means give Star Control III a shot. Just don't expect any strategy, nor any gripping Wing Commander shoot-outs. Star Control III has its merits, and some very entertaining moments (like the Orz Translator), but with some extra thought in the design stage it could have been so much better.


  • Each alien race has a well-crafted unique personality.
  • The graphics are very impressive overall.
  • ICOM system offers clues if you're stuck.
  • The hyper-melee mini-game is fun.


  • Way too much click-click-click to follow all conversation paths.
  • It all gets rather repetitive.
  • A lack of direction here and there.
  • Where did the strategy element go?


Appeal: Trek-minded galactic explorers.
Originality & Storyline: Another space adventure.
Graphics & Video: Good alien animations, clear and colourful graphics.
Audio: Music OK, like the sounds. Some alien speech is excellent.
Longevity: Like any adventure replay value is limited, bar the hypermelee.
Presentation: Good. The alien races have been well thought out.
Packaging & Docs: Average; the manual is 50 pages of black and white blurb.
Bugs & Problems: Nothing major.

Copyright © Tim Chown for the Games Domain Review, November 1996. All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced without permission.

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