The late Douglas Adams once wrote “Space is big. Really big. You just won't believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it's a long way down the road to the chemist's, but that's just peanuts to space”. The same might not be completely true about DarkStar One Broken Alliance, but it’s certainly giving space a run for its money.
If you’ve ever played the classic space adventure Elite, you may well notice a lot of similarities here. Playing homage to perhaps one of the most classic games of all times is not necessarily a bad thing, and DarkStar One manages to pull it off without feeling like a complete rip-off. This is mostly down to the fact it has a narrative that runs throughout, driving the player forward on a mission.
The story revolves around Kayron Jarvis who is searching for his father’s killer, believed to be Jack Forrester and the Darkstar One name comes from the name of the ship you fly, inherited by Kayron from his late Dad. Although it’s not perhaps the most enthralling or challenging of storylines, it does at least make sense and have a couple of plot twists along the way. Through the journey Kayron will meet a variety of different alien species and even team up with a female shipmate to make things a little more cosy. Yes the species are very sci-fi cliché and the voice acting is close to dire, but at least the story is honest, and with well over five hundred systems to explore, it’s time to stack up on those in-game snacks.
Elite is not the only game that DarkStar would appear to rape. The combat, which actually plays out very well, is considerably similar to the style of the Star Wars Star Fighter series, only here you’re able to upgrade weapons, shields and other ship components. The ancient PC title Decent also makes a DarkStar One appearance later on, as Kayron finds himself trudging through the innards of a planetary structure to destroy a power source in order to advance the main storyline. It’s a level that goes on a little bit too much, and doesn’t play well with the controls that really work far better in space combat.
Your actions through the game will determine what kind of reputation you obtain. Should you decide to take out contracts on certain alien species, the killer path is gained. Trade in illegal goods and it’s down the smuggler line, spend more time killing pirates and the reputation garnered is of a bounty hunter. There are also pirate, mercenary and hunter zones, all plotted nicely on a chart to show how you’ve been playing your character.
Whilst the plot moves things forward quite well, progress can be hampered a little due to a certain amount of grinding being necessary. At certain points in the narrative you get stuck because the ship’s warp drive needs to be upgraded in order to reach more distant star systems. Certain systems are also locked with a key that can only be gained from completing particular side missions. To upgrade it requires both credits and a ship level requirement, as certain equipment can only be purchased if your ship has reached the right level - better items needing higher levels.
To get credits, missions need to be completed by destroying pirates or collecting lost shipments of bad pilots - these are taken on at a Trade Station via the console. Alternatively you could just trade up for cash buy buying cargo low and selling high at different planets – but it’s still a grind. To level the ship, artifacts have to be collected from certain asteroids, this is just a matter of travelling to the right system (indicated on the star map) and finding them on the big asteroids; there are a hundred of them in total. This is an essential part of the game as not only will you struggle to reach the systems you have to go to if you don’t, but you’ll soon be outclassed in the defence and weapons stakes, becoming nothing but space dust on a regular basis. This is mostly down to aliens becoming more bad-ass in combat, but also because there are a fair number of random encounters to contend with - in space, no one can take an un-paused break.
When it comes to navigation, the Millenium Falcon it is not, and you’re not going to do the Castle run is less than twelve parsecs. To get to distant star systems, each jump has to be individually planned and executed – it’s not possible to select a sequence of jumps and program them in. It’s also not possible to jump from within the map – you have to select the system on one screen, exit to the cockpit view and select jump from the radial menu. This slows things down when travelling, something you’ll be doing a lot of throughout the space exploration.
Originally DarkStar One arrived on the PC in 2006, but despite this, other than the somewhat sub-par visuals and low-res cut-scenes, it’s not blindingly obvious this is cut from the PC cloth - that's not to say it's ugly looking, but the textures throughout the game are a bit wanting. Ascaron Entertainment have made a good stab at making the controller work over a keyboard and mouse combo. The most common functions, such as weapon fire are linked to button presses, whilst a couple of radial menus take over what would otherwise be keyboard shortcuts. It does feel a little bit clunky, but for the most part it works just fine. There is the odd bug along the way to contend with, such as navigation selections made from the radial menu not showing up in the HUD, and sometimes icons in the Trade Station screen will keep flashing even when there’s no new information to glean, but it isn't trivial stuff overall.
Perhaps the biggest drawback of DarkStar One is the repetitive nature of what turns out to be a rather long adventure. Many of the missions end up being almost identical, particularly when it comes to side quests. These tend to be cut and paste jobs, simply with different alien faces and planets to deal with.
Despite this, DarkStar One still manages to feel fresh, open and free of frustration - it's easy to lose yourself in the adventure. If you’re prepared to put up with a little bit of grinding and can deal with some of the more repetitive missions outside of the main quest, there’s a lot here to enjoy. For those hankering for an Elite style fix, there’s definitely an amount of homage and given that there’s a distinct gap in this genre, DarkStar One is ahead of its competition. If you fancy yourself as the next Han Solo, it’s one to consider.