Genre: Space Combat
Release Date: August 22, 2006
Have you ever been in the strange situation where you love a band, but that band has broken up and is no longer producing any new songs? Then, you stumble across another, newer band that sounds essentially identical to your prior love, but because the first band is gone, you embrace the new band and ignore how derivative it may be, just because it's the closest you're going to get to a new album by the band you loved in the first place? Personally, I've been in that particular predicament many, many times. With Ascaron Games' latest offering, DarkStar One, the sensation has been recreated: This is Freelancer reborn.
In DarkStar One, you play a young pilot whose father has recently passed away, leaving you little more than a thirst for vengeance and a prototype fighter craft called, amusingly enough, the "DarkStar One." Why the vengeance? Well, you didn't think Daddy's demise was accidental, did you? Of course not! Nefarious deeds that you must sort out and correct with lead-pipe cruelty and a space ship that mutates – that is the genius of this game! Now, before you even ask I will clarify; "mutate" isn't a typo. Your spaceship is a metallic example of Darwin's Theory of Evolution, crashing head-on with the general principles of intelligent design. Incidentally, your father was the one who made the ship after which this game is named. He is to DarkStar One as Dumbledore is to Harry Potter, but without the candy fixation.
As you bomb through the known galaxy, you will occasionally detect alien artifacts tucked away inside massive asteroids. You need to collect these, as the Darkstar One was specifically designed to harness the raw technology within these relics in order to bolster its own abilities. Good thing your dear ol' Dad mentioned this in passing to a buddy with an "uncle" complex, 'cause he sure didn't tell you, and that's a handy thing to know. Using the bio-metallic artifacts, you can transform the craft into a concentrated death-machine. "That's no moon," indeed. Of course, you can also buy up gear at a trade station, but why order a cheeseburger when there's succulent rare steak on the menu? Of course, if you're hungry and rich enough, you'll do both. Consider yourself starved and flush with cash in this case. Where am I going with metaphor? I myself have no clue. I guess I mean to say, upgrade whenever and wherever you can because you only get one ship in this game.
Perhaps I've leapt too far ahead. DarkStar One is a 3D space-flight sim-slash-shooter. It's far too focused on action to be a true simulation, but your point of view is locked inside the cockpit, and that always feels like a sim to me. All of the gameplay events are set in space, with trade stations in orbit around planetary bodies serving as refuel and repair points. Docking at a station is non-interactive, being just a series of different menu options set overtop of an animated screen that depicts what appears to be a big galactic lounge. No, you cannot go sit down; your name isn't on the reservation list. Within these trade stations, you can upgrade the Darkstar One if you have the cash, buy and sell raw goods, and check the job boards for freelance missions that help generate more coin.
If shooting down an endless series of intergalactic raiders doesn't tickle your fancy, you can trade consumer goods in between systems. Buy raw materials on the cheap in one sector, hyper-warp to another that desperately needs the stuff, and sell for mass profit. DarkStar One doesn't utilize a variety of craft classes like Freelancer did, so when you're hauling materials, you're basically just attaching yourself to massive shipping containers and lugging them around. This makes your ship sluggish and unresponsive, so if you get attacked by pirates in deep space, you need to drop your crates in order to regain the mobility required to defend yourself. This can be risky: The crates are fragile and look like nothing more than paychecks to a raider.
The graphics of DarkStar One are easily its strongest point: high in detail, rich in special effects, and resplendent in artistic flair. My biggest issue with the appearance of Freelancer was the ship design – they all looked like they were made out of Legos. This is absolutely not the case with this game, and I'm certain you'll all agree with me once this goes gold and you can take it for a spin yourself. We're talking "as cool as the new 'Battlestar Galactica' series," and if you haven't taken in any of the superb sci-fi recreation, go rent it now so that you can understand my point. Even if you don't want to understand my point, go see it regardless, as it's amazing. Once again, I'm off the point, but I hope my message is clear. Although what I have is only a beta version, I really can't see how these graphics could be improved.
If I go too much further, I'll spill over into review territory, and that's not my intention here. My goal is to inform and perhaps pique your interest. I would say that if you thought Freelancer was great (as I did), then you're probably well set to look into DarkStar One as well. If you want a hands-on taste, it's definitely worth the time downloading the demo.
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