Dark Star One Review

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Publisher: CDV Software Entertainment
Developer: Ascaron Entertainment

Platform: PC
Reviewed on PC
Windows System Requirements: 1.6 GHz Processor, 512 MB RAM, 3D graphics card supporting Pixel/Vertex Shader 1.1 with 128 MB RAM, 6.5 GB HD space, Windows 2000 or more recent operating system. You'll want a flight stick, too.

While several species, including humanity, occupy this corner of the galaxy, they do not coexist peacefully. Centuries ago, a great galactic war left worlds lifeless and scattered the burned-out hulks of cruisers, creating debris fields in every sector. Now there is a Galactic Union that maintains an uneasy peace. Or, at least, it used to do so. The Thul, a technologically advanced race from the fringes of the galaxy, have begun mounting attacks with unmanned drones on research stations and stealing rare resources.

Any galaxy assailed by sinister forces needs a savior, and Kayron Jarvis is that man. Jarvis has just completed training as an escort pilot when he learns of a secret Terran project led by his father. The Dark Stars are a series of experimental fighters, incorporating ancient and mysterious alien technology, designed by Jarvis' father. Only the prototype was completed before Jarvis' father was murdered. Jarvis, still a green pilot, is given this experimental craft to seek out his father's killer, and save the galaxy in the process.

Kyle Ackerman

Dark Star One makes you feel good about dusting off your flight stick and settling in for a long session of blasting pirates, smuggling contraband and saving the universe. As a game, Dark Star One is certainly flawed, but it also provides a wonderful opportunity to revisit an underserved genre of space exploration, trade and combat. The first few hours in Dark Star One are simply a pleasure. Without patching (and sometimes even post-patching) the game suffers from occasional (but regular) reproducible crashes and less bothersome bugs. Fortunately, the game automatically saves often, so this is less of a nuisance than it would seem.

The Thrill of the Cockpit

As you hyper-jump into a new star system and come to the aid of a hunter assailed by pirates, you might throw on the afterburner to get into weapons range more quickly. Ease off the throttle as the pirates pass above your wing, then ease back into it as you emerge from a turn to rip apart the pirate's vessel with energy lances. Of course, without a flight stick, the whole dogfight is hollow – just a collection of mouse clicks.

There are several types of enemy vessels, essentially one for each of the galaxy's six races (with a few boss-like variations). They are introduced gradually, as you venture further from human space, but once you've learned to deal with each one, they pose little challenge as long as you upgrade your ship with appropriate technology as you progress through the game. Combat is an enormous part of the main storyline, so be prepared to fight constantly. And the more pirates you kill, the more likely they are to attack, however outclassed.

For the first ten or so hours, combat is a thrill. The planetary backdrops are gorgeous and the explosions are phenomenally fiery. Especially if you only play the game occasionally, an hour at a time, the thrill can last for quite a long time. Sadly, after that time, it becomes exceptionally repetitive. Whether pirates hide out near a spatial anomaly, a wrecked ship or a modified asteroid, the battle is always the same. And that hunter you saved from the pirates? That same fellow seems to get in trouble in nearly every system in the galaxy. In fact, however clever the combat-taunts your foes shout into the void might be, they get tiresome after the limited array has been repeated dozens of times.

A Merchantman Sailing the Solar Wind

Combat isn't the only thrill. Would-be interstellar merchants will find that there's more to avenging your father's death than escort missions and eliminating pirates. Players can easily make a living traveling from system to system trading in a robust and dynamic economy. If you've enjoyed classic trading games such as Taipan or the more recent Drug Wars, you'll enjoy buying low and selling high – with a little travel and the occasional pirate assault in-between.

For those merchants who enjoy operating above the law, most systems have banned certain goods, creating the opportunity for a trade in contraband. While traveling through a system, ships that pass close to a police vessel will be scanned. Those carrying contraband will be fired upon. While illegal goods are often items such as drugs, alcohol or androids, the developers included video games as a trade good so that players could enjoy messages like: "The dishonorable sellers of video games will have their right hand severed at the crime scene."

The main disincentive to smuggling is that landing on the game's many trade stations is a wearisome task that is easily automated with a generally available landing computer. If you choose to smuggle, your landing computer won't activate, and you'll be forced to dodge police ships all the way to the dock. Ships caught by the police earn a criminal rating that disappears quickly (without having to pull into a space station for a new paint job), so smuggling isn't a high-risk occupation.

The Beneficiary of Long-Dead Aliens

Dark Star One has role-playing elements, mostly arising from Jarvis' father and his engineering skills. The ship Dark Star One is built on ancient alien technology. By collecting the alien artifacts scattered around the galaxy, the ship will assimilate those artifacts, allowing Jarvis to mount the weapons and technology of any racing. Ultimately, the Dark Star One to easily outgun a capital ship or outhaul a six-hundred ton cargo vessel.

While it's not necessary to collect all 100 artifacts strewn about the game, you'll need at least two-thirds of them to face the final missions, and that means freeing a lot of systems from the oppression of pirate clans. Since the difficulty of pirate missions scales to the Dark Star One's power, if you collect every available artifact by the time Jarvis faces the major galactic threat, pirate gangs will be tougher than the planet-destroying foe.

At least, if you do collect most artifacts, near the end of the game even passers-by will recognize your power. It's always the same pair of voices but you'll hear: "Look, there! That ship is awesome!" Followed by: "I've never seen anything like it! That ship must be really expensive."

The Dangers of Ska (or Perhaps, S'kaa)

The plot itself is entertaining, but it falls victim to the overall pace of the game. Jarvis begins by trailing his father's killer and ends up saving the universe (from the threat of fast Jamaican dance music – S'kaa), doing delivery and destruction tasks for nearly everyone on the way. The primary problem is all the travel and ultimately monotonous pirate-killing that comes between plot missions. In many cases, the plot is furthered by well-rendered cut-scenes. But just as often, you have the only thing worse than taking heads – ships floating in space with voice overs.

Do enough missions and you'll get out of conventional space missions, instead flying through a canyon in a planetary atmosphere or through endless tunnels. Most of these are a pleasant change, but one mission in an underground weapons facility seemed endless, and another stationary turret mission was particularly difficult to complete.

Simply put, Dark Star One is a good game that comes very close to being a great game. Anyone who picks this title up for casual play can't fail but be impressed. Sadly, the folks who are longing to unpack their joystick and throttle system aren't likely to play this casually. Dark Star One is more than entertaining enough for even dedicated joystick junkies to finish the game, but its irritations pile up and pull you out of the fantastic, futuristic world.

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This page contains a single entry by Editor published on October 11, 2006 11:06 AM.

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