Thursday, September 07, 2006

DarkStar One Review

DarkStar One, developed by Ascaron and published by CDV.
The Good: Dynamic universe, lots of fast-paced combat, numerous ways to make money, simplified economics, decent story, skipped cutscenes are summarized, trading is viable in fighter class ships
The Not So Good: Each system is essentially the same, missions and combat become repetitive after a while
What say you? A combat-heavy space adventure: 6/8

Space adventures are probably the most popular type of career adventure game. From Freelancer to my personal favorite Independence War II, people seem to like exploring, fighting, and trading in space more than any other setting (more than, say, Delaware). The genre has quieted down recently (as with most flight simulations), but a renewed emergence has been experienced recently, and the next entry on the list is DarkStar One. You, as badass-for-hire and all-around beefcake Kayron Jarvis (Kayron?!?), pilot your father’s ship around the galaxy, hunting for answers to his untimely death and blowing stuff up in the process.

DarkStar One features some top-notch graphics and sound, assuming you have the system to run them to their fullest extent. The ship models look superb and show a distinct engineering style, and space environments are very detailed (including a copious amount of asteroids). Running the graphics at the highest setting requires quite a meaty computer, but the game still looks good even at medium settings, and things don’t get real choppy unless you’re entering a space station. Explosions are well done and aren’t too over the top. The user interface is comprehensive without being overly confusing, making the game easy to navigate but not cluttered. Essentially every piece of text is voiced in the game, even seemingly minor side missions, and that’s a welcome feature that makes you feel more immersed in the universe. The voice acting is decent enough, but not on the same level as games such as Prey. The background music fits the game, and the airport-style intercom pages while in a space station are a nice touch. I doubt many people will be disappointed with the graphics or the sound in DarkStar One.

DarkStar One is a single player only affair where you start with a basic ship and go out into the universe. Like Oblivion, the game allows you to follow the main storyline (which is well written despite being drawn out) or do some side missions in order to make fat stacks of cash. If you don’t like watching the cutscenes (like me), you can skip them and still read the important information afterwards. Your base is the space stations that are present in each of the game’s 300 or so solar systems. You can buy new equipment, do some trading, or get missions in the stations. The game does a good job organizing and explaining the different upgrades available to you, instead of just putting them all in a list and having you sort through them. You’ll also be able to find alien artifacts that can be used to upgrade your ship, improving speed or increasing weapon mounts. Trading is a very straightforward operation, as the trading menu clearly displays the supply of each product so there’s no need to scribble down prices of each of the game’s commodities: just buy the stuff in surplus and sell it at stations that need it. The surplus goods are determined by the type of planet the station is near (like an agricultural world). There are a good number of mission types in the game when you venture away from the main campaign. There is the usual selection of escort, deliver, and kill missions, but there is some variety present, such as the picture taking missions. DarkStar One makes earning money very easy and the game seems to display reasonable missions for your current skill level. Mission can change while you’re doing them, usually resulting in somebody getting mad at you for spying on them and then shooting you. This can get kind of annoying and predictable after a while, but the player is given some choice in what to do next in some missions, although the more reasonable selection is usually pretty apparent. The game also provides clear direction on what to do, and lists all of the objective locations and important objects on the screen.

Because the DarkStar One (that’s your ship) is primarily a fighting ship, there isn’t much room for cargo. The game allows you to tow (through the use of cargo drones) good behind the ship like a tractor-trailer, albeit at a slower speed. This makes so much sense and I don’t know why nobody else has done it already. Why should a game restrict you to using merchant vessels if you want to trade? DarkStar One has the flexibility to change your career choice without having to buy different ships. Thank you DarkStar One! The game also allows you to use time acceleration to traverse the semi-large distances in some of the systems, and hyper hump a certain radius to distant systems (as long as you’re not being pursued by an enemy). As I mentioned earlier, DarkStar One includes well over 300 systems with dynamic economies and goings-on. There is a war going on while you’re playing the game (which you may eventually become involved in, wink, wink), and the AI pilots go about their daily business. It’s nice to have a dynamic universe to explore where it seems more like a living, breathing world instead of a scripted video game. Although there are a large number of systems, each of them is basically the same and not very unique: planet, trade station, and asteroids are in pretty much every system placed in almost the same locations. This cookie-cutter universe detracts from the realism the other parts of the game strive for.

DarkStar One says it features a lot of different careers, but it really boils down to traders and fighters (I’m waiting for the research scientist position to open up), and either way you’re going to end up shooting at someone. DarkStar One removes the guesswork of shooting at a moving object from a moving object in three-dimensional space by providing an aiming reticle that leads your target. The game provides a good sound effect that accompanies a direct hit, and combat in the game is generally quick and painful. The opposing AI has wavering difficulty: some AI opponents are good and some are bad, but most of them do a adequate job of trying to avoid your fire while putting themselves in better position. It takes a little bit of skill to take them down, but it’s almost too easy to plow through the enemy fighters that don’t have vastly superior ships. The game does start to grind after a while as the enemy body count starts to pile up because of the game’s emphasis on combat.

DarkStar One is a game that will be appreciated by people who enjoy space adventures. It is a solid game, and while it doesn’t do anything too terribly novel, it plays very well and will satisfy those fans. The graphics and sound are top notch and there’s enough to do in the game to keep most people satisfied. I still like the variety of the systems in Independence War II more than the copycat systems in DarkStar One, though; this makes completing missions in different sectors seem like the same thing over and over again. Still, people who enjoy this type of game will be satisfied, but I doubt DarkStar One will attract any new converts to the space adventure genre. There are a couple of things that could have been improved in the game to make it have a wider appeal, and some will be turned off by the near constant action and eventually shallow career variety, but DarkStar One will provide at least some small amount of entertainment for almost everyone.