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Mark Marrow
14 Jul, 2006

Darkstar One Review

PC Review | A few stars short of being number one.
Unfortunately, there hasn’t been a great deal of activity on the space fighter simulation front for several years now, and being a pretty big fan of the genre, it’s disappointing that a platform that used to be overpopulated with the genre gets one or two games devoted to it every couple of years. The days of sitting up close to your computer screen, joysticks in hand, and blowing up alien crafts have long gone and have been replaced with the more traditional keyboard and mouse set-up with you shooting at your one millionth World War soldier. Thankfully, Darkstar One comes as a long awaited change for fans. While the game isn’t perfect, it’s probably the best game of its kind for quite a few years.

Darkstar One puts gamers in the seat of a young pilot named Kayron, who is motivated to find out who’s behind the killing of his father. Due to his father’s untimely death, Kayron inherits the Darkstar One, a powerful spacecraft that possesses mysterious technology. The game begins with players traveling from one planet to the next, killing pirates and hunting down enemies for vital information, which eventually unravels into a much more complex story full of heated conflict between different races throughout the galaxy. The story is a little plain though, and not to mention it takes quite a while before it finally picks up. The characters are fairly dry, the dialogue isn’t that interesting and there aren’t too many intriguing moments where you’ll sit on the edge of your seat, ripping out your hair for more.

The game is pretty open in terms of what you can do though. Gamers can choose to go along with the main story, jumping from galaxy to galaxy to fulfill your objectives. However, each planet you travel to also has a trade centre that is home to a few additional quests. These often involve fulfilling bounties, escorting other ships to other planets or shipping supplies. Once entering certain galaxies a few side quests will also open up. Most of these usually include a bit of a story behind them, such as saving a royal figure from an assault, plus the rewards are normally a bit higher. Most of these side quests offers a bit more variety than what is at hand in the main story, but it’s disappointing that a lot of them seem very similar to one another, but with just a different coat of paint.

Phew! Phew! Laser guns.

Phew! Phew! Laser guns.
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Your spacecraft is the bread and butter of the game. The coolest thing about this ship is that it possesses the ability to absorb artefacts located throughout the game, which allows you to customise your ship. With these artefacts, you’ll be able to change the appearance of your ship, and ultimately how it performs – it’s up to you. You can invest your points in improving your ship’s speed, performance or weapon’s power. In addition, the ship comes equipped with a plasma cannon that can also be custimised. Upgrading this feature will allow you to improve your ship’s shield and weapons. As well as this, gamers can purchase new weapons and items to improve your performance. Later in the game there are items to improve your smuggling skills into new systems, repair bots and even equipment to improve your hyper drive into further systems.

Acquiring artefacts is a little bit more uninspiring though. Most of the artefacts are found in asteroids throughout the game, and the effort to get them seems a little too easy for the result they give to you and your ship. It’s disappointing that there wasn’t a bit more exploration involved in finding artefacts, but rather you find basically all of them in the same fashion as the previous. Plus the game tells you where artefacts are before you even decide to jump into hyperspace to another planet.

And that’s probably the biggest thorn in Darkstar One's back – the lack of variety and exploration. Each planet seems very similar in design, just with a different colour planet, maybe a few more hostile ships and a few differently placed asteroids. And with roughly 300 different locations to go to it does soon become a bit repetitive. There isn’t a lot of exploration either. You usually stay within a fairly small radius of each area, with enemy ships coming towards you. There are no hidden items to find, and there’s not much to do in terms of exploring new systems.

Might need a few 'rock'ets to get through that one, Kayron.

Might need a few 'rock'ets to get through that one, Kayron.
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Darkstar One features quite a few customisable features though, which does help to make the game a bit more appealing. You’ll be able to distinguish yourself depending on how you play the game and choose your missions and the people you decide to make an allegiance with. There are six different paths that include; pirate, killer, smuggler, bounty hunter, mercenary and trader. Eventually, depending on your decisions, you’ll begin to make a name for yourself in one or more of these areas. The interesting thing is that when becoming a profound bounty hunter you’ll be constantly hunted by others, or if you’re a smuggler police will check your cargo before entering trade centres. To be a smuggler though you’ll have to export goods from one system and haul them on the back of your ship to another system, which can be a timely process with little payback compared to just fulfilling a simple bounty mission. There just seems to be a few holes in this side of the game. The ideas are fantastic, but they are usually poorly executed.

