Game Review: DarkStar One: Broken Alliance
Genre: Action, Flight Simulation (Space Combat)
Developer: Kalypso Media
Available Platforms: Xbox 360
ESRB Rating: T (Alcohol Reference, Drug Reference, Fantasy Violence, Language, Mild Blood)
There’s a void of space combat games on consoles in general, and the 360 in particular, so DarkStar One: Broken Alliance from Kalypso Media, at first glance, appears to fill a needed space. Part space-exploration, part space-combat, you take the helm of DarkStar One, a ship your late father left you before he died under suspicious circumstances. You will take to the stars, hopping from system to system (over 300 in all) in your effort to track down your father’s killers, but the path is hardly a straight one. You will pick up companions along the way, make friends, make enemies, kill pirates, steal goods, and smuggle shipments onto space stations before your 20+ hour quest is complete. The universe is vast, but your sprawl is controlled through the power of your upgradable ship: you won’t be able to go everywhere at once, so you won’t be too overwhelmed. Customize your ship with a variety of weaponry and equipment, and be ready to take on just about anything you come across.
The gameplay is split between two major parts: space flight and space station navigation. Space station navigation is really working through a text menu to perform a variety of tasks on the stations, be it trading goods, upgrading your ship, taking on quests, or getting the latest news. The presentation is basic, but efficient; the focus of the game will be in space flight, and to drag the game down on the space stations with redundant menus or, worse, a controllable avatar would have slowed things down too much. You’re able to get what you need quickly and get back out into space, which is a good thing, because that’s where the fun is. Space flight is handled very well, with the controls being fairly intuitive, and the game being very helpful in giving you feedback and guidance on how to best fly your ship. You will be able to use your weaponry including upgradable forward mounted guns, automated turrets, missiles, and plasma weapons (that can be upgraded to a variety of effects from EMP blasts and weapon boosting to shield regeneration and overloading). You will be putting these ship abilities to use in a variety of missions, including escort, protect, reconnaissance, retrieval, smuggling, and more.
Space combat is both intuitive and challenging at times. You will be given fodder at first to hone your skills, but if you try to blast through the game with minimal upgrades, you will find that swarms of enemies will quickly turn your ship to scrap metal. It’s therefore imperative that you spend time on side missions to gather money to perform the upgrades. This lengthens the game a bit (some would say artificially, but since the game is fun, I don’t see a problem with this), and enables you to be fully ready for the later missions and their complexities. Targeting is easy to handle, and the navigation system includes an aiming assist that shows where you should be shooting to lead your shots and hit your target; very handy when you’re fighting at a distance.
There’s a lot to enjoy here, especially from a budget game. Graphics in space are great, and help give a nice sense of immensity when you’re flying about (entering into an asteroid field feels truly intimidating as you see your screen fill with hundreds of asteroids). Little perks like being able to time lapse while flying out of combat to help speed things up show that the developers truly played their game and understood that while flying in space is fun, doing so with nothing else going on is not. It helps speed things along without shrinking the universe. There’s a good sense of scale in the game too; the first time you come up on a friendly cruiser and try to fly around it, you’ll get flashbacks of the long camera sprawl from Star Wars on the Star Destroyer – it takes a while to fly past. Having prices on the sellable goods on the space station fluctuate while you’re looking at the menu gives the good impression that the area you are in is an active port – don’t delay on getting a good price on those Fuel Rods, or someone else will snag them and jump the price up. It certainly helped with immersion.
Unfortunately, the cut scenes will help yank you right back out of that immersion. If space flight looks like it belongs on the Xbox 360 (and it does), the cut scenes look like they belong on a PlayStation – they are that bad. Add to this the fact that some of the voice acting is borderline basement recording, and you almost get a B-movie campiness to it all. Personally, I just felt it pulled me out of the swing of things, and it made me more anxious to get back out into space. Captions and text in the game doesn’t match the voice and is riddled with spelling errors, and the scrolling method of showing text in the cut scenes is cool, but ultimately distracting. The mission structure may be a bit repetitive to some, as progress is artificially blocked until you purchase certain ship upgrades, but as I stated before, I didn’t mind doing the missions, even if they did tend to repeat themselves. One final gripe; you get a cool looking load screen between systems of your ship flying in hyperspace for a second or two, only to have a loading disc pop up and the animation stop — if you’re going to show that screen, why not just load the screen with some repeating animation and skip the disc, so there is no break in immersion?
vttym’s take: DarkStar One: Broken Alliance is a game that fills a hole in the current Xbox 360 gaming lineup. It is a slightly repetitive, but ultimately fun game that offers quite a bit of gameplay for a great value. Get past the forgettable story, and awful cut scenes, and you’re left with a space flight game that holds up great on its own, and offers an impressive array of ship customization to help you blast those space pirates into a new galaxy. I recommend this game to anyone, and highly recommend it to fans of the genre.