The Xbox 360 is home to a lot of genres, but as yet, it hasn't seen a good space-combat game along the lines of Freespace, Freelancer, Wing Commander or T.I.E. Fighter. It's an underserved genre, and developer Gaming Minds and publisher Kalypso Media are looking to fill that gap with DarkStar One: Broken Alliance.
At its core, DarkStar One: Broken Alliance aims to be a good, old-fashioned space dogfighting game. In the game, you don the flight suit of Kayron Jarvis, a young hotshot pilot who is given command of the ominously named DarkStar One spacecraft. It's not your run-of-the mill spaceship, as its core ability is its adaptability. You can swap out parts and turn the ship into a fast fighter, lumbering battleship, pirate frigate or any mix in between.
This expands up on the basic "buy or build a ship, and blow things up" gameplay so inherent in the genre, and gives it some light RPG elements, as you can customize your ship to your style of play. Want to be a pirate? Then deck out the DarkStar One so that it's fast and front-loaded with weapons, allowing you to stage "smash and grab" attacks. Feel like running escort missions for profit? Then slap on lots of armor, lots of beam weapons and a big power plant (to power those lasers and big engines) and build a destroyer or frigate escort. Or, become a massive war machine by packing on the armor, skimping on your wings (who needs maneuverability when you have guns and armor?), and then throw on a huge power plant and tons of weaponry. Voila, you have a lumbering space hulk that nobody's going to mess with (but won't be winning the Kessel Run any time soon).
The ship customizations and technologies can be purchased when you're in stardock, and oftentimes captured or stolen from other ships after a successful battle in space. The developer promises that the more than 200 components will be unique in design, and each will have some utility, rather than just having a cosmetic effect on your ship.
DarkStar One is going to have 330 star systems to visit, each inhabited by one of the six alien races. Each race offers a distinct ship and starbase design, along with its own weapon and technology designs. Strapping some of the alien tech on your ships creates some interesting visual effects, to be sure, especially the Octo race's designs, which are more organic and sort of "deep-sea" looking. The designs of alien ships and bases were definitely creative, as when we blasted out of spacedock from an Octo base, we realized we'd just been parking our ship in what looked like an ooey gooey cluster of alien fish eggs, or maybe it was the head of a squid. Either way, it was definitely unique versus the human's mechanical-looking bases.
Don't worry if you're more of a galactic biz tycoon and less of a fighter jock because the game lets you create your own career path. You can build a well-defended freighter with automated defensive turrets, load it up with cargo at each station, and launch into fortune and glory. You can also run escort missions that you pick up at bases for even more money. This brings up one really neat feature that wasn't heavily emphasized but could be really cool for the aspiring space Trumps out there: the game's living economy. Prices for goods fluctuate from system to system, as you'd expect, but your actions in a system can affect those prices. For example, at one point, our ship pulled out of a station and we saw a few freighters leaving dock at the same time. We were told that all those ships are actually part of the simulation engine within the game, instead of just being "background" images in the environment. As such, we were able to pull up alongside a freighter and offer our services as an escort. After delivering our new friend to his destination intact, we earned some coin, boosted our "good guy" rep — reputation matters in DarkStar One, but more on that in a minute — and from what we understand, adjusted the trading economy a bit, as the newly arrived cargo affected the rarity of it in the system, thus boosting/decreasing its price accordingly.
As mentioned just a moment ago, DarkStar One features a reputation system, which is more than just a few stars on your ID badge. A bad rep in a star system means the cops will be on the lookout for you, and an even worse rep means you won't even be able to dock your ship in the system. A good rep, of course, means that everyone loves you and unicorns will board your ship at starbase (OK, maybe not, but everyone's happy to see a guy with a good rep). A good rep ensures you'll pick up better gigs, and everyone likes to earn money, right? If you need to make up for some sins, you can always "fix" a bad rep by doing good things, like running escort missions, delivering supplies, etc. You can turn a good rep bad by simply attacking anyone and everyone, killing good guys, etc.
Did I mention there's actually a story in DarkStar One? Well, there is, and it's one of mystery and murder, mayhem and intrigue … or so they say. At its most basic, the story is all about you, as pilot Kayron Jarvis, trying to solve the mystery of your father's death and a possible alien invasion. As you play through the story (and you can deviate at any time to just free-play without hurting your story line), you'll meet new characters who aren't the usual token NPCs to fill out the game. Many NPCs are meant to have backstories that are filled with side-quests that help you out. Again, you can ignore the quests and just sort of free-play, but who knows what cool tech you'll get when you follow the story?
As far as production values go, we've been told the game will support full 1080p running at 60 frames per second on the Xbox 360, and from what we saw, it is looking like they'll hit that mark. It also has over 40 minutes of cut scenes to illustrate the story and around 90 minutes of professionally produced music to keep things interesting during your 30+ hour jaunt through the story (and many more hours of side-quests).
DarkStar One: Broken Alliance is set for a summer 2010 release on the Xbox 360, and it's something that fans of the space-combat genre should keep on their radars.
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