Thankfully, the combat is pretty damn solid. It’s really fun to bolt into battle with several enemy ships hot-on-your-heels, dodging and weaving to get them off your tail. At the beginning of the game the opponents are fairly stupid and don’t use too many tactics to defeat you. However, once you get further in the game, the enemy gets a bit more advanced. They’ll hunt in packs, and sometimes, when an enemy is in front of you, they’ll be right again on your tail in no time. Gamers can eventually equip missiles, upgrade their laser cannons and even equip a self-shooting turret. You’ll fight against fast-flying crafts, slow moving vessels or explosive stationary objects, meaning there’s often quite a bit of variety in battles. The controls of combat seem so inviting too. If you’ve got a joystick things seem to control so much better, but that’s not too say using a keyboard and mouse is any less enjoyable. The combat is a blast, and is probably the best asset of the entire game.

Graphically, Darkstar One looks above average. There’s quite a lot of variety between the structures of spacecrafts you’ll come across and the different trade centres. However, when traveling to a new planet there doesn’t seem to be a great deal of difference between them. While all of them do look nice, most of them don’t look at all that different - not to mention that some areas seem to have problems with framerate. There’s one major issue that we found with the game graphically though. The game relies on you to travel a lot and meet new characters, and eliminate plenty more. The disappointment thing about all of this is that there’s not a great deal of difference between the NPCs. Say for instance you’ve been hired to kill an infamous bandit. Before killing him his face will appear on your system’s communication system with him spitting out some abusive line. However, a few missions later you’ll be escorting an NPC who looks exactly the same as the bandit you just killed. It’s just plain laziness, and with a game that’s trying to create the illusion of spanning across many galaxies it doesn’t help that there’s maybe ten different NPC characters altogether.

Enemy ships dead ahead.

Enemy ships dead ahead.
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There are a few bugs that we came across too. We found if we accepted one of the side quests from a trade centre, went to that planet and decided that it was too hard and tried to hyperdrive out-of-there, the whole interface would just lock-up. This didn’t happen once, it happened every single time we realised that our ship wasn’t powerful enough to complete the mission. Meaning that we would have to hope that we could successfully jump into hyperdrive, land in a system that wouldn’t have pirates, save and then relog into the game to unlock it. This is something that’ll hopefully get quickly addressed, but it’s frustrating that there are still a few bugs like this in the game.

Darkstar One suffers from some fairly ordinary voice-acting too. The English voice work is pretty cheesy, and sometimes a little too overacted - it often ruins the chance of forming any interest in any of the main characters. Sound as a whole though, seems reasonable enough and does a great job of producing a nice atmosphere.

Summing up Darkstar One in one word would be constricted. It isn’t so much that Darkstar One is a bad game, it’s just that the developers failed to optimise on good ideas - it seems as though they took the easy way out rather than expand on them. The game eventually becomes a bit repetitive, acquiring artefacts is too easy, the story is a bore and it’s a missed opportunity that there aren’t any multiplayer modes. Unfortunately, these exclusions hinder Darkstar One's success and from making it one of the best titles in the genre. In the end, it boils down to being a game that could’ve been much better if the developer spent a bit more time with it.
The Score
Fans of the genre should definitely check this game out, no questions asked. However, if you’re new to the genre then Darkstar One doesn’t quite offer enough to ensure enjoyment. 7
Looking to buy this game right now? PALGN recommends www.Play-Asia.com.

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  Pre-order or buy:
    PALGN recommends: www.Play-Asia.com

Australian Release Date:
  Out Now
European Release Date:
  Out Now
Publisher:
  CDV
Developer:
  Ascaron Entertainment

Extra:
Optional: 4-axis joystick

Minimum Specs:
Windows 2000/XP SP2
1.6 GHz
512 MB RAM
128 MB

Recommended Specs:
CPU 2.6 GHz+
256 MB RAM+

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