Not Quite Mass Effect 2
Playing DarkStar One: Broken Alliance is like opening up a time capsule from 2003-4 planted by the PC gaming community. The space dog-fighting and adventuring genre that was so popular back then with games like Freelancer has long since died out, and its legacy forgotten by all but the most dedicated PC gamers.
Fast forward to 2010, and the Xbox 360 library contains not a single entry in this genre until DarkStar One was released. Posterity alone is a good enough reason to check out this game, which is so utterly unique in the Xbox 360 library. You’ll never find anything else like it on this system. Whether you’ll enjoy it is another matter entirely.
At its heart, DarkStar One is an adventure game in space. However, that doesn’t mean you’ll spend all of your time clicking random objects. The main gameplay is about dogfighting in space. You’ll travel from planet to planet trying to find work, trade items, follow mysteries, all the while fighting off pirates.
You’re fighting in a very special starfighter called the DarkStar One, a gift to you from your late father. This ship can be constantly upgraded to facilitate new weapons systems, armor, and all sorts of doodads and knickknacks. You do this by spending money you earn on missions and from destroying pirates. Your ship can also be morphed and upgraded by finding artifacts in nearby space.
All of this sounds good, and for the most part, it is. The major problem with DarkStar One is a problem inherent with any game that takes place primarily in space, . it’s boring. Space is almost entirely empty, with nothing to do or interact with. All you can do is fly around and shoot pirates or search for asteroids carrying artifacts in this vast expanse of nothingness.
You’re going to have to be a huge space buff in order to be immersed in the experience enough that you don’t notice how boring it all is. To the developer’s credit, though, they do a lot to keep that immersion intact. From the moment you launch, everything is similar to real life, right down to the moments you have to radio the control tower for permission to land. When it comes time to perform the landing, you actually fly into a dock in the side of the ship rather than just seeing a cutscene.
At least it never gets visually boring though, which, like gameplay, is a tough hurdle considering space is generally an incomprehensibly enormous empty blackness. Most space games, like Star Trek Online, try to beautify the landscape by injecting stellar nebulae and huge colorful clouds of gas off in the distance. But there’s a problem with that. None of those things are realistic, since those things don’t usually emit visible light. Do you see huge colorful gas clouds when you look up at night? Well, it’s most likely you wouldn’t in space either.
DarkStar One side steps this issue almost entirely. Space still looks fairly boring, but most areas exist near planets and moons. Not only is this a far more logical choice (what purpose is there for being in deep space anyway?), but it allows them to include gorgeous planetary systems in the background. Many of these are positively awe-inspiring.
Not all of the game’s graphics are so great though. The character models are clearly showing their age, and don’t even look that good considering they’re from 2006. Ships, asteroids, and planets look similarly awful once you get anywhere near them.
The controls of this game may be DarkStar One’s biggest success. Ordinarily, space flight games fall flat on their face when trying to implement full-3D movement, especially without the help of a flight stick. However, this game manages to impart this to the player well, and it’s usually a simple matter to perform the maneuvers you want.
The issue is that there’s just not a whole lot to do with these solid controls. The most effective way to fight pirates is to stay still and spin in a circle since that’s the tightest, fastest way to turn. When playing this way, not only is the game too easy, but it’s also frequently obnoxious. Whether you’re sitting still or moving, when you finally reel around to take a shot at an enemy and he flies right by you (forcing you to repeat the move), it can be frustrating, especially when that happens several times in a row.
This wouldn’t be too much of a problem if the game had a great overall goal that you were striving towards, but it doesn’t. The overarching story is not interesting, and there’s not a lot of impetus to continue grinding the same few missions over and over just to advance.
The audio for DarkStar One isn’t awful, but doesn’t do it any favors either. There isn’t that much music in the game to begin with, and the voice acting isn’t all that spectacular either. That leaves you with little more than a few laser blasts to keep your ears company on the long journey.
DarkStar One won’t be winning any awards for its gameplay, and a lot of players are going to be bored by the monotony and lack of mission variety. But on a system that is so overwhelmingly awash with ho-hum first-person shooters and uninspired racing games, this is a unique item. There’s absolutely nothing else like it on the system, and only a precious few of its genre have even been made in the last five years.
It’s a game that’s worth experiencing, if only to try out a wholly different genre from anything else available on the major systems. However, the niche it will appeal to is so small that 99% of gamers will be better off renting this one rather than plopping down the full $50 for a risk like this. It’s far from being a bad game, but it’s equally far from being a good game. If you love exploring space or didn’t feel like Mass Effect 2 gave enough of that swashbuckling space explorer feeling, then this is a worthy rental.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 3.0 Graphics
The planetary systems are gorgeous, but everything gets fuzzy and ugly up close. 4.0 Control
They manage to translate full movement in 3D space to the Xbox 360 controller well. 3.2 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
There’s just enough here to get by. The music, voice-overs, and sound effects are par for the course. 2.8 Play Value
There’s a lot of gameplay here, but unfortunately, a lot of it is a repeat of the same few activities. There needed to be a lot more variety to keep the player interested over long periods of time. 3.0 Overall Rating – Fair
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.