I?ve never really been able to dedicate the time necessary to be a true RPG fan. Sure, I?ve spent time in the KOTOR universe and I?ve tried to engage myself in other titles but traditionally, I?ve never felt the connection that is required to properly enjoy most RPG?s. KOTOR is the exception; I did play through the titles on the PC and found myself planning game time?being a Star Wars based Role Playing Game presented its own merits for me.
All things considered when I heard about Darkstar One: Broken Alliance I was intrigued at the possibility of a Space Sim RPG. I envisioned it as a sort of Tie Fighter vs. X-Wing meets Knights of the Old Republic and I even began to think of when I could set time aside to play (2:00 ? 2:15 am). As the release date approached I became aware of the initial PC offering back in 2006; while the original title lacked strong visuals, its compelling story seemed to entice a few reviewers. In the few weeks leading up to the release of Darkstar One: Broken Alliance I found myself further intrigued as previews and visuals started to hit many gaming sites.
Darkstar One: Broken Alliance is developed by Kalypso Media out of Germany and joins other notable titles such as Tropico 3 on the Xbox 360 from this as yet, low key team. Since their inception in 2006 they have grown to offices in the UK and the US and are well poised to continue expanding as they further develop titles across various platforms. Taking the helm from the original titles developer is a bold move even for experienced studios but while not a perfect title, Kalypso does manage to deliver a simplified RPG experience.
In the game?s opening we are given a very nice cinematic that suggests that a new alien race is ?invading the known galaxies causing all sorts of rifts and havoc along the way. We then switch to a very lackluster cinematic that introduces us to our hero Kayron Jarvis, while a new starship docks into the space station. The story continues to outline the relevance of the new ship (the Darkstar One) in that it is the creation of Kayron?s murdered father and that Kayron is to use the ship to its full potential while utilizing its many unique capabilities. While it quickly becomes evident that the ship is the star of the show and that solving the murder of Kayron?s father is the primary objective, the side mission of confronting of the invading alien species is introduced through ?news? snippets that should be intriguing but instead are presented through brief and intruding captions that are removed from much of the current gameplay. So instead of feeling propelled to pursue this new threat I was often dreading some cutscenes as they offered seemingly irrelevant information.
The RPG elements are relatively straight forward; you buy stuff, you sell it for more?.you kill pirates, you gain credits?you complete tasks, you gain more credits. All of these elements are provided to both move the game forward and to provide upgrades to your ships equipment, which in turn allows you to take on greater tasks where you earn more credits; you get the picture here I?m sure. What is unique about this sequence is that from time to time you will come into star systems that have unique elements hidden in various areas or carried by nefarious pirates. The Darkstar ship will allow you to identify these precious gems and by destroying the pirates or flying near the element you will acquire the artifacts. These in turn will allow you to upgrade the ?organics? of your ship?it seems that your ship will utilize these elements to increase its shields and weapon systems while allowing you to increase the capabilities of the purchased equipment.
As far as the story goes?initially, that?s it?.there is really nothing else compelling you to delve deeper into the game. Each of the missions fall into a few categories: escort, attack, information or delivery. Unfortunately, all of the missions are incredibly repetitive and while I enjoy taking down wave after wave of space pirates I feel no connection to the character or the game. Spending time on the different space/trade stations is dumbed down to the point of being nothing more than a virtual PDA. Sure you can take a look at the outside universe but it a static point of view with no real merit. I would have liked to have been able to move around the interior of the stations or even interact with different characters, but the focus seems to have been the somewhat linear story. The gameplay does have side stories but most are irrelevant with no bearing on the character or story.
The controls are what I expected, left thumbstick for movement, right for propulsion, right trigger to fire etc. Having the directional pad as a sort of hotkey interface is useful but I would have liked some more customization. The game reacts well to the control input and there is a ton of enjoyment to be had on the space combat front, however there needs to be more involvement and interaction in and RPG beyond an arcade style combat system.
Sound is often said to be absent in space and I can honestly say that there are numerous times I would have liked to have shoved this title out an airlock. Once again, we can?t really fault the space combat aspect, as each of the sounds, from the blasters to the warnings, are of average ?what we expect? level. The voice acting however, varies from acceptable to pitiful. Again there seems to be no real ?character? development in that the voices are often disengaged from the atmosphere of the moment. Others are simply repeated through every situation that is even remotely similar (you could have had someone else voice the roll of various communications officers). And while I did like the few alien voices that were included some were far too modulated to really make sense of.
Now to the most glaring aspect of this title; the visuals. I like having my games presented in high definition. There is clarity with 1080 resolution that is incredibly pleasing when properly utilized. Unfortunately for this title, the visuals often seem rushed and come off as being lazy. The combat is still good but frame rate issues are common. The rest of the visuals are indeed presented in 1080p but the entire game has a distinct, old school, rough edged, PC quality to them and having them offered at high definition does not take away from the pixelized goodness we all remember for the old ?Wing Commander? days. The cutscenes feel unpolished and there is a glaring lack of space on board the massive space stations.
Darkstar One: Broken Alliance is a good game. It will find a dedicated following in the RPG/Space Sim/Combat gamers and most will enjoy the 20 or so hours of gameplay provided. However, this is due in part, to the lack of good genre games being created instead of being because of the outstanding playability. If the developers had focused more on the combat and less on the RPG and if they had not touted the HD aspect I believe there would have been a wider appeal.