Windows - 2001
Description of Battlecruiser Millennium
There's age-old debate among science fiction readers about two different kinds of writing styles. One camp loves hard sci-fi with sprawling multi-level character development and detailed descriptions of alien spacecraft, right down to the octane rating of the engine core. Writers such as Ben Bova provide page after page of lengthy scientific explanation and intricate dialogue. Another group of readers (and writers such as Piers Anthony) love the idea of alien worlds, but keep the action moving and the dialogue much less detailed.
These same groups are also diametrically opposed when it comes to computer space simulators. One side is attracted to large-scale strategy games and the Elite-style open-ended universe titles, while the opposing side prefers graphically rich shooters, where the only real point is to fly around and shoot stuff. The explosions are much more impressive, combat gets your blood thumping, but the backstory and gameplay is about an inch thick.
The Battlecruiser series definitely falls into that first group of hard science fiction. The basic idea involves throwing every conceivable feature into the world of space combat, thus attracting fans who want a deeply formulated gameworld even if the actual experience is less than impressive. Graphics are almost an afterthought, and keeping up with the latest technology is far less important.
The first Battlecruiser was buggy and difficult to play, and changed publishers frequently. Reviews of the first product, Battlecruiser 3000AD, were merciless in describing how the game was released post haste just before Christmas when it was still in alpha testing. Lead designer Derek Smart stayed with the series (while remaining vocal on public forums, to put it mildly) and released several patches to keep it alive, culminating in what he considered to be a final product in 1998. A second release from Interplay followed soon after.
Finally chastising itself of the DOS platform and adding even more gameplay modes, Battlecruiser Millennium is another milestone in the series that will surely please those brainy sci-fi purists but seriously disappoint most of the action-shooter crowd. Strangely, the fact that BCM is so loaded with features is what makes it both appealing and frustrating. First, the frustrating.
Get ready for the patching game. Oh sure, Smart and his development crew can pull out all the excuses known to humankind in trying to explain that a rich expansive gameworld requires "tweaking." There's an opposing view that says a product should never be released until it's completely ready, no matter how many lines of code. Battlecruiser Millennium did run adequately after downloading the latest patch, a DirectX update, and the latest Nvidia video drivers - but crashed like a drunken sailor before that.
For some reason, just about every screen (and even the game interface itself) came across as unprofessional. There's an overused and highly enhanced picture of three fighters engaged in up-close combat on the start-up screen, main screen, CD, and the game box. Options for starting up a new game, the instant action modes, and configuration look amateurish and unexciting. Starting up any of these modes displays an even more archaic screen with nothing but simple lines of text. A multiplayer option is disabled, apparently because that code has not been perfected yet - a promised download will be available in a few months to add this feature.
The best way to start playing BCM is to follow an online tutorial. This is not an interactive tutorial that guides you through all the basic game options. Instead, it's just another instant action scenario - the tutorial is a web page installed with the game. It's helpful as an introduction to some of the options, but by no means helps you understand all the various commands and game modes.
BCM is very difficult to learn. Again, the developers would argue that this is due to the complexity of a detailed space simulation and all the extensive gameplay possibilities. Newbies may never learn all that complexity because the overall effect is that you are being thrust into something without enough clues to help. For example, if you decide to start in the career mode, you will first see several configuration screens. None of these include pop-up tips or a voice over with instructions on what to do. You can select a race, sex and caste but there's no pictures or descriptions to help you make the choice. In other words, the feature is that you can make a choice, not how you make the choice. The 76-page manual is filled with technical jargon and acronyms, and even simple instructions for starting engines and firing afterburners seem complex.
Once the career mode starts, you're dropped into an unknown world, commanding a ship that you can't see, using an interface that is cryptic and vague. Web sites and message boards have touted almost limitless features, including HUD controls for planet egress, requesting a tow ship, cloaking and accessing crew operations; entering a first-person mode with various weapons at your disposal; driving all-terrain vehicles; and piloting fighter ships. On paper, this seems like you get Independence War, Freespace, Battlezone, and Quake all in one package. In practice, each of the individual components, except for the battleship mode, is not quite as impressive as the games intended solely for that purpose.
