Have You Played… Star Control 2?

Have You Played? is an endless stream of game recommendations. One a day, every day of the year, perhaps for all time.

And yes, I’m calling it that, because as wonderful as the modern version is, ‘The Ur-Quan Masters’ [official site] is the worst name imaginable this side of Poopy McPoop’s Wacky Space Hijinx.

I love being given a ship and a universe of stories to explore. Star Control 2 offers one of the best. You’re a captain aboard humanity’s most powerful ship, returning to Earth to find it encased in a forcefield by a powerful alien race. This of course Will Not Stand. Luckily, you’re carrying a hold full of lost technology and there’s no shortage of potential allies, if you can persuade them to join, in a galaxy sprawling epic known for its ridiculous scope, its character, and best of all, its snark. “What shall we name our alliance?” asks your one ally at the start. “The Empire of MEEEEEEEE!” you can reply, pulling a space-wheelie around Uranus. That sound you hear is Mass Effect taking notes.

The actual game is a mix of RPG and a funky combat system that’s a bit like the old Spacewar, only with a whole fleet of different ships. There’s a Super Melee mode where you can just go up against another player with whatever you want, and that’s awesome, but in the main game you can only fight with what you’ve managed to acquire. The Mycon Podship for instance, slow but with homing missiles. The Ur-Quan Dreadnaught, launching fighters. The Syreen Penetrator, which looks like… ahem. The Spathi Eluder, which due to being piloted by cowards, only shoots from the rear.

It’s such a pleasure to meet and deal with all these races, with that same sense of turning the tables on an unstoppable enemy as the likes of XCOM. It’s also pretty free-form, albeit with some mandatory elements, giving a real feeling of fighting a guerilla war and stocking up with everything you need to survive. It was a classic at the time, and its modern version is still great.

Just… ah… don’t ask about Star Control 3. It never happened. Never. Happened.


  1. BobbyDylan says:




    So glad Stardock are (planning on?) making another one.

    • LintMan says:

      Yep SC2 is one of my favorite games of all time. The memorable races, the deep backstory, epic scope, humor, and music were all fantastic.

      I’d love to see a modern reboot, but I’m not confident at all that Stardock has the writing/humor skills to really do it justice.

    • Grey_Ghost says:

      Agreed, BEST GAME EVER!

  2. BobbyDylan says:

    Oh, and BY the way, if the Graffix are too much for you, there’s a HD version lovingly created of the game, but an amazing fan.

    link to urquanmastershd.com

    • disorder says:

      From playing the original back when pixellation was invented, I find HD too smooth and shiny. It’s no criticism, I just get that ‘looks different’ dissonance and it’s great it exists (and that I don’t have to make that choice).

      What really breaks my space world though is the 3do voice package.

  3. Shazbut says:

    Definitely one of the best games ever made.

    About 1000x better than Skyrim

    • DelrueOfDetroit says:

      Is this the new rating system?

      • damnsalvation says:

        Yes. And he’s rating SC2 at 1 KiloSkyrim (kSk).
        Naturally, standard SI prefixes apply.

        Sadly, SC3 rates only a nanoSkyrim.

  4. WHS says:

    I love Star Control but I will say I find it EXTREMELY stressful at times. Some of that is because the galaxy is vast and certain things are time-sensitive in a way that modern games aren’t. Some of that is because it’s very easy to put yourself in a truly untenable situation. Some of that is because you’re never truly safe — one bad string of encounters can wipe out your whole fleet. And some of that is because there are just so many stars to visit, and taking an insufficiently organized approach is a path to defeat.

    With that said — one of the all-time greats.

    • animal says:

      Agreed, but that’s also what gave you that sense of satisfaction. I abandoned my first game so I could get to the grey Ariloo dudes asap in my second. After that it was a rush when you manage to complete sections for the different races.

      Nevermind the comedy, which was also brilliant.

  5. Great Cthulhu says:

    Oh, that is totes awesome! Will have to give that a shot after TW3.

    Also (in reply to the article), “The Ur-Quan Masters” is a fine name, and SC3 was totally enjoyable! Nyah! (Seriously though, I did enjoy SC3, even if it wasn’t as good as SC2. The aliens were puppets for goodness sake!)

    • Great Cthulhu says:

      Argh. That should have been a reply to BobbyDylan’s second post. The comment system is really not a good as it used to be. :-(

    • Joshua Northey says:

      Yeah I found SC3 a let down, but ok. It was not the unplayable debacle that say MOO3 was.

      SC1 was one of the first games I really played a lot, and it is still a pretty fun two player game today.

  6. fishlore says:

    Definitely an all-time favorite. If anyone goes back, there’s a neat little bug, if you sell your only lander you get an infinite number of them which you can sell for cash and do a quick start.

    Check out Embers of Humanity. It’s the same style, but multiplayer only, however there’s pretty much no community so bring a friend. Early beta, no signup to play, totally free.


