Darkstar One: Broken Alliance



Title   Darkstar One: Broken Alliance
Developer  Ascaron
Publisher  Kalypso Media
Platform  Xbox 360
Genre  Space Combat Simulation
Release Date  July 20, 2010

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.

Hey, look ma... no hands!!

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).

Gwen Stefani doesn't make aliens... but if she did...

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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9 Comments

  1. The Preacher says:

    Heheh… I enjoyed reading this one Rich, because as you already know, I’m something of a fan of the PC game. I don’t honestly understand this games release though. When they added the subtitle, I assumed it was a long-waited-for sequel, and then it was a sort-of-sequel, and now finally… it’s just a straight port. Four years to port an obscure PC game to console, where it is even more obscure and niche, doesn’t make any sort of business sense to me.

    The anachronism of the game existing on the 360 at all to one side, now that it is clear it’s just a clone of the PC game, now with added flaws, there’s no need for me to get it again. Maybe if I saw a copy in a bargain bin for a fiver, just to see how they mapped the controls, and managed to improve the graphics… the PC game being four years old, and a discount title at the time, it has aged considerably which made me chuckle when you mentioned how we PC gamers usually get higher resolutions… not this time! At least, I hope not. Four year old middling graphics on a new 360 release would be too funny to be true.

    As much as I enjoyed this on my computer, Freelancer and X2 are better games, just as old and cheap and easy to run on the most rudimentary PC, and your final analysis of 3 out of 5 is pretty much bang on. It’s flawed as hell, but it’s still great fun for a while.

  2. Victor says:

    I am so out of touch, I had never even heard of this game until this review. Clearly didn’t miss much, since I only spend my money on awesome games. Like FFXIII.
    And Hannah Montana.

    I really wish that we would get some sort of Lylat Wars sequel for our Xbox. An onrails shooter with the potential to increase scores, ala Lylat Wars and as beautiful as Panzer Dragoon. Then I’d be in seventh heaven. But back to this article. Thanks for stopping me from putting it on my rental list.

  3. The Preacher says:

    The irony there being you said Hannah Montana as the joke game, but Final Fantasy XIII is even worse… Darkstar One blows both out of the water.

  4. Edward says:

    A great review, Richie! Hilarious, in depth and more entertaining than a lot of other reviews out there.
    I lost it at the bionic eyes line

  5. Lorna says:

    Hilarious review as ever, Rich :D I know it sounds like a dodgy as arse game but something in me is secretly wanting to put it on my ‘to buy if seen at a bargain’ list. I’ll regret it the second it is on my tag, but something about being able to chill out in front of the Xbox and play space trading stuff just appeals to me. True, I have a ton of PC stuff that my lazy bones haven’t bothered with, but this, naffness and all, seem to have snagged my attention.

  6. MarkuzR says:

    I can relate to the bionic eyes comment too, when i first played Oblivion it was on a Hitachi 32″ CRT and I managed to read it just about but the icons within the inventory were barely discernible and when I first ran it through the 1080p set I couldn’t believe how much detail I’d been missing.

    Game sounds as though it could be ok for those into that particular genre but it’s not for me I’m afraid, shame though as I’m looking to expand my gaming horizons… maybe I could just move the telly further away?

  7. richie says:

    thanks, Loves!

    I finally maxed it out yesterday and traded it in today for Metro 2033. Seriously, it’s like I’ve got scurvy or something!

  8. [...] See Richie’s full review at Gaming Lives. [...]

  9. Adam says:

    Clearly there’s a gap in the market to bring a Space Sim like Darkstar too the 360 (which is great for Ascalon) but you have to wonder why it couldn’t get a better push from the publisher :S

    I’ve played Darkstar on PC and it’s ok, it’s a good enough space sim but it really lacks the polish to survive in the cold, ankle deep nature of the console world.

    The sad thing is that console space shooters (used to) work. Factor 5 ran a good sequnce of Arcade space sims on the Gamecube with the Star Wars franchise and Psygnosis ran Colony Wars to critical accalaim. Admittedly, all of these were drop in, drop out mission based games but with the rise of the open world RPG, on the consoles espcially thanks to Fallout, you have to wonder why someone hasnt properly cracked this yet :/

    Funny as ever Rich :D

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