"Starships Unlimited is driven by that rarest of commodities in the computer game business: a great idea fleshed out into an entire game. Although the name is kind of dopey, it perfectly illustrates the central tenet at work here-that a sci-fi game about space ships is more compelling than a sci-fi game about population growth, unrest levels, or trade routes (all of which are present but not prominent). Starships Unlimited takes the space empire genre and brings it back into the realm of space opera, where characters are more important than colonies.
The characters in this instance are the starships. Unlike games like Space Empires, Reach for the Stars, or Master of Orion, you're not rampaging across the galaxy with massive fleets. In a typical game of Starships Unlimited, you might build only a half dozen ships. But each one is like a powerful playing piece whose capabilities are determined by the parts that you use to build it.
Other games have taken this DIY starship approach, but none have de-emphasized the empire building aspects like Starships Unlimited. Colonies are important, but they're rare because they're expensive to build and slow to grow. This isn't Civilization's let-a-thousand-cities-bloom model. You will, however, find in Starships Unlimited all the traditional trappings of space strategy games: colonies, mining, diplomacy, research, espionage, and so forth. But they're all streamlined so that you'll spend most of your time sending your ships on missions. One of the most surprising things about this game is how comprehensive it manages to be while still keeping the starships front and center....
The basic gameplay, which runs in pausable real-time on a vast map without hexes, strongly resembles 3DO's Heroes of Might & Magic. Your ships are similar to that game's heroes. The action moves quickly because it focuses on the exploits of a small handful of units. As they fight battles, they gain experience. As they explore, they uncover "magic items" in the form of artifacts, which are strewn about unexplored planets and provide an incentive for exploration. As your research progresses, you can freely upgrade and reconfigure your ships, much in the same the way that you build armies in the Heroes of Might & Magic or Warlords series.
Something else surprising about this game is the AI, which plays like a human opponent in that it does all the things you can do. Although it's not aggressive enough on the highest difficulty level, it's one of those rare AIs that will surprise you by amassing a fleet to assault a colony, sending a spy to steal your valuable artifacts, or funding subterfuge to undermine your homeworld. It's a sad state of affairs that an AI this competent is such an exception in the world of computer gaming.
Starships Unlimited uses rudimentary graphics and the interface has a few "what were they thinking?" features. There are also some issues of weapon balance that need more playtesting and hopefully will be corrected in later versions. Otherwise, it's difficult to find fault with this superlative strategy game, which is all the more remarkable considering it's the work of one guy. With its relentlessly focused design and snappy pace, developer Andrew P. Ewanchyna has put to shame every space strategy game since SimTex's Master of Orion titles."
I must admit that I was a bit skeptical about this gem. But the demo had me hooked almost instantly. After a few (almost sleepless) nights with the game, I sheepishly went to ApeZone's site to register, and got more than $25 worth with an outstanding game that has virtually unlimited replayability. If you are a MOO (or more appropriately Stars!) fan, Starships Unlimited is simply a must-have.