Sunday, June 30, 2013

Game Review - DarkStar One: Broken Alliance (Xbox 360, 2008)

During my formative years as a gamer, I would gobble up any game I could get my hands on, good or bad.  I spent untold hours exploring dozens of virtual worlds, but as the gaming industry evolves, some genres become less common.  A great example is the flight simulator; I loved the X-Wing series of games, but I haven’t seen a really good flight sim in well over a decade.  I jumped on DarkStar One: Broken Alliance for just this reason, but it sadly doesn’t break that trend.

DarkStar One puts you in the Kayron’s jumpsuit and follows the eager young pilot’s first excursion.  Driven by the discovery of unusual circumstances surrounding his father’s death, Kayron’s quest to find a saboteur takes him across the galaxy and, as tends to happen in RPGs, draws him into every conflict he encounters.

The melding of flight sim and RPG elements is pretty cool.  Instead of progressing linearly through a series of missions, you’re able to explore different systems and sectors at your leisure, with the main quest making up only a small portion of the available content.  You also get RPG-esque upgrades for your ship, making leveling up an integral part of the gameplay.

But that’s basically where the coolness ends; everything else is disappointing.  Let’s start at the bottom and work our way up.

The control scheme is terrible.  It’s pretty clear that this title is a console port of a PC game, as the complex controls you might expect while piloting a spaceship are severely limited by the relative lack of buttons on a console controller.  For thurst, you have three options: forward, backward, and stopped.  Those three options alone wouldn’t be problematic, except that you also have the option of matching the speed of your target, opening a ton of other velocities.  Your control over your speed is limited in a fairly silly way.

Combat is also annoying because you can’t do a whole lot.  Standard flying maneuvers like barrel rolls are extremely awkward if they’re even available, so I found battles would reduce to stopping so I could more easily target the highly evasive fighters I encountered. There are a few fights involving larger capital ships, but those are also heavily fighter-centric.  Every battle ends up playing out the same way, which gets incredibly repetitive.

One saving grace is the element of exploration.  There are over 300 systems to explore across several alien factions, so DarkStar One offers a large galaxy for you to discover.  Unfortunately, there’s absolutely no incentive to venture too far off the path – each system consists of a trading station, some neutral trade ships, and possibly an asteroid field and research station (which won’t interact with you at all), and lonely empty space.  That’s it.  Aside from admittedly beautiful planets floating in the distance, there’s nothing to see or do in the majority of these systems.

To make matters worse, pirates will ambush you a lot, and you can’t do much of anything (like docking with trade stations of hyperjumping to a new system) until you kill them.  Bouncing from system to system becomes a tedious exercise in killing a handful of pirates and visiting the trade station before moving on to the next one, and there are very few rewards for doing so.  It feels like a pointlessly big galaxy, with lots to explore but nothing to discover.

Quests are rather repetitive, too.  Despite having a number of different objectives, nearly all of them reduce to “go here, kill this, come back.”  Main storyline quests are a little bit better, as a few will send you to the surface of a planet for a somewhat different experience, but those missions have a different problem – a couple of those missions lead to disorienting and borderline nauseating areas, so they lose whatever benefits the diversity provided.

And there are no compelling reasons to complete those storyline missions.  The narrative is incredibly boring; I felt no real desire to see it through after a couple hours of play.  Perhaps more damning is the fact that it hints at intriguing complexities by mentioning bitter wars and political conflicts between races, but it never develops the history of this galaxy.  You’re left with an “everybody hates everybody” scenario with no justification, making for a very shallow experience.

Despite the dated animations, the presentation is decent.  For most of the game, you’re dealing with distant ships and planetary backgrounds, the lack of small details in which is pretty hard to screw up.  The cinematics are clearly using less-than-modern graphical capabilities, but they’re still solid.  Voice acting is a little awkward, but it’s also not horrible.  The fact that the rather mediocre presentation is overall the best part of the game says something rather disappointing about the game as a whole.

To be fair, I enjoyed the first couple hours of jumping from system to system, recklessly dispatching pirates.  It wasn’t until the lack of depth became apparent that I started to get frustrated with it, and then the game continued for another 10+ hours.  Completing this game is far more a test of stamina than an entertaining romp through a sci-fi universe.

DarkStar One: Broken Alliance starts relatively well but rapidly fizzles.  It becomes incredibly tedious and generally uninteresting, leading me to find it hard to recommend it to much of anyone.  If you’re desperate for a flight sim, it’ll help satiate that need, but your time and money are still probably better spent elsewhere.

My Rating: 2/10 – terrible.

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