Space Rogue


Title		Space Rogue
Game Type	3D Combat Sim
Company		Origin Systems, 1989
Players		1
Compatibility	All (With WHDLoad Patch)
HD Installable  Yes (With Patch)
Submission	Angus Manwaring Profiled Reviewer

Review
There were two things that put me off Space Rogue before I'd even clapped
eyes on the game. First of all, I was a huge Elite fan; I had been since
I'd managed to gain access to a BBC micro during my lunch hour at work in
the early eighties. When I eventually bought a computer of my own, a
Commodore 64, Elite was the game I was anxiously waiting for Telecomsoft
(later Firebird) to convert. Anything remotely like Elite would need to be
absolutely first rate if it wasn't to be vilified as merely cashing in on
the success of the Braben and Bell Masterpiece.

The second reason I had for viewing Space Rogue with suspicion was the
horrendous box art. Briefly, it is a photograph of a male model, made up
to look "rugged" (and rogue-like presumably) wearing a black leather
motorcycle outfit with a fetching white scarf and clutching a Buck Rogers
in the 25th Century style space helmet. I understand this sort of thing
isn't easy to pull off, and is highly subjective, but it is actually quite
poor in my view, and at the time I found it detracted seriously from the
credibility of the game itself..

You can tell then, that my first impressions (rather unfairly) were not
very positive. My memories of actually playing the game back in 1989 are
fairly hazy, but the fact that there wasn't an immediately  accessible 3D
space shoot-em-up available, which actually Elite does offer, and the
unfamiliar experience of bumping your way though asteroids or shard fields
to simply land at a station left me unimpressed, and I quickly moved on
looking for something more to my taste. As I said, unfair, but at this
time, Elite was in many people's eyes, the standard that the industry
should aspire towards. The rather more adventure based Starglider 2 had
been released the year before, and in 1989 Space Rogue had Damocles
(Mercenary 2), the unfortunate Federation of Free Traders, as well
as the slightly disappointing Amiga version of Elite itself to compete
against.

What a difference a couple of decades can make. Looking at Space Rogue
now, with some perspective, you can appreciate the variety of the 3D world
and its various devices for simulating a string of star systems known as
the Far Arm Cluster.

Before I proceed with a proper analysis of the game, it's worth mentioning
its designer, Paul Neurath who after designing Space Rogue for Origin
Systems left to form his own game programming company. Origin went on in
1990 to release the first of the highly successful Wing Commander and
later the Privateer series. Arguably, Space Rogue paved the way for these
games giving the company valuable experience in both 3D as well as the
Science Fiction genre. Paul Neurath's company also became very successful
with games like Ultima Underworld, Flight Unlimited and Thief. Paul has
personally been given credit for his achievements in breaking new ground
in 3D texture-mapping and photo-realistic landscapes.

The game then; Space Rogue starts with an intro sequence of static
graphics and text portraying the events that determine your fate in the
turbulent setting of the Far Arm Cluster. You are a crewmember aboard a
merchant ship, the Princess Blue, when a derelict ship of the Sunracer
class is detected. Your Captain orders you to suit up and take a
spacewalk across to the vessel and assess the situation. Moments after you
board the derelict, a Vulture class Manchi ship appears out of nowhere
destroying the Princess Blue before she is even aware of her danger. The
Manchi ship vanishes as suddenly as it appeared leaving you alone in the
abandoned Sunracer.

Using the scrolling navigational map, you can select a location, check to
see if any information on the area is available, and then select "Helm",
which will cause the sprite representing your ship to travel across the
map until it reaches your chosen destination. Unless, of course you are
intercepted by attacking ships enroute, in which case an alarm will
sound, and you will be forced to face fellow space farers, either with
your guns blazing or making desperate pleas for mercy.

Sooner or later you will dock at one of the many space stations where you
can explore the facilities and gather knowledge and form relationships
with the local population. Like the navigational map, the space stations
are portrayed in scrolling 2D form, where rather like in the Megatraveller
games you can move from room to room. To interact with any of the people
milling about, simply move into an adjacent area and press the fire button.
This will bring up some dialogue options allowing you to converse. Very
soon you will be picking up information about all aspects of the Far Arm
systems, ranging from the power politics of the ruling elite to the
quality of the computer games available. Almost every shred of information
you collect is useful to you so I would suggest keeping a note book handy
while you play the game and writing the more important plot details down.

Without wishing to spoil the game for you, it soon becomes clear that
things are far from well in the Far Arm Cluster, with plots and intrigue
aplenty and a powerful and aggressive insect race know as the Manchi,
striking ever closer to the core systems. If you choose to investigate you
will soon become a central player in the drama, committing acts of
startling heroism and gradually uncovering, layer by layer, the terrible
truth.

