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One of the most underrated, unknown classics ever made for the PC, Star Saga: Two - The Clathran Menace is the second and unfortunately final in the short-lived Star Saga series of epic science fiction adventures. Designed by Andrew Greenberg (creator of Wizardry), Rick Dutton, Walter Freitag, and Michael Massimilla, Star Saga: Two like its predecessor is a very innovative and well-written game that combines the best aspects of a pen & paper RPG game, an outstanding plot, and Choose-Your-Own-Adventures books with the complexity of a computer RPG, resulting in an incredibly immersive gaming experience.
The story takes off where Star Saga: One left off. You still play as one of the same six explorers from the first game, only this time with different motives. The game is decidedly more challenging than Star Saga: One: in addition to the usual space exploration, interaction with aliens, trading commodities, and upgrading your ships, you will have to engage in many space battles. There's also a time limit - the game's name refers to a threat from the Clathran, a mysterious evil race that's going on an unstoppable rampage across the galaxy.
If you have no prior experience with the Star Saga games, here's a repeat of my review of Star Saga: One. The game design is original, to say the least. As well as a computer program (which acts as a "Game Master," i.e. moderator in the game), Star Saga ships with two large fold-out maps, six colored tokens the players could use to move about the map, and thirteen booklets containing 888 passages of text. At the beginning of the game, up to six players choose which character from six "pre-set" characters to play as. You can play the game solo, but it's really not as much fun as playing with other people, because each character has his or her own agenda, and will cross paths in the course of the game. When playing Star Saga, each player moves his or her token on the map, then plots these movements and actions into the Star Saga computer program. In response to the player's movement and actions, the program makes any necessary changes to the character's stats and inventory, calculates any space or personal combat, and directs the player to which text passage should now be read. Reading this passage, the player discovers the results of his or her actions, and if any new special actions are available. In this way, each player progresses through the game, noting new discoveries on the map, battle aliens, trade with other players and in-game NPCs, and watch the overarching "meta-plot" develop.
The amazingly well-written, insightful, and dramatic sci-fi plot alone makes Star Saga the best example of "Interactive Literature" I have seen, and certainly one of the best multiplayer RPG games for the computer (the system was based loosely on the "Rekon" pen & paper RPG system, I believe). The "computer game master" is also very flexible. If one player is too busy to play the game consistently, for example, you can put him or her in a "suspended animation" while the rest of you play. If your character dies (and this is not impossible although quite rare), it isn't too difficult to catch up with the rest with a new character, since you will already have a lot of notes and information you learned with the original character. Although the game is linear (essentially a necessity given the complex and involving plot), it will take you dozens of hours to reach the ending, and there are numerous optional sub-plots along the way to keep things interesting.
The Star Saga series are games that Andrew Greenberg is most proud of -- much more so than his commercially more successful Wizardry games -- and he has the reason to be proud. If you are a fan of pen & paper RPGs, or if you are a fan of space exploration games (such as Starflight) who wants a more involving plot, Star Saga: Two is simply a must-have. If you've never played a Star Saga game, I recommend you start with Star Saga: One first, because this one is considerably more difficult and less forgiving of leisurely exploration. Although Star Saga was to be released as a trilogy, Masterplay went out of business before part III was finished, so only Star Saga: One and Star Saga: Two were released.
Note: be sure to download the hefty documentation file below. In addition to all the rules, passages, and character booklets in PDF format, the file also includes a "Map Kit" program made with Game Factory that lets you move around the map, record your discoveries, and share that with friends so you no longer have to sit face-to-face with 5 other players to enjoy the experience :)
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