DarkStar One PC CD-ROM

Published by Ascaron Entertainment
Developed by Ascaron Entertainment
Release Date: 11th August 2006
Price: £29.99

DarkStar One, an introduction.

Space action and exploration titles don’t come along that often. Elite kicked the genre off many moons ago but since then there’s not been a great deal of games to attempt to follow in its footsteps. X: Beyond the Frontier and it’s two sequels, the Independence War games and Freelancer are the only ones that readily spring to mind and when you consider how long ago it was that Elite first appeared that’s pretty disappointing. DarkStar One from Ascaron Entertainment is the latest title to enter this sparsely populated genre. Let’s see how it shapes up.

What’s the game about?

You’ll play as Kayron Jarvis a young fighter pilot who at the beginning of the game inherits the DarkStar One, a superb spacecraft that was the property of his father before he was killed by the Thul, an evil race from the edge of the universe. Thanks to the activities of the Thul, who have been attacking all races, Kayron finds the galaxy on the edge of an intergalactic war.

What’s good about the game?

The highlight of the game has to be the amount of customisation you can make to the DarkStar One. Essentially you can modify the spacecraft to suit your playing style. You can improve various aspects of the DarkStar One (engines, wings and hull) by collecting artifacts. Collecting the appropriate amount of artifacts will allow you to choose an upgrade that not only improves the level of the DarkStar One’s performance but also changes its appearance. In effect you’re levelling up the DarkStar One in a way that compliments your playing style which is a nice touch.  

We often talk about open-endedness in games but this is a genre that demands its games are open-ended. DarkStar One doesn’t disappoint in this respect as you can stick to the main plot or deviate away from it and do your own thing. Fancy smuggling or being a pirate? No problem. You can choose to trade your way to a small fortune. You can even hunt the pirates and obtain top notch weaponry from defeating their leader. You’ll have a reputation in the game and your actions will cause others to think of you as either a pirate, merchant, killer, mercenary, smuggler or bounty hunter. How they perceive you will determine how they co-operate with you. Combat in the game begins with the AI being easy to defeat. As the game progresses you’ll come up against sharper AI opponents that actually require a fair bit of thought to defeat.

What’s not so good about the game?

Whilst DarkStar One certainly seems promising and the amount of options available to you in the game is good to see, the game never really comes across as anything special. The main problem is that in the early part of the game there’s nothing to hook you in and keep you playing. The game’s story isn’t particularly interesting. The missions that come your way in the early part of the game feel bland and repetitive. The game also suffers from having solar systems that are too much alike. Some variation in their design would have been greatly appreciated and actually given you a sense that you had arrived in a place you haven’t been before. Even the optional quests aren’t any cause for excitement. Those looking for an impressive line up of spacecraft that you’ll get to pilot will be disappointed to learn that you’re simply confined to the DarkStar One. This isn’t as big a problem as it might have been though because of the level of customisation that’s available with the DarkStar One.

How does it look?

DarkStar One certainly looks OK although it’s not on the same level as X3: Reunion. That said it does have one thing in common with the release version of X3 and that’s frame rate issues. Far too often the frame rate is inconsistent which makes controlling your spacecraft a little problematic at times. As we’ve already mentioned there hardly any graphical difference between the numerous systems in the game and you could argue that quite a lot of NPCs look a little too similar. On the whole the game certainly doesn’t look bad and the DarkStar One in particular looks quite impressive (particularly when it’s been upgraded a few times).

How deaf gamer friendly is the game?

Subtitles can be enabled for video and audio messages but there is still quite a bit of verbal content in the game that isn’t subtitled. Announcer comments when you’re in a station are not subtitled. Some communications from other pilots aren’t subtitled neither. There are also a few issues I have with the subtitles. First of all there is no indication of who is saying what during the cutscenes. It would have been no trouble at all to colour-code the subtitles or have placed a name next to the dialogue to show who is saying what. There is also some considerable lag at times with the display of the subtitles during the cutscenes, which looks rather odd at times with events happening before the text that describes them by around 5 seconds.

Final thoughts.

As far as space action games go DarkStar One is OK and certainly has a few interesting elements to it. The development of the DarkStar One spacecraft is perhaps the highlight of the game although it has to be said the combat is pretty enjoyable too. Unfortunately the game does have its problems. Too many systems look alike, too many NPCs look alike, the frame rate isn’t what it should be and the missions you’ll perform aren’t that different from each other and for the most part aren’t that interesting. The game’s story also lacks pep and does little to keep you interested. The subtitling could have been better too. If you’re a fan of the genre it may appeal. Personally I wouldn’t rate it as highly as Freelancer or X2: The Threat but it’s certainly not a bad game and in a genre where titles only come along once in a blue moon, it’s difficult to be unappreciative.

Overall Game Rating: 6.0/10

Deaf Gamers Classification:

(Click the letter or here for details)

DarkStar One is mildly disappointing. There are too many repetitive design issues and when you combine this with a generally uninteresting main plot it’s difficult to get excited about the game. That said though, the combat is enjoyable and the way you can develop the DarkStar One spacecraft is impressive and unique.