Game Review - by James Allen
One of the most infamous simulation series in computer gaming is the love child of Derek Smart: the Battlecruiser series. Apparently, Battlecruiser 3000 AD was released way too early and in a buggy state, and Derek was blasted from all sides, and subsequently ejected all of the detractors through the nearest available air lock. Anyways, the next version in the series is Battlecruiser Millennium, which hopes to contain a universe in a box. There have been a spattering of space simulations put out in recent memory (my favorite being Independence War 2) that have tried to deliver the ultimate space fantasy. Will Battlecruiser Millennium become the outright patron god of the known universe, or just another demi-god?
The main draw in Battlecruiser Millennium is the roam mode, where you are free to do as you choose in the universe we call home. To get to ready to face the big world out there, we have a series of instant action and training academy missions, which are a nice idea, but basically leave you to scour the manual for answers: they are not very user friendly at all. You main two choices are the roam mode or an advanced campaign mode, which is designed for Terran Military Commanders. Speaking of that, there are a whole host of different races and jobs to choose from. There are twelve different races to pick, but these mainly just change which ships are available to you and which other races hate you. The castes are basically the job you pick, ranging from paid positions such as military and police to other jobs like scientist and trader. Depending on the caste you choose, you have several available careers: commanders, pilots, and marines. Enough to keep you busy, I would say. There isn't multiplayer available as of yet, but this will be available in patch form later on. The number of options for the roam mode seem to be plenty, but the race differences are mostly superficial and only emulate more alternatives. Still, enough to make most gamers happy.
I was frankly disappointed in the sound here. There is a general feeling that the sounds are too understated, especially since the game mainly concerns large, lumbering ships of power in outer space. The engine sounds are very weak and the hyperdrive is unnoticeable. All of the different species all speak in clear and concise English. The weapon sounds are also fairly uninspired. I never got the feeling that I was in a huge spaceship (when I was) during the game. The background music tried to cover up these shortcomings, but I eventually turned it off, and attempted to listen to the whimpering of the sparkling engines. It seems that, these days, sound has taken a backseat to every other component of a game, and Battlecruiser Millennium carries this torch of inferiority onward.
This is the big deal in Battlecruiser Millennium: all of the different game modes. There are really three games in one: a space combat game, an air combat game, and a first person shooter. We'll go over what you can exactly do in each of these three roles, so you can get somewhat of a grasp on the scale of this game. First off, the first person shooter mode can't measure up to other shooters on the et, but who would expect it to? You are armed with several weapons that you choose when your career starts, and you are left to go around and shoot things. Since we are dealing with planets here, it would take quite a long time to walk to drive around to other bases, so you can use a type of teleporter to quickly whisk you away to your holiday destination, including enemy bases, which is kind of weird. The enemy AI will more than likely just run straight toward you from great distances, not thinking to hide behind buildings or even get into a prone position. I haven't seen AI like this since WWII: Iwo Jima (that's not a good thing). So, the difficulty in the FPS mode is derived from the number of enemy forces, rather than their cunning ability to kill you. Still, the FPS mode is an interesting and original diversion for a space simulation that breaks up the game.
Next, you can pilot planes to fly around in the air and shoot things. That is if you can find other people or ground objects to shoot. See, the planet flight engine falls for exactly the same reason the space simulation does: the lack of a truly dynamic world. In a game like Independence War 2, you would be hard pressed to find areas where neutral traffic wasn't present. Now, in BCM, you must go looking for trouble. I was outraged at the total lack of other traffic in space, other than space stations that are manually placed, and enemy craft that seem to magically appear when you fire upon their stations. This is by far my biggest beef with the program. Is there absolutely no other traffic in space besides military craft? What about trading? What about transporting goods? It baffles me that something like this could be overlooked. Back to flying the planes, they behave like most good flight simulators, but, as I said, you'll mostly be flying around with nothing to do, which grows old very quickly. It's too bad, because with dynamic traffic, I'm pretty sure that Battlecruiser Millennium would score at the pinnacle of computer gaming.
