DarkStar One review
An unwritten rule states that every space-trading or combat game released should try to combine top-notch visuals and open-ended gameplay with a predictable plot and appalling voice-over. DarkStar One is no exception.
The game borrows heavily from the 1980s microcomputing classic Elite, which was a game with almost no plot. You started off with an old jalopy – replete with small cargo hold and the space equivalent of a peashooter – with 100 credits in your pocket and you made your fortune flying from planet to planet, indulging in piracy, bounty hunting and/or trading, while every so often defending yourself against an aggressive horde of alien invaders called the Thargoids. As you progressed, you bought bigger and better weapons and various other ship upgrades.
DarkStar One takes this same formula and follows the exploits of Kayron Jarvis, a young pilot whose father dies in a space dogfight. His bequest to his son is a rather splendid ship – DarkStar One – fashioned from alien technology and possessing the ability to evolve. So rather than having to buy a new ship every so often, you can stick with the one you’ve got, upgrading weapons, engine size or hull capacity. As the ship evolves, both its looks and flight characteristics change to reflect the new abilities.
The game follows a linear path as you pursue leads to solve the riddle of your father’s death. But on almost every system are a range of sub-missions, from hunting down a wanted criminal to “liberating” some cargo from its current owner, that will give you extra cash and change both your alignment and reputation, which, in turn, will affect how other races and systems deal with you. There are even bonus missions that will unlock some hitherto secret out-of-the-way sector, usually containing one of the alien artefacts required to upgrade your ship. However, you’re under no obligation to take on these side quests.
At its core, the game is all about combat in space and it does a good job of making battles exciting, without turning the whole thing into a flight simulator. Granted, your vessel can pull some physics-defying manoeuvres, but when you’re sitting in the cockpit with lasers streaking by as you blast at your foes you can suspend your disbelief, which is the whole point.
The control interface is designed to be simple, so almost everything is mouse driven. Moving the cursor round the screen directs the ship, while the throttle level is driven by the mouse wheel.
As far as non-linear progression is concerned, there’s nothing new. The standard routes to wealth and prosperity are available: interplanetary trading, bounty hunting, simple escort missions and, of course, you can sail close to the wind by assuming the life of a pirate.
There’s no doubt that DarkStar One is a rough diamond, but it’s shiny enough that you’ll excuse aspects such as the predictably bad in-game dialogue delivery. The game manages to strike a balance between having enough of a plot to keep you playing and being sufficiently open-ended that you don’t feel you’re being spoon-fed. But with only a limited number of environments and voice messages, the novelty wanes faster than it might do with other, more complex space operas. Conversely, with an economic model that doesn’t require an apprenticeship at the Adam Smith Institute, trading is actually fun.
DarkStar One is a worthy attempt to keep the Elite genre alive and, despite the lack of online play, it’s an addictive game that will see you flying your trusted ship across the cosmos into the wee small hours for a good while. There’s no real originality here, but that doesn’t stop it being fun. It may lack the longevity of other space-trading games, but nonetheless it looks super and should keep you entertained until winter is upon us.