Darkstar One: Broken Alliance
Sometimes it’s hard to be an Xbox owner. Giving all your love to just two genres. Yep, FPS games and hack and slashers. It’s an epidemic frankly and whilst we’re here mashing Xs and Ys or squeezing the right trigger, the PC gamers are loving it. They’ve got everything we’ve got and also proper FPS games, with mouse control and everything, RTS games that aren’t made of actual fail, Sim City things and well basically everything. All of it a damn sight cheaper than the shit we fork out for and all running at higher resolutions.
Still there was hope for a while when Ascaron announced an Xbox 360 version of their space-trading-combat-‘em-up, Darkstar One. Along with light gun games, a decent Elite/Freelancer clone is what the 360 has been missing. Well it’s here now and the good news is that it doesn’t massively suck. The bad news is that it’s a straight port of a four-year old PC game that was never that highly regarded. Still, I detected the citrusy smell and dove in. I can never resist a lemon.
Darkstar One’s plot sees you, a recently-qualified space pilot, inheriting your dad’s ship – the titular Darkstar One – after his suspicious death. He had been working on the ship for years, galvanising it with alien technology, making it the best ship in the known universe. So after a brief tutorial mission, you are given free reign to go out there and get your Elite on. By this I mean earning space bucks for hunting down pirates, delivering cargo, escorting freighters and trading goods between planets in order to buy better weapons and equipment for the Darkstar so that you can get out there and solve the mystery of your dad’s death. So far, so not interested.
Any potential the story may have had is brutally beaten out of the game with a combination of dreadful cutscenes and some of the worst voice acting ever committed to tape. I’m not even kidding. This game makes the ‘well met, aye!’ bollocks from Two Worlds look adequate. Hearing badly written dialogue delivered by inept English voice actors is a frankly harrowing experience with the mood only being raised by 90% of the pirates in the game sounding exactly like Stewie Griffin.
To further rub salt into the wounds, any accompanying text is so small and fiddly that you wouldn’t be surprised to find out that the producer on this game was some sort of bird of prey. As a result I found myself losing interest in the plot faster than you lost interest in the Wii.
It’s not all bad though. I mean despite these failings (and I’m really only scratching the surface so far), the game is addictive and hugely relaxing. Whenever you deviate from the story to go and make fat stacks, the game steps up massively thanks to the enjoyable combat. Sure, it’s a little limited by the capabilities of the joypad (the mouse controls on Freelancer are still my favourite thing about the PC) but dogfighting with pirate scum is a surprisingly smooth experience. Targeting is made easier by showing you where to aim in relation to the movement of the bogeys and later on, when you equip some auto-aim turrets, your odds of survival increase dramatically allowing you to really tear into gangs of enemy ships.
On the ‘oh dear’ side of things, missiles are best left out of your arsenal altogether as selecting the right missile with the d-pad and launching it with the B button when your thumbs and forefingers are committed to other, more important, things is a considerable chore. Taking down some of the bigger ships without them can be tricky but the challenge is worthwhile and you do have some extra tricks up your sleeves.
As you progress, there are two types of upgrades made available to you. The main one relates to ship upgrades. These are made possible by collecting alien artifacts (which are handily marked out on your system map) and allow you to upgrade your hull, wings and engines in order to improve your defence, weapons and manoeuvrability. The other type of upgrade relates to your plasma weapon and you unlock upgrade points by wiping out pirate gangs. Plasma allows you to activate weapon and shield boosts, EMPs and timefreezing abilities – selectable with the left dpad control and usable with the Y button. These often are the difference between success and Buddy Holly and thankfully they don’t have much of a cooldown time either. The game doesn’t explain any of that particularly well, or maybe it does if you have bionic fucking eyes. I don’t know.
Trading, which again isn’t explained at all well in the game, is a simplistic affair. Items aren’t worth filthy amounts of money, so you won’t be making huge profits even if you buy cheap and sell expensive, and there’s set trade routes like you’d find in, well, better games of this type. The length of the trade route has no effect either so really it’s just a case of buy something cheap and hope it’s not cheap in your next destination. Once you’ve done this enough to max out your Trader reputation (for an achievement, natch) you’ll not bother with it again. Especially as carrying cargo slows your ship’s movement down dramatically – or at least until you upgrade your engines, which ironically you are not encouraged to do as it’ll scupper the two missable achievements in the game (for using the limited number of upgrades to max out things that aren’t your engines).
Likewise, Mercenary missions are also made equally pointless (after the requisite achievements are met) as by then you’ll have millions in moon cash which you’ll barely need to dent in order to keep the Darkstar One pimped out with the latest guns and gadgets. Also, the game has a horrible way of telling you that you’ve failed a mission for absolutely no discernible reasons. So eventually it all becomes about finishing the story, finding all the artifacts and wiping out the pirate gangs. It sounds repetitive – it is repetitive – but in this current summer drought, it’s a nice time-killing diversion until the next big game comes out.
Despite the flaws, and the fact that this has been better before, Darkstar One has kept me interested. Maybe it’s because you get that lonely man in space feeling – I have just watched Moon after all – or maybe it’s because I’m in the mood for a open-world (universe, whatever) game that doesn’t involve running around America shooting pricks, but either way I like it. You might like it too, or more likely, you’ll hate it. But with the price dropping to less than half-price within two weeks of release (thanks to the ‘couldn’t deliver a game in a reasonable length of time if the customer was in their building and everyone they loved would be executed if they failed’ retail fuck-ups Zavvi) you can’t go too far wrong. Unless you literally hate space’s guts, that is.
Ship’s computer says “three out of five”.
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