The complexity of Starmaster is essentially in the storyline. Stated as simply as possible, the player must attempt to prove flight skills by daring a number of missions. Each one or set of missions completed earns the player an advance in rank from the lowly Ensign to the supreme Star Master.
The screen changes from one representation of space vastness to a display of the ship's Galactic Chart, to a map of the area in space where the starbase is located. The player is responsible for using all the information as it becomes necessary, and must switch back and forth at appropriate times. Consequences of not knowing what you are doing are disastrous and make this a very short game.
Included in the tactics of the game are traveling in Warp speeds, docking with a starbase for refueling and repairs during the course of a mission, and locating and destroying enemy spacecraft. If laser cannons have been destroyed, the player is helpless to fire at either enemy aircraft or random meteors. Protective energy shields around the spacecraft can also be destroyed, leaving it open to attack from several areas. Warp engines can be damaged, increasing energy usage while decreasing speed of travel, and radar can be wiped out, leaving the player without any visual cues as to location of enemy ships. All damages are indicated by the sound of an explosion.
Everything has meaning for the person trying to attain higher rank, even the color of a particular explosion. Nothing is too far-fetched. There is much in this game to offer the video enthusiast, especially one who thrills to complete involvement in a game role. The attempt has been made to encourage player immersion in the story. the result is that such immersion is very nearly essential to any real enjoyment of game play.
Overall, my pick among Star Raiders and its clones still (and probably always will be) Star Raiders on the Atari 8-bit computers. For the VCS, however, Starmaster surpasses Atari's effort with fancier graphics and a few frills not found in VCS Star Raiders. It's not a reflex game in the slightest, but take some time to learn how to play Starmaster, because the beauty of this game is definitely more than skin deep.