A couple of years ago, when Hardcore Gamer was a magazine and I was writing the Graveyard, I wished for a sequel to one of my favorite 3DO games. Star Fighter was a fun 3D arcade shooter that let you blast loads of enemies and enemy buildings on a variety of worlds, carve out hillsides with laser fire, ascend into the atmosphere to take out satellites in low orbit, and then divebomb back to the hills again. The sense of freedom in flight was unmatched, as goals were laid out in advance and you were generally left to tackle them using whatever strategies you felt were best. Sadly, it never got the sequel it deserved, and the only versions worth playing were on 3DO and, according to Wikipedia, given away free on a magazine demo disk for the Acorn RiscPC. The more common versions for Windows, PS1, and Saturn were fairly wretched due to the claustrophobic fog used to cover up the draw distance limitations. In a game about free flying, being bound on all sides by an impenetrable grey wall was a deal-breaker. Star Fighter was quickly forgotten.
After 17 years, it’s about time for a proper update, wouldn’t you think? And here’s Space Fighter 4000 Training Missions to give a taste of what it might feel like.
First off, to avoid raising any undue expectations, Space Fighter 4000 feels more like a tech demo than an actual game. It has five levels of terrain peppered with structures and a few aerial enemies, and the only objective is “Destroy These Targets”. No power-up system, no landscape variation outside of hills and valleys, and all enemy fire comes from laser turrets mounted on the ground, buildings, and aircraft. Space Fighter 4000 is a skeletal structure of a game, but it’s one on which something fantastic could be hung.
Despite the bare-bones package, SF4k has a strong flight model that feels great to play with. You’ve got full freedom of movement and no auto-steer trying to second guess your commands. Flying up loses momentum, while divebombing means you’ve got to check your speed because the acceleration will cheerfully see you cratering into the ground. Control is the Star Fighter roll and pitch, without a hint of yaw to be seen, but with a bit of practice it become easy enough once you learn to be careful of oversteer. Nothing is automated so it’s up to you to adjust speed, estimate where the bombs for ground targets will land based on your velocity, and keep an eye on exactly where your lasers are hitting and lightly tweak the angle of approach. It’s a system that’s surprisingly satisfying to come to grips with, and the only bit of automation that would have improved it is lock-on for the aerial missiles. You’ve got to be within a few inches of an enemy to land those.
Even with all that going for it, it would be easy to write off Space Fighter 4000 as just another half-baked Xbox Indie Game if it wasn’t for one more detail- it’s developed by Andrew Hutchings of FedNet Software, and he was one of Star Fighter 3000’s original authors. The game was developed for Microsoft’s 2011 Dream.Build.Play competition, and while it didn’t win, it did inspire the optimistic hope that, one day, maybe, Star Fighter would finally get the full sequel it so richly deserves.
Get Bonus! Click Here for the Graveyard from Hardcore Gamer v3 #3, in which I rattle on for a good while about the 3DO version of Star Fighter. And as long as you’re in a clicking mood, Go Here to check out the PC demo.