Side-By-Side Comparison: Star Raiders II Vs. The Last Starfighter

by Pierre-André

Star Raiders Pic 1
Star Raiders (original)
While The Last Starfighter is more of an arcade-style contest, Star Raiders II is an action game with some elements of simulation (but still strays far away from its predecessor, Doug Neubauer's 1979 creation.)

For instance, in The Last Starfighter, when your energy is very low and you need to refuel, you'll only have to go to any sun because there are no space stations in the game. In Star Raiders II, you can still drop by the sun (if you don't melt) to refuel in a very fast way or, more safely, go to a space station to refuel (very slowly) and repair. The strategy here is to first go to the sun to recharge very rapidly then go to a space station to repair, the gameplay is already a bit deeper. Note that in The Last Starfighter, if you go to the sun, you will recharge but very slowly like when you're refueling in a space station from Star Raiders II.

The Last Starfighter Pic 1
The Last Starfighter
The Last Starfighter uses only three commands from the Keyboard: (ESC) to pause, the (SPACEBAR) to see the map of the solar system in which you are currently and finally the function buttons (START/SELECT/OPTION) to switch between the pulse laser cannons (bracketed/laser/air to air) and the surface star bursts (crosshair sights on planet only/SSB's or bombs/air to ground). When you fight against a Xurian ship, the computer switches automatically to the ion cannon (crosshair sights in space or planet orbit/air to air). I am sorry to say to the fans of the movie that the Death Blossom ("The ultimate weapon") is not present in the game, it would have made some parts of the game too easy but don't forget that the program uses only 16K.

In Star Raiders II, you have at your disposal much more functions. Where have they found the memory you will ask me, they simply have dropped The Last Starfighter's spectacular presentation. But it was also necessary to erase the strongest ressemblance between the movie and the game.

The weapons stay the same and see their names unchanged: Press (W) to switch between the star fire (PLC) and the ground fire (SSB's), the access to the ion cannon is still controlled automatically by the computer.

Star Raiders II Pic 1
Star Raiders II
By pressing (T), you require The tactical scanner, automatically switched on by the computer in Starfighter when you needed to bomb the Ko-Dan manufacturies, it has a much more important role in Raiders. In fact, it uses another feature that can only be found on Star Raiders II: The status of your ship and especially, its shields. The good point here is that it's not another graphic tour de force made to impress the player because this screen can really modify your strategy. Of course, it's still nice to see your shields appears dot by dot on the screen (exactly like in the movie Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan) but the influence this little window can have on the way you play the game is really one of the biggest differences between Starfighter and Raiders.

In Starfighter, there are no shields, you need to refuel and repair? Go to the sun, straight ahead! What is not working, my radio? (a graphic signal representing the sub-space radio can appear broken or interrupted meaning that the radio is dead and that your maps won't be updated) Which laser cannon is dead? or is it my SSB's? Unless you take a look at the three squares on the bottom left which would appear black, you won't know until you try each one of them. (I remind you that before Raiders II, the game had no manual...)

The Last Starfighter Pic 2
The Last Starfighter
Star Raiders II makes all these things easier, by the graphical representation of your ship, you can see what's not working, a major improvement. You can especially decide if you'll be able to continue fighting a squadron considering that your ion cannon is dead so it won't be possible to atomize the destroyers (and so you loose the command ship). Another case oftenly happens, you're bombing the zylon manufacturies but you laser is dead, knowing that you can only go forward, will you continue bombing without being able to answer the fly fighter's fire? In that possibility, you're really wasting a lot of energy (don't worry, the sun is never very far away...) Finally, if you loose your scanner (which helps you to locate the zylon manufacturies), will you continue bombing blink and loose more energy (due to your attempt to find the targets by yourself without help) or will you prefer to go back to a space station to repair knowing that you'll waste time?

The shields really adds a lot to the gameplay, for instance, if you fight the zylon fly fighters without shields, you'll loose less energy but you'll also make your ship more vulnerable to any malfunction, on the other side, if you use your shields, you'll lose more energy but it will be easier to keep your Liberty Star safe from the already mentionned malfunctions.

