Game Over Online ~ Battlecruiser Millennium

GameOver Game Reviews - Battlecruiser Millennium (c) 3000 AD, Reviewed by - Rorschach

Game & Publisher Battlecruiser Millennium (c) 3000 AD
System Requirements Windows, Pentium II-300, 64MB RAM, 500MB HDD, 3D Accelerator, 4x CD-ROM
Overall Rating 75%
Date Published Thursday, February 7th, 2002 at 02:59 PM

Divider Left By: Rorschach Divider Right

Mark this day on your calendar, folks, because it is a rare occasion indeed. I, Rorschach, have no idea what to write. None whatsoever. Typically to review a game, I try to get in about 30 hours of game time. For some games, 30 hours is enough to finish it (for Blue Shift, I could have finished it 6 times over). For others, like Civ3, you can finish a couple of complete games if you cut some corners, get a general flavor for the game. Well, I’ve been playing Battlecruiser Millennium for well over 60 hours now, and I have no idea what to write about it.

BCM is ambitious, but perhaps ambitious is not a word that adequately conveys a game that, as advertised, allows you to battle capital ships in space, dogfight with smaller fighters, come to a planet, fly a shuttle to the planet surface (or land your capital ship, or transport down), get out of the shuttle, and fight it out on the ground. Mix in sex with some alien that is hopefully female (though why different species from other planets should have even remotely compatible physiology is beyond me), and you have Captain Kirk’s lifestyle in a nutshell. And yet space, I’ve been told, is vast. So vast in fact that the chances of running across anyone else is kind of remote. BCM is kind of like that too. The BCM universe is huge (I think this is the first game I’ve ever seen that has the size scale of you to your ship to a space station to a planet anywhere near correct). Planets and space are mostly empty, and boatloads of time can be spent flying from one place to another, with brief moments of action when you get there, followed by more flying. To the credit of BCM, I haven’t stopped playing yet. To its detriment, I’m not sure I’d call what I’ve been doing “playing.”

I had been emailing back and forth with Derek Smart over at 3000AD before my copy of BCM arrived, and knew well that I was headed for the Matterhorn of learning curves. People (like myself) who typically just jump into a game and try to learn on the fly are going to be S.O.L. So, do you know what I did? Hang onto your seats, ladies and germs, I read the entire manual cover to cover. It’s not a tome like War and Peace, but neither is it Action Comics #1. My impression of it, without actually picking it up now to refresh my brain, is that of literally dozens of abbreviations that are used to describe the systems on board the ship. Three general careers are available for play: a marine, a fighter pilot, or a ship commander. I can select different races and castes (scientist, trader, military, etc). Tons and tons of options. Armed with such minor manual knowledge, however, I certainly don’t feel ready to step into Captain Kirk’s stylish ankle boots. Instead I decided to give the tutorials a shot. I don’t know about you, but I have a certain idea of tutorials in my head. Something with a voiceover saying things such as “You move forwards by pressing the W key” in a voice like Steven Wright on Codeine. This tutorial, in a new and refreshing twist, tells me absolutely nothing. I’m lost on the bridge of my own starship. I can see tiny people through the windows of the nearby starbase laughing their asses off as my starship shudders forwards, rolls on two axes, fires the main guns at nothing, launches a fighter and then picks it back up. Yeah, I’m boldly going.

I decide to restart the game as a marine or fighter pilot. These are essentially subgames of the commander career path because the commander, if he so chooses, can leave the bridge and pick up a fighter craft or hump around the surface of a planet if the mood strikes him. These careers are far less overwhelming; the controls are almost familiar. They’re also far less interesting. Neither career has a campaign mode, so you’re left with roam mode: Go where you will, do what you please. The roam mode of a marine is like Battlezone, only without a plot of any kind, and with graphics and sound effects perhaps two years out of date. Buildings are really just terrain features. If there is a way to get inside of any building on a planet surface or to interact with any building other than the jump pad and resupply station, I never found it. I’ve seen vehicles drive right up the outside of buildings with shallow slopes, so clearly the vehicles see them as terrain as well. The planet I’m on is huge, astonishingly so, and I could literally spend forever running around on it. I can take the jump pad to other locations, speed travel up a bit, and see other planets. Some areas have hostiles, some don’t. A gunfight with another guy goes like me shooting him and he grunts, then he shoots me and I grunt. Eventually he lies down in a sniper position, but he’s not aiming at me. I take the opportunity to shoot him a few more times while he’s down, and he disappears. Did I win? Battles are uninspiring, and without a plotline feel utterly pointless. Life as a fighter pilot is roughly the same, qualitatively speaking. Graphics on par with maybe Wing Commander IV, and again no goals, objectives, or motives. BCM was clearly built to be played as commander, and the inclusion of these poor Battlezone and Wing Commander simulators actually seem to detract from the game as a whole. I can’t help but feel that the time spent developing the mediocre ground combat model could have been better spent, on, say, tutorials. Smart has told me that these careers are not meant to be played as single player games, but rather as part of a multiplayer game (though the multiplayer capability isn’t complete in the released version yet). Fair enough.