Now that I have slammed the game, let's venture to the main focus of Battlecruiser Millennium: flying in space. You will more than likely be commander of a large ship, since this is the most interesting choice by far. Most of your duties will be done from the bridge and manipulating the different computer systems available to you. Let's go over them, shall we? Piloting the craft over large expanses of space is completed by the use of a hyperspace drive and using the Navitron computer, which has a map of the entire known universe. Pick you destination and your autopilot will take to there. Travel between planetary systems is made by the use of jump stations and wormholes. Once, I selected a destination several wormholes away, but encountered some enemy units halfway through. So, I selected to fly to the nearest enemy unit, but the autopilot continued to the original destination. Weird. There are many things to do that are not combat related. You can dock with friendly stations to resupply, deploy probes to deep space, fly on shuttles to land on planet surfaces, trade between systems to make a profit, upgrade your systems, and deploy mining drones on planets to gain some cash. There are even more things to do beyond this, but you'll have to play and discover them. Ha!
Eventually, you will encounter enemy craft, and this is where your ship's systems come into play. Designating and firing at an enemy craft is very easy, just a matter of pointing and clicking. Also, the range of your missiles are plainly displayed, as is the different between maximum firing range and your current position. The interface does take some getting used to, but it's actually easy to navigate. Your ship (and every other object in the universe) has a simplified damage model: your shields go first, then the armor, then the hull (which is bad). You can use fighters to launch and engage the enemy, and you can even deploy marines on planet surfaces to take on the bad guys at ground level. A flurry of information is present at your fingertips by using the on-board computer systems. Utilizing a series of arduous abbreviations (like everything in this game), the computer systems cover every area you'll need to consider in the operation of your vessel. The COMMLINK computer logs all incoming communications, as well as stats of your play. The LOGISTIX computer can be used to assign repair jobs, reviewing cargo, and managing power. You can read the mission objectives in the MISCON computer. The PERSCAN tracks all the people on board your ship: officers, engineers, medics, marines, and pilots. The TACTICAL computer is used to assign tasks for your crewmembers, launch craft, load weapons and supplies, and access the medical bay. The biggest computer (in terms of ego, not size) is the TACOPS computer, which displays maps to access a whole host of information, set waypoints, and monitor launched operations. And you can even clone crewmembers! Now that we are nearing the end of the gameplay section, let me complain about the physics: you can come to a complete stop in space without any use of reverse thrust. Maybe Newton is regarded as totally incorrect in the future? If you haven't guessed already, there is a whole bunch of things to do here. Neat-o.
The graphics are OK, but lack the punch delivered by many other space games recently be installed on hard drives everywhere. Apparently, in the future, space is an empty void of blackness, punctuated only by occasional planets and the like. This is in stark contrast to the dynamic and colorful environment seen in Independence War 2 (my convenient comparison). Now, the space in Battlecruiser Millennium may be more accurate, but that means drawbacks in the graphics department. The ship and station models are well done, however, and are the highlight of the graphics package. Explosions, except for a neat shock wave effect, are unimpressive: space stations will magically mutate into colored balls that fly away from the previous location of the structure. It does not break up into distinguishable parts: conservation of mass need not apply here. In this house we obey the laws of thermodynamics (you have no idea how long I've waited to use that Simpsons quote)! The planets are detailed enough, from a distance. Once you close in on them, they become blocky, featureless globes. Although the quality of the ships and stations are good, the rest of the graphics are lacking in several areas.
The bottom line concerning Battlecruiser Millennium is this: the people who will primarily play this game will look past the sound and the graphics (which everyone should) and go straight to the massive game itself. Although the degree of freedom comes with some price and a dynamic universe is lacking, there is so much to do in this single game. Flying in space, in an atmosphere, or fighting on the ground, you have many choices to make and things to do. The thing with a game like this is that you are constantly discovering more actions, more missions, more minutiae to do. This gives Battlecruiser Millennium a great level of replay in a single package, and someone who has been searching for a complete simulation of space in the future needs to look no further. Just don't get Derek Smart mad (uh oh).