Starmaster puts the player in the cockpit of a fighter in deep space. The object of the game is to warp from area to area and destroy enemy ships while avoiding being destroyed. In a stretch for the processing power of the Atari 2600, the game was played in a first-person perspective.
The player warps from sector to sector of space. Each sector contains a friendly starbase, some enemy fighters, both a starbase and fighters, or nothing. The player shoots enemy ships with their lasers and may either dodge enemy fire or absorb the shots with their shields. Shooting lasers or being hit drains the players' energy, as does warping to another sector, as well as simply flying around. If a players energy reaches zero, the player loses 1 life, out of the 4 given at the start of the game. Players can dock with starbases to recharge their energy. Should all the enemy fighters be destroyed or the player loses all 4 lives, the game ends.
In addition to having a first-person view, the game had some additional innovative features for its time. The game screen would flash a different color if the player destroyed an enemy ship, destroyed enemy fire, or took some hostile fire. On the game's console, flipping the BW/Color switch would flip the display between the map and the actual gameplay screen. Also, it was possible for enemy fire to damage specific systems of the player's ship, such as the lasers, shields, engines, or radars, crippling the player's abilities.
As a reward for player's efforts, Activision would send a patch to anyone who sent a picture of their screen displaying certain scores.
- Ensign: 3800
- Leader: 5700
- Wing Commander: 7600
- StarMaster: 9000