So I’m captain again, and the guffaws of laughter have spread to my own shipmates, as someone has stolen my shuttlecraft. My first officer is surely checking my grades at the academy. Maybe I cheated on my finals and he can get me yanked off the bridge before I manage to kill someone. In any case, I don’t recall ever seeing Kirk grab the owners manual out of the Enterprise glove box when he couldn’t figure out how to keep intruders from stealing his shuttlecraft. Several hours later and lots of trial and error and I’ve got many of the ship’s functions under control. I think the most remarkable thing about this game is how well laid out the control interface ultimately is, but the lack of tutorial makes learning it much more complicated than need be. I’m hammering out a good living as a trader, but in the framework of the game traders are neutral; except for raiders, they don’t get attacked, and you can avoid raiders simply by hanging to well-established areas. It’s not very interesting, but perhaps I have just picked a dull career. I restart as a military commander of a super carrier. Let me give you a sampler of how this game plays: I start at Earth and fly to Mars. That takes a couple of minutes in hyperspace with nothing to do but flip through screens looking at ship systems. When I get to Mars, there is a battle going on, but far away from where I warped in, and I have to wait for my hyperspace engines to recharge (another couple of minutes) and then fly to the battle (yet another couple of minutes). By the time I get there, much of the battle is over and I play mop up with my fighters. It only takes a minute or so. I recover my fighters, assign engineers to prep them for flight again, and fly on to Pluto. Same story there – lots of flying, a few minutes of fighting. And on, and on. In three hours of playing I end up in something like six battles. You know how in a Star Trek episode the Captain’s log starts out like “We have been on patrol along the neutral zone for 3 days now without incident…” then there’s an incident and the episode starts? BCM seems to start its episode three days earlier.

Judging from posts that I’ve read at the BCM forums, this review isn’t going to go down well with the BCM fans. I can see that people are going to email me telling me that I just don’t get it. No biggie – that’s happened before. Back when I was one of the few reviewers who burned Black and White at the stake while all others were praising it as the Second Coming, I had readers tell me that I was “stupid,” “without vision,” and, one that still has me scratching my head to this day, “perverted.” I stood by my review then, and I’m going to stand by this one now. I can appreciate what Smart and his crew have attempted to do in BCM. The simulation of the micromanagement necessary to operate a gigantic battlecruiser is, um, perhaps realistic is the wrong word to use, very complete, then. Given the scale of the universe that is depicted, the pace of the game is necessarily slow, but I think too slow to be enjoyable. The addition of the ground and fighter combat models, while adding to the completeness of the experience, are frankly so poorly executed in comparison to recent titles in those genres as to make you wish you could beam down to a planet surface and play Battlezone instead of the ground combat module used by BCM. I realize that this game isn’t meant to compete graphically with those (hence the reduced reliance in my overall rating upon graphics and sounds), but by including these off-command ship modules Smart has opened the door to comparison, and to put it bluntly those facets compare poorly.

Early on Derek Smart wrote me, and I quote (hence the little quotation signs) “This game is very, very complex and was designed for a specific niche group of people.” You know, every time I hear the word niche I can’t help but think of the scene in Spinal Tap where the interviewer comments that Spinal Tap used to fill 30,000 seat concert arenas and now less than 300 people show up, and does that represent a falling of the group’s popularity? One of the band members responds no, that they’ve instead become more selective in their audience niche. Yuk. Yuk. There is a veritable universe between games like the Wing Commanders, run on the plot train, complete a mission to move on or don’t move on at all, and games like this one, almost utterly without plot or direction. And while riding on the rails of a game like Wing Commander can be frustrating at times, I think the completely open ended universe of BCM contains even greater frustration. BCM is a game that provides a framework, leaving you free to do whatever you want to do within the confines of that universe. I think it is the sort of you-create-it adventure style of the game that traps it into such a small niche market. To be fair, there is a campaign available for a Terran commander career, but after more than 60 hours of playing I couldn’t possibly dedicate the time it would take to play it sufficiently to review it. I can make the educated guess that within the game engine this campaign would probably proceed at much the same pace as the roaming game.

I hereby declare that BCM is the game that I would most want to be trapped on a deserted island with. Is that good thing? Clearly my first choice would be not to be trapped on a deserted island in the first place, but if I found myself completely without a life, with hours and hours on my hands with nothing else to do, then the universe of BCM would be a great escape. Maybe when I was back in college and could devote 8 or 10 hours at a stretch to a game, could stay up overnight playing without repercussions, I would find more in it, and if you can, than maybe BCM is the game for you. But if you want to play a game for a couple of hours, have some fun, and then go back to your life, than this niche is not for you.

(50/60) Gameplay
(03/05) Graphics
(02/05) Sound
(02/10) Manual/Tutorial
(09/10) Controls
(09/10) Bugs


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