June 3, 2010 – Back in 2006, a space combat/trading sim hit the PC and won an extensive cult following. Fast-forward nearly four years and Xbox 360 owners are about to get that same rich experience. Kalypso Media was nice enough to share preview code with us, and we came away from our time with the game pleasantly surprised by what was on offer. This is a title full of interesting gameplay layers and nuances that are bound to satisfy gamers looking for more depth than what’s usually offered in the majority of space shooters for home consoles.
DarkStar One: Broken Alliance tasks players with navigating the universe, hopping from one star system to the next, on a quest to discover your father’s murderer. Along the way, you’ll take on missions that will net you credits and renown, allowing you to upgrade your space craft, obtain experience, and form crucial alliances in the face of looming threats such as space pirate gangs and the evil Thul. The story in DarkStar One: Broken Alliance is certainly conventional, but it seems to facilely support the layered gameplay.
Your ship, the DarkStar One, created and left to you by your late father, is the most innovative small craft in the universe. Rather than just putting together a bucket of bolts, your father was able to fabricate a semi-organic vessel that can be upgraded both traditionally through the incorporation of new mechanical and electrical systems as well as grow biologically through experience and the assimilation of ancient artifacts strewn about the universe. The ability to upgrade your ship so thoroughly will undoubtedly appeal to RPG enthusiasts; it definitely gives players something to strive for, making even side missions seem like important endeavors.
The mission structure in DarkStar One seems to be quite compelling. Not only are these quests fun, but they are quite varied and almost always optional. As such, players can choose how they want to go about beating the game and solving the mystery. This is the kind of freedom contemporary gamers crave and it should promote replayability, even if the main story-arc won’t change upon successive play-throughs.
Amassing wealth and reputation can be done in any number ways. DarkStar One lets you play the game as a revered merchant trader, combing the galaxies for rare items, buying low and then selling high. Or, you can augment your earnings with more nefarious dealings such as the smuggling of illicit goods and even through piracy. It is this trading side of the game where the PC roots come through, adding a level of economic depth typically left aside in most console games. That being said, don’t expect such extreme complexity that you’ll need to track markets and pricing with pen and paper; it seems like a good balance of depth and playability was struck such that console gamers won’t have to worry about a learning curve.
If you’re more action-oriented, however, you can always just stick to the escort missions, become a bounty hunter, or come to the aid of troubled allies. You can just as easily make your fortune as an action hero as you can a mogul of trade. That’s right; in addition to the more cerebral aspects of the game, a robust space shooter side is also present. There are many different weapons and benefit-bequething items you’ll purchase and be awarded, all of which will be put to good use in the umpteen dogfights the game boasts. Collecting, trading, and outfitting your ship with these items is not only rewarding, it also has a real impact on mission outcomes.
From what was on offer so far, the ship battles do tend to be easy (especially if you concentrate on perfecting your craft’s performance in the dockyards before venturing forth), but they’re also a lot of fun. The fast-paced, 360 degree, guns-a-blazin’ action should sit well with those that pick the game up despite the tame difficulty. After all, you’ve got the coolest ship in the universe, it’s only fitting that you should kick a little ass.
If the code we were given is a true indication of what’s coming, this is essentially an identical port of what was released on PC. However, it is also apparent that the gameplay has been nicely translated to the Xbox 360’s controller. Even though the copy we played was decidedly rough, controls already felt pretty tight. This is especially so during space battles, but we were also impressed by how easy it is to locate objectives through the Targeting List, navigate the universe through the Star Map, and stay in the loop through the Logbook. There are definitely PC holdovers that will benefit console gameplay.
DarkStar One: Broken Alliance is not going to be a triple-A title. Visuals, while often stunning, tend to feature reused elements too often. Also, the voice acting has not been given an upgrade, so you’ll be in for some B-movie-style line delivery. Consequently, we’ve got a feeling this title will probably only have niche appeal when it hits retail, but those that do take the plunge will likely be rewarded with a compelling experience at a discounted price. Come back to CheatCC for our final verdict when the retail version drops in July.