I've been playing DarkStar One: Broken Alliance
for the past week and I'm really liking the game so far. Kalypso and Gaming Minds have done an excellent job porting the PC space sim to the 360, most notably in terms of controls.
Space combat games that were originally developed for a keyboard and mouse usually don’t translate well to a controller (the nauseatingly confusing control scheme in Star Trek Legacy is a good example), but DarkStar One has a very tight and comfortable setup that distributes a lot of commands to the 360’s somewhat light button allotment. It isn’t as simple or intuitive as Gears of War, but for a complex space sim the controls work very well and are easily learned in a few minutes.
The game has a lot of RPG elements and is played mostly in the titular spacecraft, as you warp between star systems and engage in dogfights. Each system has a couple space stations where you can land, upgrade your ship and take missions. The game also has a functioning economy, with some systems being wealthier than others, so you can purchase supplies at a low price and sell them for a profit elsewhere.
There is a main story but it’s pretty cliché, about a merchant mercenary named Kayron and his search for his father’s murderer. Apparently the DarkStar One has some alien technology in it, which is upgraded by hunting out artifacts hidden in asteroids. It’s interesting that leveling up is tied to an element of the story, but I would’ve preferred a simple XP system; you can go several missions without gaining a level just because you haven’t gone out of your way to collect artifacts.
There are plenty of side missions to distract you from the main story. Each station lets you take assignments, such as sabotaging a rival system’s convoy, hunting down pirates or eavesdropping on scientific meetings. These quests can get a bit repetitive but they often have you traveling to a number of different systems, and just warping around the galaxy is fun and relaxing. Unfortunately there isn’t a way to assess the difficulty of a mission beforehand. On one contract the police hired me to track down some pirates—business as usual—but these pirates had ships and weapons several levels above mine, and I got blown out of the sky in short order. I guess it pays to upgrade early and often.
DarkStar One holds up surprisingly well for a port of a 4-year-old game. The visuals are vibrant and crisp, although the combat effects are a bit too subdued for my taste. Each system is bustling with activity, ships coming and going from the stations, docking cargo or doing battle with pirates. On the other hand the pre-rendered cutscenes haven’t aged well at all, and the voice acting is pretty embarrassing. I like the game’s universe a lot—it has the politics of Star Trek The Next Generation and the space combat of Star Wars, with a lot of classic scifi references thrown in for good measure. I just wish the dialogue didn’t sound like it came out of a Saturday morning cartoon.
DarkStar One is a big game and I’ve only just begun exploring its universe. Like most space sims it has a more leisurely pace than other RPGs or action games, which to be honest is a nice change from the usual 360 fare. My ship’s hyperdrive has its work cut out for it, so expect a full review in the next couple of weeks.