I remember the first time I saw Mass Effect in action, months ago. Here was a game where you could travel from solar system to solar system, exploring worlds in your ATV and interacting with alien races. And I couldn’t help but feel that I had done this before, years ago, with the Genesis.
Starflight is a now-obscure EA game that originally saw release on Microsoft’s old DOS platform, before being ported to the Genesis and a slew of other computers systems, where you essentially traveled through the galaxy, exploring planets, meeting aliens, and either talking with them and getting information or blasting each other to bits. Part of the appeal of the game is simply how fleshed out the world is; each of the alien races have histories together, and each will tell you slightly different stories about one other and themselves. Some will come after you for having a particular species of crew member on your vessel, while others will just try to blow you away immediately.
There is a story, and a fascinating one, but you aren’t presented with it through a series of events like most RPGs. All you get off the bat is that an ancient colony ship was found on your planet, Arth, which is populated by members of several sentient species. The ship has been reverse engineered, your vessel has been constructed, and you’re to go out and explore. That said, there is an objective here, but everything is revealed organically. Offhanded remarks by aliens, ancient ruins found through the galaxy, and the periodic bulletin from the Interstel Corporation drive the story more than anything. It’s this style that may be the game’s greatest strength, and is sadly something few games have followed up with since. But by the time you’ve pieced everything together—which probably will require a notepad—you’ll know what happened to put your people on Arth in the first place, the fate of the mysterious Ancient alien race, and how everything is really just a matter of perspective. The game makes you think in a way good sci-fi can.
The sequel, Starflight 2, was only released on DOS platforms; much more recently, a fan driven effort has been underway to produce a new game, The Lost Colony:
At the very least, the original Starflight 2 continued with the tongue-in-cheek humor of the first game, which included a series of bulletins back and forth between a loan shark and its client, a race speaking entirely in binary code, and—in the computer versions—an appearance by Star Trek’s Enterprise itself. The game bears many similarities to Star Control 2, released in the mid-90s. Perhaps the similarities to Mass Effect, too, were intentional, as Jason Attard of Bioware said that he had put a lot of time into both Starflights and Star Control 2.
But perhaps in the oddest twist of fate, Mass Effect is now owned by EA. If that means the return of the Elowan, Mechan 9, or Veloxi in a new game, sign me up!