Monday, June 21, 2010

Dark Star One

Dark Star One is one of the best games I've ever played.

It's the type of game that doesn't get made much anymore, a space combat sim along the lines of Privateer, Elite, and Freelancer. Two things to point out about that list: one, they are all classics; two, they are all 10 or more years old, with Elite hailing from 1984 when people played games on something called the Apple II.

Ok, enough arcane video game history. Let's cut right to the chase: Ever wanted to be Han Solo? If you just said yes, then you should be playing Dark Star One.

Dark Star One puts the player in control of a ship. Called, shockingly enough, the Dark Star One. This ship was your father's dream, built from alien technology, it can be expanded and modified greatly by finding alien artifacts scattered across the galaxy and incorporating them into the ship's design.

Thus over the course of the game, you literally will be able to expand the wings, hull and engines of the Dark Star One to suit the way you like to play the game.

Your father was murdered after completing the Dark Star One, which provides the main storyline of the game. However, this is a very sandboxy game and you can follow the main quest as much or as little as you like.

There's six basic ways to play the game:

  • Merchant: Buy low, sell high, profit. The trading system works well. You can look at your galaxy map and see what a system makes for export. If a system doesn't export a product, they probably have a need to import it, which is where intrepid merchant adventurers like yourself come in.
  • Smuggler: The dark side of being a merchant. Most systems have two trade goods that are listed as illegal. Interestingly, these vary from system to system. What's illegal in one star system might be perfectly legal in another. There seems to be a limited number of products that rotate through the illegal list though: spirits (alcohol), drugs, androids and video games. Yes, video games. Selling these illicit goods is risky but extremely profitable.
  • Mercenary: It's a big galaxy. People need things done. At every trade station you find a job board with missions, ranging from fetching an abandoned cargo container and delivering it, to taking on an entire gang of criminals in deep space. There's many different kinds of missions. Succeed and you get paid.
  • Bounty Hunter: Some people in space are bad. In fact some of them are straight up scumbags who prey on the innocent merchants of space. Blowing these pirates out of the sky is not just a good deed though. It's also rewarded in cold, hard, creds.
  • Pirate: There's fat merchant ships out there with cargo. Being a merchant isn't hard at all when you blow ships up and steal their goods to sell yourself. That's a profit margin of around 100% in fact (minus whatever you paid for missiles).
  • Killer: This is about as bad as it sounds. See those space patrols that try and keep smuggling and piracy in star systems down? Ever want to blow them up? Well then this is for you.
In general, you'll wind up doing a few of these. You can do any of them as much or little as you like, along with hunting down alien artifacts to upgrade your ship and following the story quests to pursue your father's killer.

After you do a certain type of activity enough times, you become known for it through the game's Reputation mechanic. Many of these reputations are beneficial.

Trade a lot of merchandise, for example, and you become known as a merchant, getting a discount when you buy exports.

On the other hand, become known for being a killer and the cops target you for elimination on sight.

Again depending on how you play the game, you can gain multiple reputations. For example, in the current game I'm playing, I'm known as a Mercenary, a Merchant and a Bounty Hunter, with a dash of smuggler mixed into my rep.

There's dozens of star systems to explore, and your ability to range further from home is unlocked in part through your own explorations and in part through the main questline. There's half a dozen alien races to meet and interact with.

There's a PC version out now, which is the version I am playing. This has good graphics but the cutscenes are a bit basic, with mediocre voice acting and so-so animations. However, the actual gameplay outside of the cutscenes is amazing.

Also, the game comes at a steep discount. I got my copy in a bundle with two other games for $10 on Steam.

For those who want better graphical presentation (at a higher price point), there's also a X-Box 360 version on the way.

In short, if you love sandbox games in a sci-fi setting, with a good story, great gameplay and almost complete freedom, then Dark Star One is a game you should check out.


Preston said...

Thanks for the review. I'll definitely keep an eye out for this.

mikelaff said...

darkstar one was great. I got stuck in one of the maze missions and never finished unfortunately

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