Star Raiders II Pic 2
Star Raiders II
Now consider that your are fighting a zylon squadron in deep space and that your energy is very low, will you finish the fight by switching off the shields and hoping that your ship will make it till the end of the action? On the other hand, full of energy but having a vessel a bit "torn apart", will you prevent your ship from having its lasers dead by keeping on the shields and seeing your energy going down so rapidly that you won't be sure to finish the squadron? Don't forget that once you leave an unfinished zylon squadron, you loose the command ship and its 5000pts! Don't you want to be a fleet admiral like your grandfather in the original Star Raiders?

In Starfighter, you must defend the frontier by destroying all the command ships which are trying to break it: Very simple, you warp to the concerned location and you fire, no need to target, it's straight ahead! In Raiders, the frontier is replaced by the space stations, you must first refuel (a bit long if your energy is low) and then after you go on your way to destroy nine zylon fly fighters, three destroyers and a command ship. So you waste much more time than 1ř) in Starfighter. 2ř) If you had attacked first the zylon squadron when it was in deep space. Don't forget that the clock is ticking and that your cities can be destroyed at any moment by a very smart squadron.

Also, one of the major differences between Starfighter and Raiders is the speed:

- In Starfighter, when your are in deep space, you can maneuver your ship in any direction to fire but you don't make any speed, a.k.a. you're not moving in space but your vessel is moving on itself. In orbit, The Gunstar deserves its rank as the best ship ever made! You can go right, left, forward, fast or slowly, you can even stop and not move but you can especially go backward, very important if you have forgotten a Ko-Dan manufactury behind you!

- In Star Raiders II, you have a constant speed in deep space but you can't control it (that's where Raiders II is really an arcade game compared to the first Raiders). Also, when you are in orbit, you'll only go forward, to the right or to the left, not backward. Here, the speed is at your discretion, a slow approach is more suited if you are fighting against a squadron, on the other side, it makes sense to use a fast approach if you want to jump by manufactury after manufactury to bomb them.

Starfighter and Raiders also share the same kind of difficulty level: In Starfighter, more your level is advanced, more your frontier will be attacked. In Raiders II, it's even more simple! Level one: Three starbases to repair. Level two: Two starbases to repair... Of course, there are only three levels of difficulty!

The Last Starfighter Pic 3
The Last Starfighter
Finally, except the colors, there is a simple way to recognize if you are playing Starfighter or Star Raiders II: Raiders can only show one targeting device at a time, Starfighter (in orbit) will always show you two (the SSB's and the pulse laser cannons or the ion cannon).

So, more than a different presentation and a different graphic bonus (the intro and the frontier in Starfighter, the starbases in Raiders II), the two games are really different by their respective gameplay, their action (fast and furious in the case of Starfighter) and their strategy (really improved in Raiders II).


I - Spaceships

Mainly, there are three types of ships: The Deckfighters which act as the easiest targets (they really are our tie fighters), The Xurian ships too rare in the movie play the destroyer role in the game and protect the final ship, the Command Ship. The names change between the two "versions" so here is a table of conversion if you wish to find the "spirit" of the movie in your game.

Ko-Dan Ships Zylon Ships
1- Deckfighters 1- Zylon Fly Fighters
2- Xurians Ships 2- Destroyers
3- Command Ship 3- Commands Ship
(only one by level, exactly like in the movie) (one by squadrun, 5000 points each)
4- "Little" Command Ships 4- No Equivalent
(those attacking the frontier) (the frontier plot is totally lacking from SR II)
Your Ship: .
- The Gunstar - The Liberty Star

II - Planets

Virtually identical, ATARI had to make a few changes due to to the names copyrighted by the original movie, The Last Starfighter.

Celos IV System .
1- Rylos 1- Teris
2- Galen 2- Imbri
3- Seridus 3- Seridus
4- Arcanum 4- Arcanum
Procyon System .
1- Ko-Dan 1- Zylon
2- Gaon 2- Gaon
3- Morkoth 3- Morkoth

Finally, to all the "raiders" who have never tried The Last Starfighter, I just would like to communicate them their order of mission if someday, they wish to become starfighters: "Greetings Starfighter..... You have been recruited by the starleague to defend the frontier against Xur and the Ko-Dan Armada." Don't forget that in bonus you'll have a 1984 fantastic intro so don't hesitate: To try it, it's to adopt it! Some will always say that Raiders II is faster but Starfighter is really "the movie in your Atari" so have a wonderful experience. Let me say it a second time: Too bad, they never released it officially!

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