  7. Maxheadroom says:

    Star Control 1 was a fantastic post-pub game to play with mates back in my youth, but despite SC2 being better in every way I just couldn’t get into it.

    Really do hope Stardock have a spiritual successor in the works (as someone mentioned above), would definitely give some sort of remastering another look

  8. Infinitron says:

    Mass Effect does seem to have taken notes from the nonexistent Star Control 3 as well, though.

  9. Babymech says:

    What a *spicy* article, asking us if we have played a *game*. *Spicy* *games* are always *fun*. Are you *happy campers*? If there are not *happy campers* there is *juice squeezing* and then we are not so *frumple*! Soon we will be *here* and *play* *games* with you.

    • damnsalvation says:

      Do not be *jumping in front*. It is *frumple*. *Happy campers* should *play* *games* instead. Orz have the *Go Go* to *play* many *games*.

    • damnsalvation says:

      I have “fond” memories of desperately lying to the Pkunk about bad omens to delay their advance towards Yehat space until I could rescue the (supposedly) last Shofixti so those glorious birds could be safely reunited.
      Also, so I could keep building Pkunk ships. I loved calling opposing ships nerds and losers. As devastating as the Yehat could be, they never insulted anyone.
      And I almost forgot the Umgah and their brilliant jokes! Their ships weren’t that great, but oh the hillarity!

      Such a brilliantly conceived universe. The Ur-Quan turned out to be such tragic figures… “Hold! What you are doing to us is wrong! Why do you do this thing?”… still breaks my heart to think of their torment when forced to slaughter the only race they ever liked.

      • animal says:

        I agree on the races. Almost all of them had awesome storylines for you to get stuck into.

  10. Skabooga says:

    Tell ’em about frungy!

    At least eight of my favorite fictional alien races come from Star Control 2.

  11. disorder says:

    I remember making maps, and notes of this by hand as I played SC2; leads – where people may live, resources, sites of interest (many kinds) – such that it feels self-directed when you’re desperately exploring a corner of the galaxy within a mythology that, as the story expands begins to feel both vast and steeped in a long history, one that it feels well and truly set within.

    And as it opens up, as you’re beginning to meet races and finding few to be truly motivated in a simple way (the shivans from freespace consider, are never explained as more than a terrifying enigma) leads to events that feel like they occur because you’re not the center of the universe (yet), and therefore feel rewarding when you can manipulate them, or – even – are convincing people that are your friends that they *need* to help you.

    Do you have to ‘understand’ your enemy in SC2? maybe not exactly, but in the process of playing the game, you’re taught about its characters as a byproduct of the brilliantly foreshadowed story, and it felt like discovery. It had an alignment of suspense, weight, humour, excitement, sorrow and dread. Just brilliant.

  12. Sin Vega says:

    Fwiffo is the best. But SC/Ur-Quan Crapname also has some of the best villains in a game ever. The big evil alien baddies are ostensibly evil bastards, but if you uncover their full history, and you read between the lines of a few subplots, you’ll realise what the real threat is, and suddenly see that they kind of have a point.

  13. Retrofrank says:

    It´s by Paul Reiche, who the older among us might remember as the maker of the 8-Bit fighting-fantasy-chess-game “Archon”.
    Star Controll 2 itself might have taken some ideas from the two older “Starflight”-games.

    • Erithtotl says:

      Thanks for mentioning Starflight. It’s the game that made me a gamer.

    • LintMan says:

      Ahh, Archon, one of my favoritest games back on my Commodore 64.

      Paul Reiche and some of the other Star Control 2 creators are now at Toys For Bob. For years they used to have a FAQ on their site saying they’d love to do another Star Control game if their owners at Activision would greenlight it. Bit then they created Skylanders and are bound to that franchise by a chain of pure money.

  14. geldonyetich says:

    Star Control 2 is one of those gaming experiences that turned out to be truly magical.

    Its parts don’t look all that great, a top-down wrap-around arcade combat engine, a menu driven dialogue system, some upgrades. But what they did with those parts was pretty awesome, the ships were a fascinating match of primary and secondary attack and unique maneuverability, the alien races were rich with characterization (at times rather endearing), and the soundtrack (largely community outsourced) was highly memorable.

    If Deus Ex is the best PC game of all time, Star Control 2 belongs somewhere around second place in my book. About the only bad thing about Star Control 2 is Star Control 3 took forever to follow it and stumbled in its feature creep.

  15. GuybrushTh says:

    Cool. I loved Starflight and Star Control II and as nobody seems to make something like it, I decided to found a company and do such a game with some fresh ingredients:

    link to daedalicwest.tumblr.com

  16. Risingson says:

    What everyone said. It’s funny how many similar games existed back then (starflight 1 and 2, Millennia:Altered Destinies, NOMAD, Protostar, LONG etcetera) where you just need to explore, explore, explore, mine, mine and meanwhile find out what are you supposed to do.

