Star Rangers is the latest release by the upstart new company Interactive Magic founded by Wild Bill Stealey. Although Interactive Magic has released several new games in the last few months, including the incredible helicopter simulation Apache, this is the first product developed “in house”. Star Rangers is based on the old game Star Raiders, which was a big hit on the original Atari 2700 home game system. If you can actually remember when Star Raiders was new (as I can), you officially qualify as older than dirt as far as computer games are concerned. To bring this old classic to the PC, Interactive Magic has done a complete overhaul on the old game as well as tossed in all the latest bells and whistles.
Star Rangers is a space combat ‘simulation’. The term is generally used loosely because no one has actually fought in space yet (Computer Gaming World classifies space combat simulations such as X-Wing and Wing Commander as action games). In the game, you are a member of the Star Rangers Border Patrol, assigned to protect the residents of the frontier from Taureg pirates. You and your trusty wingman patrol the border in your trusty RG-10 spacecraft, protecting bases and civilian ships from alien attack. Some of you are probably thinking that this is just another game where you hop into your ship and blow the bad guys away.
You’re wrong. You have to carefully watch your energy levels, refuelling when necessary, and making crucial decisions about whom to protect and how. More than any game of this genre, Star Rangers forces you to make the decisions about how to proceed; there is no correct ‘solution’ to the dilemmas posed to you. There are no set missions; the number and skill of the pirates generated during each mission is determined by the skill level you set at the beginning of the campaign. Star Rangers probably offers the broadest reach yet in terms of replayability.
But the story on Star Rangers does not end there. In addition to endless gameplay, Star Rangers offers fantastic SVGA graphics. The cut-scenes are terrific, from the launching of your RG-10 to the fiery destruction of one of your bases. The actual combat screens also look terrific. Depending on your computer and your speed capabilities, you are offered either a large ‘low-res’ cockpit or a smaller ‘high-res’ cockpit. If at all possible, I suggest you go with the high res cockpit and HUD; it is less obtrusive and easier on the eyes. What about the action? One word sums it up: Terrific. The ships and bases all look incredible, and you will drop your jaw in wonder at the flashing of your target’s shields when you score a hit. Even better, once you destroy said enemy you had better duck or you will be hit by the debris! You will find yourself facing not only pirate fighters but also much bigger cruisers and light carriers. To deal with these, you have a variety of weapons including your plasma guns and autocannon, as well as a large selection of missiles (including tactical nukes!). To get around the large patrol area, you can engage your warp drive, which although energy consuming moves you quickly from one edge to another. In fact, the only quibble I have with the game is the warp drive, in which you must pilot your way through a twisting, turning warp tunnel in order to make it to your destination.
Resources management is the key to winning at Star Rangers. One nice feature of Star Rangers is that it has a practice mode which allows you to quickly get into the action and hone your skills. Practice is essential before starting a campaign, especially at the higher skill levels. Once your combat skills are ready, you are ready for the tougher tasks of resources management and that tricky old warp drive.
On the technical side, Star Rangers installs easily and quickly. The box recommends a minimum 486/33 with 8 megs of RAM; the game ran just fine on my 486/50. Those of you with Windows 95 will be happy to note that as long as you have the resources you can run the game in Windows 95 (i.e, not in MS-DOS mode). If not, the installation guide tells you how to set up Star Rangers to run in MS-DOS mode. I have as yet encountered no bugs in the game, a tribute to the quality testers at Interactive Magic.
If you love space combat and/or love a infinitely replayable game, Star Rangers is definitely the game for you. Although many people are waiting for that soon-to-be-released $12 million magnum opus from Origin, it should be noted that Star Rangers does not require the latest and fastest in Pentium computers to run, but still manages to look just as good and play just as well. Star Rangers is a blast to play, providing plenty of excitement and thrills. Interactive Magic definitely has another winner with Star Rangers.
Interactive Magic P.O. Box 13491 Research Triangle Park, NC 27709 (919)461-0722