Starflight is one of those iconic games from the PC’s golden age of gaming that you just can’t forget. It came out in ’86 for MS-DOS machines and was later ported to other platforms such as the Amiga and the Commodore 64.
The premise was simple – put together a crew from a number of different alien races, load them onto a ship, and explore the known universe. You could seek out new life and resources for credits to upgrade your vessel and train your crew while attempting to solve a mystery that threatens the galaxy. But it was the whole sandbox bit of being able to fly in whatever direction you wanted (as long as you had the fuel) and land on alien worlds while encountering mysterious civilizations that got would-be explorers excited. Blow them out of the stars? Or trade insults? It was completely up to you.
The first Starflight had a manual loaded with lore on how humanity had gotten to where they were and how they built the ship that would enable them to explore the stars. Each race also had its own quirks in diplomacy and would react to how you approached them turning simple encounters into much more than potential target practice sessions. You could land on planets and explore them for ruins, resources, or even critters that you can trap and later sell for cash.
The sequel pushed things even further with more worlds, more detailed encounters, and a wholly new storyline. Both games also had plenty of humor whether it was dealing with the blob-like Spemin who were literally spineless (at least in the first game) or reading the posts at HQ between a loan shark and someone who has apparently been dodging him well into the sequel.
The first Starflight would later be ported to the Genesis in ’91, one of several PC games that would find new life on consoles, and was actually something of an improvement over the PC version thanks to the included starmap actually being accurate to what was in the game along with the improvements to the graphics themselves. This version was also my first encounter with Starflight until many years later thanks to Good Old Games and I remember spending hours jetting around the stars in search of – anything really.
This was one of those early sandbox games on the console that set my imagination on fire. I just didn’t know what to expect. It was open, it left me free to go out and explore (as long as I could manage my upgrades, fuel, and cash), and there was no telling just what might be out there. The sense of mystery it invoked on a galactic scale was just as compelling as it was in crawling through CRPGs and wondering just what was around the next corner and whether I would survive to tell the tale.
The ad below was for the Genesis version and while it didn’t tell you anything on the actual story of the game, it did try its best to get across the point of what it allowed you to experience within it. Aliens, planets, and the freedom to shoot your guns or your mouth off instead…it was all there in one cartridge. Even today, it holds up reasonably well and stands out as one of the Genesis’ more intriguing open-world titles. A true space faring classic with the unusual distinction of being slightly better on the console than on the PC.