Tuesday, March 18, 2008

DarkSide Review

DarkSide, developed and published by Pi Eye Games.
The Good: Innovative orbital combat, multiple game modes, varied game objectives, lots of action, plentiful power-ups
The Not So Good: Can get repetitive
What say you? A hectic space action game that takes an orbital approach: 6/8

Classic arcade shooters were presented in 2-D, mainly because that’s all the processors at the time could handle. Blowing up wave after wave of enemy forces has fully made the move into a three dimensional realm, though a lot of the core gameplay remains the same. Most contemporary arcade shooters still maintain simple 2-D geometry with infused 3-D graphics, not really making the jump to a full 3-D game. Certainly few games (if any) take advantage of orbital dynamics, but with games such as Super Mario Galaxy, the door is wide open to restrict the action to a spherical surface. DarkSide is one of those games, a classic shoot-things arcade title but with a twist: you are bound to the asteroid or planet each level takes place on, and so are your enemies and weapons. Will this unique take on the classic shooter game prove to be entertaining?

The graphics of DarkSide are pretty good. The asteroids you orbit are nicely textured, and the models of the various objects you protect and alien aircraft you fight are well done. The weapons effects are convincingly powerful: when tons of missiles and lasers fill the screen, the pure destruction at your disposal shines through. The setting is generally dark (that’s the whole DarkSide thing) so it can be difficult to spot certain objects, but I think this is by design. It is also tricky to determine whether objects on the horizon are power-ups or enemy ships, since they both appear to be flat when viewed from the side. Other than those small issues, however, DarkSide is a visually striking game. On the sound side of things, you are going to get appropriate effects and background music: pretty typical stuff for the genre. So overall, DarkSide does not disappoint in its presentation.

DarkSide is a classic 2-D arcade shooter, except the action takes place on a spherical surface. The game features three game modes: a campaign with 100 missions, an arcade mode with a limited number of lives, and a survival mode with infinite enemies. Although each of the missions in the game have the same general objective (shoot stuff), the specifics are different: goals include destroying asteroids, defending power stations or launch pads for a set period of time, or preventing goods from being stolen (like Defender). Controls are done through a combination of the mouse and keyboard: your ship will face towards your cursor, left-click shoots, right-click moves forward, and the WASD keys can be used for strafing. Piloting your ship is straightforward, which is good since DarkSide focuses heavily on combat.

Like any good arcade shooter, DarkSide has copious amounts of enemies to shoot at and lots of weapons to shoot at them with. Defeated enemy units will occasionally drop power-ups that will unlock more nefarious weaponry: 3-way blasters, rear blasters (make your own diarrhea joke here), smart bombs, missile launchers, and powerful lasers. You will also occasionally enjoy extra ammunition as well as shield refills. Each of the weapons has a finite amount of ammunition, so DarkSide isn’t simply holding down the fire button as you fly around: you should actually aim in order to maximize your destruction. While most of the weapons are well-balanced, the lasers are almost too powerful, disposing of enemy units in a matter of seconds (this also conserves ammunition, making lasers last a long time). The asteroids you are defending have terrain and buildings, meaning you will have to take some care piloting around each of the game’s levels as running into solid objects tends to damage your ship (who knew?). Since weapons will orbit around the planet (which is pretty cool), you can accomplish some neat shots from a distance. While DarkSide might not break any new ground in the genre, it is a fun and fast-paced action shooter that provides enough unique thrills to make it a notable title.

Is the spherical setting enough to make DarkSide stand out? Actually, yes, it is. If the game were to take place on a conventional 2-D landscape, then DarkSide would just be yet another arcade shooter. But the orbital dynamic of DarkSide makes it somewhat unique, and the varied level design (with obstacles) means games don’t get completely repetitive. Even shooting enemy units has a slice of strategy in it, as conserving ammunition will result in more kills. The controls are very straightforward, and although the mission objectives are constant, you won’t notice much as you are hurling lots of firepower at enemy ships. While DarkSide won’t convert anyone that doesn’t enjoy endless shooting, it is an enjoyable game for fans of the genre that takes advantage of its setting.