StarDrive is an upcoming 4X strategy game from newcomers Zero Sum Games. Seemingly targeted at people who are still waiting for Master of Orion 3 to come out, it’s got a lot in common with the MoO series (and with MoO2 specifically). A week or so back, Zero Sum put the beta up on Steam and we got our grubby little mitts on it. I've been playing this game on and off since then, with Notepad open and empty on the other monitor trying to write this review, but it's proving really, really tough to get down in black and white exactly what I want you all to take away from it. Some background on my gaming past may be in order here. If you’re not interested in a man in his mid-thirties musing on games of his youth, you may want to just skip straight to the second page, but I think context is important.
Back when I was about thirteen or fourteen, I was already a big PC gamer. A friend and I were scouring a Virgin Megastore for cheap stuff (another similar trip had netted us UFO: Enemy Unknown for a fiver, so our optimism knew no bounds), when we came across Master of Orion. With a spaceship on the front and the reliable Microprose name stamped on it, it seemed like a safe buy for only ten pounds. We knew nothing about it but grabbed it anyway, got one of our parents to photocopy the manual (remember when DRM was made of paper?), and both installed it. For a while after that, if anyone was wondering where we were, we could be found constructing vast armadas of massive doom ships and raining down plasma death on the Bulrathi invaders who took our farming world. We even sent off a letter to Microprose to get a set of patch disks when we found a bug in the game -- as difficult as it may be to believe now, patches were a rarity back in those days, and not easily distributed.
A few years later I picked up Master of Orion 2 for full price, as I was damned if I was going to wait for it to be cheap to play it. Even better than its predecessor, it too devoured my free time in the same way. I think I've still got the disc kicking around here somewhere, which puts it in a fairly unique club with System Shock 2 and Privateer 2 in that regard (Yes, Privateer 2. Where else are you going to see Clive Owen and Christopher Walken in the same place?). Anyway, I recall waiting for Master of Orion 3 with great anticipation, but oddly I don't recall it's release. I do, however, have a two week blank spot in my memory from February 2003, of which the only artifacts I have are some shredded game packaging, some CD fragments embedded in my palms, a conviction for criminal damage and a bill for new glazing from Quicksilver Interactive. I've played Galactic Civilisations and its sequel, Sword of the Stars, Endless Space, and anything else that looked like it might have a hint of MoO about it, but in all honesty nothing has quite grabbed me the same way as the first two MoOs. In short, I love me some space-based strategy, and as a result there's going to be quite a lot of comparisons in this review.