Electronic Arts obviously don't think there have been enough trade'n'blast games of late, so have weighed in with the wackily-titled Starflight 2 - Trade Routes of the Cloud Nebula. For those who missed the original, this is a cross between a strategy game and an RPG, with the emphasis on the sci-fi theme.
The role-playing element boils down to choosing the composition of your crew. Training these guys costs hard-earned cash, and then leaves you with nothing for ship equipment or cargo, so it's usual to bother only with the important crew members like the cook. And then it's time to beam aboard your fine space-faring vessel, which has a startling resemblance to a turkey. Outfitting this with decent engines and weapons takes an enormous amount of money, the raising of which conveniently happens to be one of the main objects of the game.
Once outfitted, it's time to explore the galaxy. When the ship arrives at a planet, the party descends and wanders around in their buggy, finding and retrieving minerals for later resale at a trading post. Eventually, you'll journey into the spooky Cloud Nebula itself, and hopefully discover the secret behind the alien conflicts currently raging across the galaxy.
The aliens causing the most grief, the Spemin, have discovered an infinite supply of a new fuel, and are rampaging through space demanding that human kind be enslaved. Not only has your motley band of adventurers been chosen to prevent this, but also to seek out new life... and colonise it for takeover, so it's not a decision to be made lightly.
Once a planet has been logged, it's on to the next one, and so on. Excitement occurs when the player runs into some alien spacecraft. The first time this happened I tried responding with a pleasant greeting only to have the aliens blow my ship to smithereens.
Unfortunately, the game is let down by its fundamental lack of excitement; there's no sense of urgency or even a feeling of frontier exploration. The party just plods on, trading, communicating, and gathering information and this gets tiresome as soon as the novelty of the system wears off.
The biggest mystery about the game is not the Cloud Nebula, but that it needs one meg to run; nothing here seems to justify it. With run-of-the-mill visual effects and music, accessed from the disk every time certain actions are performed, the RAM requirements indicates some laziness on the part of the programmers, and one drive makes swapping a pain too.
Starflight 2 is destined to be a game bought by Elite buffs, leaving the rest of us cold. Twenty five pounds is a lot to ask when there are so many excellent games being released, so think carefully about spending your hard cash on this. The game never raises itself above the mediocre.