Solemn trumpet fanfare streams into the DarkStar One universe; a universe brightly colored and lavishly detailed -- saturated, in fact -- with solar systems crowded with reams of inhabited planets, floating landfills of debris, and asteroids, asteroids, asteroids. There’s relatively little space out there in outer space, which only serves to shrink any grasp at the immensity of the DarkStar galaxy. But the promise of this becoming the next Freelancer is gripped in a handshake from developers Ascaron. A handshake affirming the expected gameplay niceties of a space simulator (trading, technology trees, and joystick-lovin’ space combat) but perhaps squeezing a little too hard on the keep-it-simple principles.
Sci-fi themes can easily (and often do) fall in love with their own bloated sense of “imagination,” while ironically relying on stereotypes manufactured on a sci-fi assembly line. And so it is with DarkStar One. The final frontier has been burned, pillaged, and rebuilt overtop of itself so many times that it’s all instantly familiar. You’ve been there. And you’ve done that. Aside from a few fun conventions introduced early on, there’s rarely any sense of awe or discovery at what you come across. And those fun-sounding conventions wear down quickly. Exploring over 300 systems looks good on paper, but the nominal variety between them all turns the universe into a bland soup of tired expectations. This game could’ve expanded to 3,000 systems and accomplished nothing more than its initial public offering. And on that same token, 30 systems would’ve felt much more fully-realized and wholesome; you could’ve gone home satisfied. Instead, it’s platter after platter of a five-item menu.
The trashy, beach-read storyline -- while a noble effort -- is anything but a page-turner, and often smacks of summer writing workshops. And some of the voice acting needs to hook itself up to a heart monitor to see if there’s any life left in it. The cut scenes’ acting registers well, but some of the in-game voice actors -- especially the lady doing air traffic control for the Terran trade stations -- are struggling with with their script reading.
The public announcement system inside of space stations works like a champ, though. You will be grazing through the mission bulletins, or the trade lists, when a voiceover will broadcast the arrival of a large freighter (loading and unloading goods in real-time), or newscast reasons for the recent shortage in energy cells, or even give a heads up whether pirates have entered the system (if you’re trading, you might want to wait out the intrusion; if you’re ‘rat hunting, you could scramble your own fighter and snag some bounties). Either way, it’s far more engaging than listening to the pilots outside complaining about why the landing queue is so long.
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