"At first," begins the writing on the back of the box, "you'll concentrate on flying Starfighters and leading your forces in exciting 3D battles. Then, you'll realise that the true path to success also involves diplomatic, planning and trading skills."
Almost, but not quite. In fact you'll realise that the 3D battles are terrible. You fly around in a dodgy-looking spaceship while other spaceships wheel about in the sky all around you. There are so many of them you've no idea which ones to shoot, and you'll quickly discover that your spaceship performs much better if you just leave it on autopilot. And, given that you've got the option to skip the battles completely and let the computer work out the results automatically, that's what you'll find yourself doing.
Just leave it on autopilot
Starlord is thus reduced to an interstellar strategy game, where, in a vaguely interesting retro scenario, you're a Middle Ages-style feudal leader struggling to become emperor of the galaxy. There are lots of other earls and lords and things, and to get anywhere you'll have to form alliances with them as well as fight them. Members of your own family are particularly important to your success - as long as you treat them well, you can generally rely on your offspring come to your aid should you find yourself outclassed by a superior fleet.
To become the emperor, you've got to conquer as much of the galaxy as you possibly can, gradually amassing ships, weapons and resources until you feel you can have the current emperor in a fight. There's a bit of trading involved, but you'll spend most of your time poring over star maps, studying your rivals to see who it'd be best to attack next. And this is actually pretty good fun.
There's a great sense of achievement when another planet falls under your iron rule, and it's curiously compelling watching your empire slowly expanding, wondering whether your next battle could be your last. But it's not exactly taxing - with judicious use of the save facility you should be able to secure the throne within an evening or so.
And all the time, you're fighting against the oddest control system I think I've ever seen. You use the mouse to move from one bit to the next and select things. But there's no pointer on the screen. To select something from the menu (there's only one per screen), you press the mouse button and then move the mouse up and down to highlight options in a rather haphazard manner. It works, but it seems a strange way to go about things.
The alternative is to use keyboard shortcuts, but there are so many different ones it's impossible to remember them all. And it keeps blanking out the screen and writing "Loading - Please Wait" (although it recognises external drives and is hard drive-installable).
When you consider that Starlord actually went on sale about three months ago, and it's taken us this long for us to get a review copy from Microprose, you perhaps get some idea of their confidence in the game. Really Starlord should have been sent back to the drawing board and had the tedious 3D bits torn out and thrown away and the strategy part beefed up. And this from the chap who brought us the wonderful 3-dimensional classic Midwinter. Shame on you.