I am a lover of Space based action adventure games, my love started back when Wing Commander first came out and I haven't looked back since. I don't know what it is that draw me into the games, perhaps it is the sci-fi element that I love so much anyway that does it, or maybe just the idea of playing a space pilot, who knows! One thing is for sure though, there have not been many Space Opera games released for a long time, the last one was Freelancer and there doesn't seem to be any other games on the horizon either. Admittedly we have had the regular releases of X games each year, but to me they are not the same as these action based titles, with X3: Reunion heading the way of a business simulator. Today we have an exclusive review of the full final English version of Darkstar One complete with English (well mostly British) voice-overs, not due out until August 2006.
Centuries have passed since the great galactic war. Since then, the numerous races within the universe have attempted to live peacefully next to each other. The Great Council is watching over the peace and the powers of the empires. However, recently, a small and reclusive race from the edge of the universe called "Thul" has begun to repeatedly violate the peace.
The galactic peace has been in grave danger ever-since as the races grew increasingly suspicious and began to blame each other for these attacks. The Great Council seems to be on the verge of falling apart. A new war seems inevitable.
In all this turmoil, the hero of the game - the young escort pilot Kayron Jarvis - discovers clues about a secret that his murdered father was apparently hiding. An unknown technology that is hidden within the Darkstar One appears to be the key - but then an unforeseen twist changes the course of events dramatically ...
The game itself starts out quite slowly, you begin the game as the main character called Kayron Jarvis, who has just inherited a brand new space ship from his recently dead father, the ship of course, is the Darkstar One. As the story develops you start to learn how Kayron's father died, how the Darkstar One is tied into the full story and the game starts to open out. As mentioned, the Darkstar One is the one and only ship you have during the game, but that doesn't mean you are stuck with it in the same form it is at the start of the game, you can add to it, expand it, improve weapons etc.
The story is pushed on through voice acting work both during gameplay and though some very entertaining cutscenes, some of these are pre-rendered while most of them are in-game. The game manages to give you, the player a better balance of playing through the main plot and allowing you to fly through the galaxies doing your own stuff and being your own boss than Freelancer ever did. There are cases during the game in which you have to take certain missions to move the plot along this opens up more systems for you to visit thanks to getting better space drives for your ship, but the game is full of so many little missions that it never feels like you are locked into doing specific things all the time like in Freelancer.
The controls are not as hard as I expected them to be, the game uses a system similar to that of Freelancer, you can control the game with the mouse or through Joystick/Gamepad, I went with the mouse control, so one hand on keyboard, the other on the mouse to guide the ship around. You have various speed options, afterburner drives and keyboard short cuts to use, but to navigate around menus and to click icons on the screen you need to hold down the space bar and then you get the mouse icon, this lets you click things on the screen, from maps to log books. It takes a bit of getting used to, but becomes easier over time.
Now onto the even better parts, the game has loads of ways to improve your Darkstar One ship, you can upgrade things like the generators, afterburners (vital), capacitor (improves weapon efficiency), scanners and cargo drones but lets not forget the fact that you can still get better weapons, turrets and missles along with shield boosters, hull repairers, jammers and more. But the real difference that Darkstar One has over other Space games is that it has a kind of Role Playing Game tree system called "Spell Weapon" really it is a plasma cannon style system that allows you do deactivate enemy weapons, shields and such like. All in all you won't miss wanting to go out and buy a new ship thanks to all the add-on's, the only disappointment is that your ship is one of the worst looking ones in the galaxy!
The "Spell Weapon" is one of the major story lines in the game, to keep on improving it you have to gather artifacts around the galaxy. This is really where the leveling system comes in the more artifacts you get, the more levels the ship gains and certain level increases are needed if you want to go out and install newer parts for you ship. At first when I saw I needed to find artifacts I was slightly put off think this meant I would be doing a load of aimless searching around if I wanted to level up, but thankfully you get notified when you enter a system if an artifact is around. The first one you find is based deep inside an asteroid, this means you have to navigate though it to pick it up, difficult at first just like docking, but once you have done it a few times it becomes second nature.
Missions themselves have a lot of variety, which is a major plus point for Darkstar One right off the bat, they range from Cargo recovery, assignations, spying, patrols, pirate hunting, sabotage and the usually reconnaissance missions. To gain the most money from these missions you do have to take part in a lot of space battles, but you don't have to fight to earn money. Another good part of the game that I have mentioned in some forums is that while playing various missions, they can suddenly change objectives , I don't want to go into too much detail here are there are a lot of surprises. The game also has a trading system, you can trade items around the galaxy by buying items and carrying them in cargo holds, be warned though, carrying cargo slows you ship down immensely, so you may well be in for a long ride. One thing I did like here is that if pirates come along, you can quickly drop your cargo, fight the pirates then come back and pick up the cargo quickly again and be on your way.
As I have just mention, the system is full of pirates, killing them will get you money, but the most you kill them the more they will come to hate you can attack you wherever you are trying to get to. The combat system is good, with many different weapons and missiles to use, the controls themselves are very similar to freelancer and attacking enemies is the same in terms of firing into the hit box on the screen as the enemy flies around. you get the chance to drop in some sarcastic remarks to your enemy by pressing the K communications key if you want to as well!
When you have completed your mission or just want to head in for a rest, you can dock at various trading stations, you find one on your navigation menu, fly to it and then open up comms to get them to get at the docking bay ready for you, once they allow you to enter, you just fly into the waypoint dock. Once inside this is where you find missions, read up on news around the systems, trade and generally look around. You can even ask pilots who are outside if they need any help docking or fighting to gain some extra cash.
Graphics & Sound
I have had a hard time trying to rate Darkstar One on the graphics side, while the game looks pretty good, it won't run in my native widescreen resolution of 1680x1050, yet it will run in even higher and lower widescreen resolutions, come on Ascaron, add more resolutions please! Overall though the ship designs are very good and have a lot of detail on them, the space systems themselves are full of colour and there is always a lot going on in the background with other ships flying about and asteroids spinning around. If there is one downside it is that the game suffers from a lot of stuttering during flight, not sure if this is a graphic problem or just a general problem in the game itself as we're running this in 1280x720 resolution on an ATI x1900 XTX graphics card on a AMD Athlon 64 X2 5000+ processor, so it can't be the system specs.
Sound and music are generally good but the English voice over work is not perfect, but the mainly British set of actors do a decent job with most of the content although the main characters are the ones that let the package down.
I am very pleased to say that if you like Space-based action adventure titles like Freelancer and Wing Commander then Darkstar One will be right up your street. It has just the right amount of varied side-missions along with a very good story based main set of missions for you to play though. There are some performance problems in the game right now, but I'm told that this will be fixed in the DVD-Rom version that ships in August.
Feel free to comment on the review here.