Space is a dangerous place. What with alien fleets causing trouble and what not. Thankfully, space is defended by the Star-Fleet and their battle starships, and that’s where you come in with Starship Command, a 1983 release for the BBC Micro (Model B) & Acorn Electron.
On loading the game, you’re given the customary briefing, which does its best (considering the memory limitations) in setting the tone of the game, before you’re presented with the game’s options (used to set whether you want keyboard or joystick controls, and the visual size of launched torpedoes), before diving into the action.
The gameplay itself is straight forward – take command of your battle starship, fly through space, and blast as many alien craft as you can, before the inevitable happens and your ship runs out of power and explodes in a wonderful display of pixels.
Points are scored by taking out enemy craft – blasting them will score the most points (and have less impact on your energy reserves), but you can also ram craft as an emergency tactic.
Unlike most games from the period, the graphics are drawn in a style reminiscent of early Vector based arcade games, with your starship centred on screen with the world revolving around you as you change course. Along the side of the screen, you’re given a variety of instrumentation – short & long range scanners, velocity & rotation metres, readouts of your ship’s energy banks, along with your score & current command number.
When you start a patrol, you’ll be given plenty of space from the enemy craft – and as they move to engage the action will begin. Rather than engage with simple patterns, the enemy craft will engage you with some degree of intelligence, attempting to flank (or get behind you) before unleashing their torpedoes.
Compared to other games from the period, whilst both the enemies and your own craft fire the same weapon, the enemies will fire in bursts – some fire similar patterns to your own craft and others fire large bursts in a short period of time. Being able to swiftly get out of dodge when one of those craft open fire is certainly a skill worth picking up!
One of the more critical skills to learn is power management – your ship’s power banks will recharge, but at a slow rate. It’s critical to manage your shields, and your piloting prowess will be tested to find a safe spot to lower the shields and bring the craft to a halt.
In the event that your energy banks fall to critical levels (with a suitable alarm tone to warn you), you have one final cat in the bag – launching an escape capsule allowing you to return to base, and fight another day. Providing you don’t launch the wrong one right into an enemy craft that is!
When you have completed a command run, you’ll be debriefed showing your score for the mission along with your total score. If you survived and managed to destroy enough enemy craft, you’ll be given a new, faster craft and sent back into battle again – this time against faster, more challenging enemies. Otherwise, you’ll be dismissed from the service and it’s game over!
All in all, Starship Command is a great arcade blaster for the Acorn 8-bits. Whilst it may look & sound primitive compared to other games in the era, it’s a fresh take on a packed genre – and one certainly worth checking out if you like a bit of tactics behind your mindless blasting.
As for which machine you should play it on? It plays a little smoother on the BBC Micro, with a smoother difficulty curve – due to the Electron being quite a bit slower in parts, there are less enemies on screen, but they’ve been made more aggressive to compensate. So if you want a tougher challenge, then check out the Electron port, otherwise stick with the BBC port.