Under The Radar – Darkstar One: Broken Alliance

Our Rating
out of 5.0

This game was reviewed on the Xbox 360.

In the galaxy of gaming, it’s hard to find a decent space-sim for consoles. In flies Darkstar One: Broken Alliance to deliver to us what our solar system is lacking. Ported from the 2006 PC version, the title deserves more attention than it has received, considering it’s one of the few of its genre to be on the Xbox 360.  It’s not without its problems, but it’s a journey worth taking nonetheless.

The plot is fairly decent: the protagonist, Kayron Jarvis, is studying to become a pilot in the Galactic Union when his father mysteriously dies. Kayron inherits his dad’s ship, the Darkstar One, which was built by an ancient alien race. Using this ship, he vows to find out what happened to his father and avenge him.  Meanwhile, an alien race called the Thul, which has kept to itself on the fringes of space, inexplicably re-appears and starts to attack solar systems.  Suddenly, Kayron is caught up in more than just a personal vendetta. He finds himself in a fight to keep the galaxy safe.  It sounds exciting on paper, but it’s really nothing special and turns out to be somewhat boring. There are seven races in DS1’s galaxy, but unless a character is central to the plot they’re simply re-used over and over, based on their career in the universe. You’ll see and kill the same Raptor pirate hundreds of times, and escort and save the same Human cargo pilot again and again. The universe of Darkstar One has the potential to be an expansive and interesting place, but never capitalizes on its opportunities and simply tells a bland, clichéd story.

Most players will probably find themselves being distracted from the dull story to simply free-roam the universe, as this is where DS1 truly shines.  For the combat pilots, there are bounties to hunt, systems to free, cargo transports to protect, or they can just take in some good ol’ fashioned piracy! For the less violent, there is a wealth of goods that can be bought and sold (or smuggled, depending what goods are outlawed in the various systems) if you choose to be a trader.  Alternatively, you can be a cargo pilot for large companies.  The choice is yours regarding where you want to go and what you want to do when you get there.  These economy aspects are the most entertaining part of the game and are easily its selling point.

Regardless of what you choose to do in the galaxy, you’ll be doing it from the cockpit of the Darkstar One. The ship itself is part organic and can be upgraded as you find artefacts (which look like strange green shapes) that are hidden across the universe.  Get enough of said artefacts and the ship can have one of its three aspects enhanced: hull, wings, and engines. Wing upgrades add agility and increases the total amount of available front weapons, hull adds extra armour and auto-turret positions, and engines will improve recharge time, reduce inertia from cargo, and add slots for other optional equipment. When you upgrade one of the three sections of your ship, that specific section will transform to a more intricate version. While it’s an interesting concept, it means that there are no personal aesthetic customization options as they’re determined by what you upgrade.  Even changing the paint job is off limits, which is a big letdown even if you do spend most of the game looking through the glass of the cockpit.  At least some customizable options would have been appreciated.

The same can be said of the control scheme. While there is nothing specifically wrong with the layout, and the ship is fun to fly, some players may find it very strange, especially when compared to other piloting games out there.  Unfortunately, there is no option to remap controls either, forcing players to adapt to them.  Personally, even after a few hours at the helm, I found myself using the wrong thumb-stick to turn or pressing the wrong button to fire missiles based solely on common flight controls. Thankfully, the game is free of glitches and, aside from the learning curve of odd controls, is a very enjoyable and fun experience to play.

The ship’s thrust is an issue, however, as you’re limited to using 100% to move forward, 0% to stop, -20% to slowly reverse, or afterburners for an extra x-percent based on which model the ship is equipped with. The only way for a player to use less than full thrust is to engage the ‘match speed’ option, which causes your ship’s engine output to match that of the targeted spacecraft. It feels like a massive oversight for A.I. pilots to be able to adjust engine output when players cannot.

Weapon and internal customization is also a bit of a disappointment.  A player’s choice of weapons can include lasers, rail guns and missile launchers, but without any real variety.  There are multiple tiers for each weapon type, but they use the same model for each upgrade. While your tier five super laser will out-perform its basic, level one counterpart, they will look exactly the same and have the exact same text definition, with only their specs having been changed. This means there is only one true weapon in each category, without an alternative option or manufacturer. The same can be said of internal upgrades, such as your energy generators, shields and afterburners.  For example, in the case of shields, there is only one device for each level.  No types of shields to choose from, just a single unit from your first one to the final level. Seeing as there are multiple races in the galaxy, one would think there would be different equipment made available for each system. While this allows players to make quick, easy choices and then get right back out into space, it creates a lack of depth and variety in DS1, preventing the ship from truly feeling like it’s your own.

Thankfully, the graphics are delivered incredibly well. From the Darkstar One itself, to a basic asteroid, the entire visual experience is an impressive one, with well designed ships and polished, pop-free textures. Lighting deserves a bit of credit as well, since the only light source is often the system’s sun, which can cast pitch black shadows behind massive asteroids or stations. The scale of each system is equally remarkable, as massive planets sit in the background, disguised as part of the sky box or background. These planets, and their moons, are actually programmed destinations and can be reached, though the flights to them can be long ones. The only fault, graphically, is with the game’s cutscenes, which didn’t receive the same attention as the main campaign did. They often appear fuzzy and look less than complete, frequently appearing jagged and rough, while the main game is smooth and polished.

DS1’s audio is on par with its video, although for a different reason. For a large portion of travel in space or time on stations, audio is fairly absent, with only the hum of your engines or the pew pew of your lasers being audible. Music may be present, but only in the form of sounds and pitches not following a beat or key. In any other game this would be a downfall, but I found that it mimics the quiet of space and fits into the game perfectly. When there is real music it’s very well composed, often using synthesisers and powerful brass sections to deliver fast and upbeat combat tunes, or longer, more suspenseful tones for exploration. To be honest, the soundtrack actually reminds me a great deal of Perfect Dark, as they both use the same kind of sounds and beats. The only downfall to an otherwise great listen is the voice acting. In certain places it’s fine, while in others it’s very dry and annoying, with no performance being truly well delivered.

From one end of the galaxy to the other, Darkstar One: Broken Alliance is a title that space-sim fans should look into.  It’s a game that could have been something massive, but a few poor design choices and below-average voice work keep it from reaching its potential.  All things considered though, it’s still a fun and entertaining game to play, with a lot to keep players interested. While a solid copy may be difficult to find, it’s currently available on the Xbox Live Marketplace in the Games on Demand section. If you’re a space-sim fan, then this is the console title for you!

Final Score: 3.5 / 5.0

Our Rating
out of 5.0

About This Post

November 27, 2011 - 8:30 am