What can I say about Starlord except that it's bad and the time I spent playing it was about as much fun as oral surgery?  I guess I could be more specific.  That's probably a good idea, since this magazine isn't called "Beavis and Butthead Review Computer Games and Blow Stuff Up," although don't think I haven't lobbied for that change myself.  But I'm getting distracted; I was talking about Starlord.  Say, that reminds me, "I don't like stuff that sucks!  Huh-huh, huh, huh!"

If you haven't heard of it, and even if you have, Starlord is a diplomatic/trading/strategy/action/conquest/flight sim game from Microprose UK.  It's another bad game in a series of bad games that seem to have fallen into my lap over the past two months.  (Help me.  My editor is trying to force me to quit by making me play games that are not fun.  Please send me an advance copy of Outpost.)  From my description you might think that Starlord tries to bite off more than it can chew, and that would make you a very astute person.  That's by far the biggest of its problems, but not the only one.  Now let's get into the thick of it, as we'll get to the end much sooner that way.

Superficially, Starlord suffers from graphics and sounds that fall far below the American standards for modern computer games, even strategy games.  The game has a nice little animated introduction which sports some very attractive visuals, but it does nothing for gameplay and functions only as counterpoint for the downward spiraling graphic quality that follows.  The graphics in most of the game's screens aren't bad, but they are just background visuals behind menus, so they don't really count.  It's the flight sim part of the game, where the majority of the game time is spent, that suffers the most.  Sure, the plain rough polygons allow the game to be nice and smooth, but they sure are an eyesore, especially when you get close to a planet.  The sound effects are even worse.  Starlord adheres to the ancient and painfully outdated (on this continent at least) AdLib sound standard, and supports Sound Blaster cards only as AdLib-compatible devices.  This results in some of the worst noises I've heard from my computer in years.  But that's nit-picking.

The back panel of the game's box stresses the elements of strategy, trade, and diplomacy above all else.  I'm a sucker for a good space strategy game, so I was looking forward to playing it.  I fell victim to one of the classic blunders.  "Never get involved in a land war in Asia" is still number one, but gaining fast in the polls is this simple truth:  The Box Lies.  Yes, there is trade; yes, there is diplomacy; yes, there is strategy...sort of.  However, these elements are purely secondary, ternary heck, they're just not that important!  They merely provide a context, a backdrop for the game's primary objective, which is shooting other people and taking their toys away.

I guess now I should talk about Starlord's premise, since it's about the only interesting thing in the game.  You are a starlord, belonging to a whole family of starlords.  There are other families of starlords out there too, and the galaxy is divided among you all.  If you could peacefully co-exist there'd be no point in making a game about it, so every family wants to have it all.  Your duty is to expand your family's influence and power by being nice to more powerful families and dominating the weaker ones.  That's pretty much the scope of the diplomatic element.  Master of Orion had similar politics, but they weren't billed as the game's main feature.

Military action means moving fleets of ships from one star to another and trying to defeat the enemy armadas, thus giving you control of the star in question and access to the resources it provides.  This is where the flight sim element comes into play.  You don't have to fight it out in real time combat, but if you don't you'll quickly come to realize how one-sided this seemingly many-faceted game really is.  You can fight it out in turn-based combat on a hexagonal grid, but this is a joke; the icons at this level give you only a vague idea of what ships are out there, and the computer is so horrible a tactician you can't help but feel embarrassed for it.  (I've known cartoons with higher IQs.  Fire!  Fire!  Heh-heh!)  You can have all combat resolved instantly, but there's a reason why Origin never released Stat-O-Matic Privateer.

Nope, it's come down to this:  if you want any game at all out of Starlord, you're gonna have to fly.  Of course, you could take the easy way out and hang yourself.  I didn't think of this soon enough.

There must be a way I can put this discretely.  No, no I guess there isn't.  Starlord is the worst flying game I've ever played on a PC.  It looks bad.  It sounds bad.  It smells bad.  Oh, nope, that's just the IE artboy; apparently he's been to Taco Bell again.  The controls are jumpy as all hell.  The flight model is practically non-existent.  This doesn't feel like Wing Commander; it feels like SimBumpercar.  And worst of all, your cockpit is so poorly equipped it's a real chore to get in on the action, because if you get separated from the main dogfight it's nearly impossible to find your way back.  If it's any consolation, which it isn't, all the other fighters are equally confused.  In a battle with 20 ships on each side I waited nearly 10 minutes--real-time minutes--before anyone got killed!  To test the artificial intelligence I tried flying at slow speed in a straight line and not firing, just to see if any of those crack enemy pilots went for the easy kill.  No one did!  I had to go out of my way to die!  Unbelievable!  Unpalatable!  Unplayable!

It's time to stop picking on Starlord.  I usually love beating a dead horse, but this one's so mashed I'm getting entrails all over my nice new boots.  In a recent meeting with Marc "Did Someone Call For A Doctor?" Dultz people at Microprose US stated a general dissatisfaction with their European namesake, and if this game is any indication of MPSUK material I can't blame them one bit.  Maybe the game market is drastically different in England; for Starlord's sake, I hope so.

In the twilight realm of my own secret thoughts I am formulating an awards ceremony for the worst games I play in my first year as a "professional game reviewer."  Getting back to the oral reference that started this article, I call this distinguished group of titles "The Dental Theater of Cruelty."  It's safe to say that Starlord has reserved a filling or two for itself, maybe even a root canal.  Okay, now spit.