It’s been a long wait for series fans. But after 22 years, Star Control is back with Star Control: Origins, after the IP was purchased by Stardock years ago. Many younger gamers may have never even heard of the series, so here is our rundown on why exactly this new entry is a big deal.
The original Star Control launched in July of 1990. It landed on a variety of platforms, including the ZX Spectrum, Amiga, and Sega Genesis. Developed by Toys for Bob, Star Control featured battles between the Alliance of Free Stars and the Ur-Quan Hierarchy. There wasn’t much in the way of narration since Star Control only had two modes. There was the arcade ship-vs-ship mode, playable with a friend, and a series of nine pre-set scenarios. The latter dealt with building your fleet and attacking enemy ships and bases in a strategic battle for military supremacy.
Star Control also had numerous other strategic elements. For example, you could allow the computer to take control of the craft. During this time, the game tasked you with making strategic choices on the fly. Another standout feature was the variety of unique ships that featured different speeds and abilities, which allowed different tactics and playstyles. One major feature was the “gravity whip” maneuver. Because of inertia, players could use a planet or sun’s gravity to temporarily boost their speed. The game wasn’t a huge hit, but it paved the way for what is widely considered the best in the series: Star Control II.
Star Control II
Also developed by Toys for Bob, Star Control II launched in November 1992, landing on MS-DOS, the 3DO, and Mac. Expanding on its predecessor, the game featured many more playable species and ships. With a stronger focus on story and exploration and a massive increase in scope, it’s more of a role-playing game. You controlled a single flagship exploring the galaxy, met alien races, recruited allies and searched for resources. One of its most interesting features was the usage of diplomacy, with full dialogue trees, to deal with hostile forces. When talks broke down, you’d enter one-on-one ship combat similar to the first game until one fleet obliterated the other.
The story wasn’t brief or minor, either. Not only did it greatly expand on the backstory and general lore of the first game, but it had hours of dialogue and a branching plotline. The passage of time would trigger events (even with factions you’d never met), and depending on how things played out and which sub-plots you resolved, you could find yourself with new allies or with races completely wiped from the universe. All of this took place in a comparatively large galaxy that you could explored at your leisure. Well, assuming “potential catastrophic consequences because you wasted lots of time” counts as being at your leisure.
Still, Star Control II wasn’t opposed to the classic versus-style multiplayer combat from its predecessor. The game still included it, albeit in a separate mode. The massive increase in scope and stellar soundtrack all helped make Star Control II the series favorite. Fans love it so much that the enhanced 3DO version (under the name The Ur-Quan Masters) has been unofficially ported to PC for free, as well as Wii (if you can believe it). There are even mods to bump the graphics up to HD quality.
Star Control 3
When the time came for another sequel, Toys for Bob stepped aside due to budgetary disagreements with publisher Accolade. Legend Entertainment, probably best known for their early 90s adventure games, took control instead. They released Star Control 3 in 1996 for Windows and Mac. Its design stayed relatively true to its predecessor, though with some changes. It added colony management elements as you built an empire while removing most of the second game’s resource management and hyperspace exploration.
Critics received Star Control 3 very well, although not with the same level of acclaim as the previous entry. Fans, on the other hand, were a lot less pleased. While there’s an argument that any follow-up to Star Control II was going to be a disappointment, there are plenty of common complaints. The confusing 3D galaxy map; lengthy periods of waiting for the next story beat; a change to 2.5D for the arcade space battles; the replacement of beautiful sprite art with badly animated puppets; poor resolution of plot hooks from Star Control II; a lack of character in the dialogue…
Star Control 3 was re-released on GOG in 2011 alongside its predecessors, and Stardock pushed it onto Steam in late 2017. However, this didn’t last for very long. Toys for Bob’s Fred Ford and Paul Reiche III argued that they owned the copyright and – unable to reach an agreement with Stardock as they had with Atari and GOG – the games were pulled down from both sites.
Origins Legal Drama
Speaking of legal troubles, the original creators of the first two games later tried to develop their own game, Ghosts of the Precursors, which led to Stardock filing a lawsuit in December 2017 over copyright infringement. Additionally, the suit claims that Ford and Reiche aren’t actually the “creators” of the series. This led to a countersuit. In June, Ford and Reiche launched a $2 million GoFundMe campaign to help with their legal costs.
However, the legal battles don’t impact the newest game. Star Control: Origins takes place in an alternate universe, filled with all-new aliens and none of the lore of the original. The new developer, Stardock Entertainment, seems sincere in its efforts to create a worthwhile successor to the revered franchise. They’re pushing it as a game featuring what players loved about Star Control 2. The team has promised a large galaxy, a light-hearted tone with some darker moments, diplomacy, planetary landings, and – of course – arcade ship-to-ship battles. Will it be another highlight of the franchise? Eager fans can find out today.