For example, small ship combat lacks the excitement of Freespace 2. Granted, BCM is not an arcade game. But why even include that game mode then? Engaging enemies in closer proximity should bring with it the adrenalin rush of ship crashes, laser fire, high speed pursuit, and massive explosions. While these may seem like graphical issues, they're really not - the gameplay is designed for firing missiles at long range and using tactical, not visceral, means of destroying your enemy. It's hard to immerse yourself into this kind of combat when you rarely see your attackers.
First-person mode is a far cry from even the most rudimentary of shooters. In fact, it feels very much like Battlezone when your ship is destroyed and your only option left is to attack on foot. Weapons are interesting enough (including a well-conceived rocket launcher that tracks your missile after discharge), but using the weapons doesn't carry that high-impact crunch of most games in the genre. There are some innovations -- your character flails his arms in a realistic manner when he jumps, for instance -- but also some obvious shortcuts including restricted mouse movement and the inability of your character to look up and down. ATVs feel similar to the hovercraft from Battlezonebut move too slow and actually drive more like a grounded spacecraft than anything.
Battlecruiser engagement is spot-on perfect, however. In some ways, this is due to the fact that the game was conceived around the idea of long-range combat. The graphical engine in BCM moves slow like a battlecruiser. Access to communication, navigation, crew ops, and many other computer systems just makes more sense on a large vessel. Long-range attacks using one of several missile types are more strategic in nature. Also, the game universe is filled with planets, moons, other spacecraft and space stations all waiting for you to explore. Using the hyperdrive, you just jump over to one of 100 space regions and explore the vast expanses of space.
This is the kind of detail that hard science fiction lovers will really appreciate. It's the possibilities that make this game mode exciting. You may never use the first-person mode, and you may leave the ship-to-ship combat for your crewmembers - but at least having those modes available makes the gameworld more realistic. One small addition also helps: at any time, you can jump out of your battlecruiser and fly around in a spacesuit. This is one way to truly appreciate the size of your own craft and the space stations you can dock with.
As a commander, you can control your cargo, deploy crewmembers to the planet surface using a teleporter, repair engines and other ship systems, plot your interstellar travel, and configure your power consumption and allocations. The freedom of making your own decisions about exploration or engagement is what makes BCM so enjoyable. Feel like laying a minefield? Just jump over to an important trade route and protect your fellow citizens. Interested in transporting prisoners to a penal colony? Wait for a friendly ship to drop them off and make your transport. Many of these options require extra patience, and the freeform roaming nature lacks any distinct objectives - unless you play the advanced campaign mode, although even then the objectives are somewhat vague.
Graphics lack the creativity of most space shooters. Ships are a bit darker and less textured, and most of the structures -- especially those on the planet surface -- are unappealing. In some instant action sequences, the planets were all nearly uninhabited except for the primary objectives involved, which seems like an obvious shortcut.
Sounds are also less inventive. In FPS mode, a fizzling sound right out of a 1970s Buck Rogers episode accompanies the wimpy flare of a laser gun. What should be a massive eruption of weaponry from the battlecruisers sounds more like a popgun. The cheesy soundtrack is irritating at best, abruptly changing with the action.
In the end, Battlecruiser Millennium has the potential to be an incredible game but lacks the polish and professionalism of some other space simulators. If the graphics and sound were improved immensely, the interface and configuration screens were more interesting to look at, and the various game modes were improved to match the quality of the battlecruiser mode, the game would be much more appealing to all science fiction fans. As it is, only the diehards will appreciate the detail and complexity, while the rest of us only see the flaws.
Review By GamesDomain
Comments and reviews
Alex 2020-11-21 0 point
I found the Gold edition update patches v1.01.01 and v1.01.07 for millennium but i don't know if those will take effect in v1.09.03 standard.
old_guy_gamer 2017-03-11 0 point
I remember this game and all its potential. Would have been fun to play it for more than 10 minutes. It used to just freeze up constantly. Thinking back though, I was running it on Windows ME which I like to call Windows BSOD (Blue Screen of Death). Gonna try it once again. I have the original discs but dont feel like fishing them out.
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