Initially though you will need some funds to upgrade your ship, and cut a
more dashing figure in the space station bars. A good and relatively safe
way of earning some cash is by buying cargo cheaply, flying it to another
system, and selling it at a profit. Trading in Space Rogue is fairly
similar to Elite, the merchandise differs, with products like X-rated
holos, 1 Gigabyte RAMs and Video games, but the principle is the same, and
seasoned space traders should be able to start filling their boots in
fairly short order. The Base facilities on the various space stations
allow trading, repairing your ship, and buying useful upgrades which will
be essential when operating in the more dangerous regions. There are laser
upgrades which come in 3 categories; garnet (10 megawatts per second
output), beryl (15 megawatts per second output) and sapphire (20 megawatts
per second output). For more money still you can buy the Particle beam
weapon, which although the same output as the sapphire cuts straight
through defensive force shields.

You can upgrade your shields too, and your hull armour, and then there are
various categories of missile you can buy. Suffice to say, there are a
number of goodies to look forward to in the game as your funds increase.

I was impressed with how easy it is to get drawn into the game. Often in
computer games that have an adventure element I have found the progress to
be not so much a challenge as laborious. In Space Rogue I
wanted to find out how to solve the various challenges the game
presented me with and generally my efforts were rewarded, not immediately,
but well before fustration set in. An example is the Malir gates which
left over from a highly advanced alien civilization allow you to travel
almost instantaneously from one system to another. Well, relatively
instantaneously would be a better description. Between the systems you
must navigate the twisting wormholes that link the various areas. The
distance you must travel through the wormhole is directly proportional
to the "real" distance between the systems. All well and good, but the
hole is corrosive to your ship and your hull armour will be depleted more
and more the longer you are in there. Travelling fast is an option, but
it's easy to fly off course and rematerialise at the entrance gate, no
closer to your destination, and with damaged armour. If you keep your eyes
and ears open, a solution will soon present itself to this and other
challenges, and it is this accessibility that makes Space Rogue as
engrossing as it undoubtedly is.

Okay so far, but what about the combat?

Well, unlike Elite, you do not need, and are not particuarly encouraged to
spend great amounts of time destroying other ships in order to progress. Well,
actually, maybe you are a little bit - but my point is that Space Rogue is
less blasting oriented than Elite.

Okay, but how does the combat compare with Elite?

If you stripped out the combat side of both games, and put them into side
by side arcade machines, the Elite version would get most of my money.
This is not to say that combat isn't fun in Space Rogue, it is. But it
doesn't have the dogfighting, seat of your pants, adrenalin pumping
compulsiveness that made the Firebird game a legend. The experience is
slightly more sedate in Space Rogue, with less of a sensation of chasing
the enemy down, and in my view less skill is required to become a
competent combat pilot.

On the other hand Space Rogue has some touches that Elite players missed
out on. It is possible to get a readout on your enemy, giving you
information on his shield strength, the status of his ship's systems,
and his current tactics. What's more you often come across third party
combat in Space Rogue, where you may find two or more ships locked in
combat, and you can choose to get involved - or not. That may not sound
like much, but it adds a lot of atmosphere to the game by creating the
sensation that you are not individually spotlighted in the galaxy, and
that there is a whole world (well, several) out there, the majority of
which cares not a jot for one lonely Sunracer pilot, namely your good
self. Indeed this third party element seems to be one of the main
reasons that the Archimedes version of Elite is considered to be the best.

As I understand it Space Rogue is largely a system legal game, but certain
screens fail, on more modern Amiga systems, preventing you from reading
important text messages and essentially preventing the game from being
played in depth. Fortunately for us game players, the talented and
generous Jean-François Fabre came to the rescue and produced another
superb WHDLoad patch that fixes all the problems. Thanks Jean-François!

I should probably also mention Origin's packaging. Included in the Space
Rogue box is a Player Reference card, with useful key commands and some
handy instructions on it, a (small) poster size map detailing the 8
systems of the Far Arm Star Cluster, the Sunracer owner's guide which
gives you the background to the game and tips for surving, complete with
amusing scribbled-in cynical comments and mug rings left by the previous
owner. Also included is a flyer for the computer game HIVE that exists
within Space Rogue, and a large piece of card with full colour plans of
two of the space vessels in the game that you can cut out and fold into 3
dimensional models should you so wish. If you can find it in your heart to
forgive the aforementioned box art, not too shoddy in the packaging
department, well done Origin.

In closing then, Space Rogue is a well produced game offering both
involvement and excitement. The world it offers is attractive and
compelling, and few games have so effortlessly carried me through from
start to finish without my enthusiasm wavering. I still don't like the box
art, but I'm learning to live with that.




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