    SC2 is arguably the best of them all, though it is timed and unfair for modern players. But it strikes me as weird how many space opera games we had in the 90s and how few we have now, that when Mass Effect was released it covered a thematic area that was empty for ages.

  17. rodan32 says:

    One of the best. Huge galaxy, great mix of mini games (lander resources) and fighting. HATE the freaking Slylandro probes. Also, I do not want to *play games* with the Orz. They scare me. I also do not *spread the wax* with anyone outside my species. I know, narrow-minded, but that’s me.

  18. Holderist says:

    This game is probably my favourite of all time. There’re just too many fond memories of playing HyperMelee against my friend, or us both comparing notes on what we’d found in which system.

    Does anyone else remember the star map drm? You got a copy of the in game star map with the box, full colour, complete with the spheres of influence of the different races. When you loaded up the game it asked you what system was at x y coordinates.

  19. Darth Gangrel says:

    ““The Empire of MEEEEEEEE!” you can reply, pulling a space-wheelie around Uranus. That sound you hear is Mass Effect taking notes.” But since the acronym for Mass Effect is ME, that would be: “The Empire of Mass EEEEEEEEffect!”

  20. syllopsium says:

    UQM is fantastic – and it’s better not to play the HD remake, because the music in non HD is so much better.

    A game where it’s necessary to keep notes, and maps! Saving is absolutely necessary.

    The Slylandro probes are fine after a bit – following some ship upgrades they’re not difficult to handle and then you find a much easier way of dealing with them after discovering just why they’re shooting at you.

    Must get on and finish the game..

  21. totem42 says:

    In my mad, drug-induced fantasy world in which Stardock pulls off their remake a la the recent X-com, I may never have to play another game again. Just the best.

    Damn you skylanders and all of your money.

    • CdrJameson says:

      Bob is certainly not short of toys these days.
      I’m going to give it another go. My main problem in the past was not being able to do the combat.
      At all.


      Surprise and Terror!

      • LintMan says:

        All the assorted ships have different strengths and weaknesses, and some matchups can be very difficult to win, while others can be quite easy. Learning about the matchups and which ships suit your playing style is part of the challenge of the game.

        The hypermelee side game is a great way to get better at the combat and learn all that. One thing I would do sometimes is pick 10 or more of the same ship that I wanted to practice for my team, and then pick one or two of every bad guy ship for the other team and try to defeat them all before running out of ships.
        Of the ships you can build in the campaign, the ones I find easiest to use:
        Chmmr Avatar – suck enemy in with tractor beam and then hit em with your big laser. Great all-around ship.
        Spathi Eluder – Let enemy ship chase you while you pepper them with rear missiles.
        Thraddash Torch – Use afterburner to stay ahead of enemy, while leaving deadly smoke trail for them to run into.
        Orz Nemesis – Aim turret to rear and use spathi tactic.
        Pkunk Fury – fly near enemy ship, spin while firing, and then run away to recharge.

  22. Spinkick says:

    Honestly, the best game ever. Soundtrack was on point, the story was awesome, it didnt hold your hand too much. I remember taking copious notes. I wish that the orz and androsynth plotline was more fleshed out, i wanna know what happened. That, and the arilou story.

    • disorder says:

      I think it’s the stories that look like they have gone down their own rabbit hole (so to say) without you that are an intrinsic part of the game, that make it feel more complex, posessing depth and interesting for just being there than it technically actually is.

      It’s not then therefore, /obvious/ that something that is going on or someone is talking about strictly matters to the goal of simply fast travelling to the end in fewest smashed crates possible. It’s an adventure. Everything might be beneficial (except when putting your nosey nose somewhere might really, really not be), and so then think about it. And what range of things get alluded to. That there are many of interest, and that you might care about them is just really, really good narrative.

  23. Bfox says:

    Just tried it; WHOA what a rip off of Mass Effect
    How did they expect to get away with it??

  24. Rymdkejsaren says:

    This is truly one of the lost masterpieces of gaming.

  25. Andy_Panthro says:

    Wanted to love the game, but I was (and still am) so terrible at the combat that I could never enjoy it.

    • animal says:

      The combat started really slow, your mothership was especially useless at the start without upgrades. But then you got a lot of nifty ships as you went along and by the end the mothership was a real behemoth.

  26. animal says:

    I still regret selling those 1000 humans! We needed the parts, ok?!

  27. Timbrelaine says:

    Ah, Star Control 2. The first time I played I didn’t realize the Ur-Quan civil war would end, only discovering my mistake when their territory on the map suddenly expanded, as the victorious faction began exterminating other alien races. They destroyed any means I had to stop them, and I was forced to watch as they made their way to Earth. Oops.

  28. Titler says:

    I played it. You should not play it. Juffo Whup is not meant for you. You are non Juffo Whup.

  29. Rutulian says:

    I am Jack’s delighted bemusement. Of the few games important to me that RPS hasn’t mentioned, just when I get my act together you cross off Albion and SC2 in the space of a fortnight!

    Anybody else remember ?