Not as bad as everyone pretends it is.
All right, it's not a classic like Star Control 2, but it deserves more credit than some people give it. First of all, some back up info. Unlike Star Control and Star Control 2, Star Control 3 was not made by Toys for Bob - namely, Fred Ford and Paul Reiche III - but instead by Legend for Accolade. All (well, most) of the characters and races and designs are brought back for a third time, and Legend does a pretty good job at keeping them faithful. The writing and comedy is back, too. It may not be by the original authors, but the story is definitely entertaining. Toys for Bob, though saying they would have written things a little differently, have still admitted to being intrigued by the plots and resolutions that Legend followed. Hyper Melee, one of the cooler parts of Star Control 2 is brought back and revamped. Where before you could only aim your ship in 12 or so directions, now you've got a full 360 of options. This and the plot are the reasons that the game is worth it.
Now, the bad points. I'll start this off at the moment you pick the game off the shelf to buy it. The tagline on the box is tragic foreshadowing.
"The fate of a thousand worlds is in your hands... AGAIN!"
Hey, marketing geniuses at Accolade
, think you could have done a worse job? Guys, ouch. Also, the front features a full shot of one of the less impressive animatronic puppets, implementing one of its less impressive facial expressions. Geniuses, I'm looking at you again.
In this world of many windows (and unices), Star Control 3 is designed for DOS. Sure, it'll happily run in anything >= 95, but it's the little things like this that count. I don't want to have to open up that console window, see that same old DOS/4GW paragraph. Windows was well established before this game came out; go that extra mile. Okay, nitpicking a little.
You'll immediately notice that the fantastic MOD music from Star Control 2 is replaced with unassuming MIDI elevator tunes. Unfortunately, all of the music sucks. This is really sad, my biggest problem with the game. If the designers had just done this right, I doubt fans would complain as much as they do. Oh well, such is life.
If you've finished Star Control 2, the next thing you'll notice is that the ending has been changed. Actually, it's entirely ignored. This wasn't necessary; things were left totally open, and the writers could have worked it in to the new story no prob.
The planet-hopping micro management is either tacked on or was just left half-implemented. You'll always have way more ships than you can do anything with, and having to make new colonies for every alien race gets tedious eventually. Maybe Legend was trying to throw a little Master of Orion in there, but anyone who has played the game can say they could have done a better job.
Your new Precursor vessel is no where near as interesting as the one from Star Control 2. There was a little bit of an RPG aspect in the first one, slowly improving your main ship piece by piece until it became an invincible behemoth, slaughtering fleet after fleet of Kzer-za Dreadnoughts and Kohr-ah Marauders at the press of a button. Here, your tug is truly lame to begin with and stays exactly the same from beginning to end. It's okay for Legend to decide to make a change like this, but when you take the fun out of one part you have to put it back in somewhere else, and they forgot to do that.
Hyper Melee defaults to an unplayable isometric view. Legend, though knowing that the isometric view was useless, decided to keep it in to show us that they made the effort and really tried. Pretty, but the first thing you'll want to do when you get into battle is press F5 to cut back to the normal top-down bird's eye view. Next, unbalance. I would guess that Toys for Bob was pretty lucky that Hyper Melee was as well balanced as it was in Star Control 2. Not as much luck here. Some of the new ships are utterly useless for everything, and some are unstoppable. Oh, and man, that battle theme will eventually make you rip your hair out. I'm serious. Holy frigging cow.
Many fans dislike the new animatronic puppets, the voice acting, and just the new alien races in general. It's true that they are not as original (or well-borrowed, as Toys for Bob says) as the other races, but they're pretty good.
All in all, it's worth a shot. You may still be able to buy this somewhere, and if not there's always ebay. Get what enjoyment out of it that you can; I'm certain it will be the last game in the series.
I hope it'll be the last one, otherwise things would go the way of Highlander, and the sequels which shall not be spoken of.