Very few people, when asked the question: 'What is your favourite type of game?' would say "space simulation adventure" – and with good reason. Since the turn of the century very few top titles have been released and as a result many gamers have forgotten, or quite simply have never known, the pleasures these games can afford.
Sure there have been a few games, like Freelancer and the X-series that have tried to breathe life into the vacuumous gaming caverns of space, but these games were quickly shunted down to bargain basement level. Nothing in recent times has ever come close to the glory days: the Star Wars X-Wing series, Privateer and, of course, Elite. Space simulation games have been teetering on the brink of death for a while now - overly complicated, tedious gameplay and tired story telling.
– famous for RPG Sacred
, has popped up with a new space shooter called Darkstar One
. The game runs on their own, rather swanky looking engine and arrives with the intention of revitalising the 'Elite' styled games. I jumped into the cockpit to find out whether this game could be justifiably uttered in the same breath as the legendary 'Elite'.
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What's the story?
The biggest problem with this genre, in recent times, has been the lack of engagement you often feel with the universe you inevitably have to save. Other games, like the X series, have used the tactic of overcomplicating everything, blitzing your eyes with data to make everything seem more alive. Others, like Freelancer, have tried to pack in as many missions as possible, ending up with reptitive and bland gameplay. Fortunately, Darkstar One has set off in a rather different direction.
Every element of this game is aimed at being as simple as possible, from the storyline, upgrading your ship, fighting the bad guys and navigating the universe. Gone is the boring back story so common in the genre, explaining political events of the galaxy for the past five thousand years, and in comes much welcomed simplicity. Instead of explaining why the aliens are fighting over some complicated nonsense it's just laid out that there is conflict. If you want to find out more you can read all the various bits of news, the instruction manual and so on - but it's not integral to enjoying the gamning experience - which I like.
You play a young, generic all action hero, who's father has just died leaving behind an almighty alien space ship, with lots of cool features. You are, of course, the best pilot in the academy and, upon hearing that your father's death may not have been as accidental as it first seemed, set out on a mission to avenge him. One of your Dad's old mates helps you along, providing guidance to get things moving. No obscure ill-fitting training system here, a couple of basic missions lets you get comfortable with the controls and you're off.
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It's very basic, yet within this story-telling formula I spy a winning ingredient. If you ignore the fact that the voice acting is absolutely rubbish (where do they get game actors, anyway?), you actually have a story that you can get into. It's very Hollywood admittedly, but at least it's easily accessible. With adequate background info dotted here and there when landing on the various trade stations where you take on missions, there is enough here to avoid the criticism of feeling too empty.
Lasers at Dawn
The beauty of Darkstar One lies in the combat system. For many the game will be judged on how exciting the dog fights are, and it doesn't disappoint. Fights look and sound brilliant, with laser flashes and missiles going off everywhere, and anguished screams as you hunt down bad guys. It's lots of fun, with my only criticism being that sometimes there is little going on in the background - it would be better if there were more civilian ships buzzing around, making things seem a little more hectic every now and again.
The looks and the sounds aren't the best aspects though, not by a long way. The control system is second to none, with it feeling almost like an FPS with the keyboard controls. You have liberal amounts of afterburner fuel that means you have a high range of movement. This is combined with a highly responsive feel; when I press reverse thrusters I get an instant reverse motion, which makes it far more exciting if a little less realistic.
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The resulting space battles that occur end up with you trying to keep your craft positioned in the blind spot of the enemy. It becomes a constant game of cat and mouse, just as any good dog fight should be (cat + mouse = dog apparently). However, the computer AI, especially in a one on one situation, is pretty much spot on. They will attempt Top Gun like manouevres slamming the brakes on so you fly over the top and all other manner of in flight tricks. I found, however, that the computer was quite limited in its abilities to co-ordinate group attacks. On most occasions I was able to simply target one of the enemy group, hunt him down and target the next one. Very rarely did I ever feel really outnumbered, even though you do come up against sizable groups of enemies.
If you're more inclined to pacifist space pursuits then I'd steer clear of this game. Trade works within the game, but like everything else it is simple. Planets vary in what they stock and the prices of goods on them reflect that. The prices don't change and as such if you buy from a place with a surplus, and sell too a place with a need then you can make some money. The trade side of the game feels a bit lacking, it certainly isn't a reason to play the game, but it does add a little bit extra when you get bored of blowing things up.
One area that is interesting, and certainly a break from the norm, is the fact that you only ever have one ship: Darkstar One. However, in a style not dissimilar to an RPG, the ship is customisable as you progress through the game. You search for artifacts, which when found allow you to upgrade. How you upgrade is up to you allowing for the ship to become personalised to your preference: you can concentrate on making your ship fast and nippy, or focus on turning it into a slow moving indestructible death machine. Your ship's upgrades can then reflect the missions you choose - if you've got a fast ship, then why not take a stealth mission? Got a big ship? Then why not become an escort? The game really allows for a personal touch.
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The main story will take roughly 15-20 hours to complete, however in the latest patch, which Ascaron let us have a sneak preview at, they have added a modding option. As with all modern games a thriving online modding community can increase a game's lifespan indefinitely, and Ascaron seems committed to promoting that.
If you're a fan of the space genre then this game is certainly worth a look - though it may not be well received to those accustomed to the standard traditions. Although this game may have its faults, my hope is that its innate simplicity will increase the popularity for the type of game amongst consumers. Despite being far from perfect, I feel it can provide a gateway for many gamers into a world of space-shooting-simulation that has been neglected for far too long.