Space Cowboys Return
Space flight sims have been scarce on the PC gaming field for a very long time, but with the recent news of both Star Citizen and Elite: Dangerous being on their way, it seems that the genre is suddenly becoming more popular. But if we believe Wraith Entertainment, these old timers’ space sims will have no chance in the modern market. Indeed, Wraith Entertainment’s press release manages to sound obnoxious when it says that “[w]e wanted to resurrect space sims, but understood the genre died for a reason. So to make Dawnstar more appealing to the modern audience, we infused it with fast paced action, modern gameplay mechanics, and as much style and panache two nerds could muster.”
If that does not grate against the nerves of every space sim fan out there, I don’t know what might. However, when you begin the game, you will immediately notice that the game is not fighting in the same category as the classic space sims. Instead, it is a simple space shooter with a style of its own and a nice little story to get the experience going. If only that was the full story.
From the Pages of Comics
The game gets its name from a lawless sector of a galaxy, dominated by organised crime. The player takes the role of a young pilot who is hired to wreak havoc in the sector and, ultimately, you get to try to become the next big Mafioso yourself or clean up the sector for good. The story begins with a comic book like exposition and these scenes intersperse the missions, attempting to make all the shooting seem like a part of a bigger plot.
The comic book like graphics are also evident in the main gameplay, where you will see cartoony asteroids and space stations set against a backdrop of cartoony space. The animations are not much better, but fit relatively well with the overall experience. The background music is pretty annoying in the long run and nothing more can be said about it.
The developers promise a storyline of about 20+ missions that will take 6-10 hours to play through. This seems about right for the price of the game, but you also get some extra longevity from the co-op gameplay where you can have up to 4 players playing simultaneously in an open environment.
If you follow the main storyline, you will not experience the universe as very open, however: The play areas are very small – concentrating in the surroundings of jump gates space stations – and once you are through with the shooting, you will quickly be transported to the next part of the story either automatically or heading for the jump gate to get to the next area yourself. Overall, you will not get any sense of deep space at any point during the gameplay, especially as even the docking with space stations takes place out-of-camera with a simple key press. The sense of linear gameplay is further enhanced by some “on rails” flight sequences where you simply move your ship on the screen to avoid oncoming debris, asteroids etc.
As you fight against waves of enemies you can pick up loot and gain experience until you level up and improve your skills. Or, at least, the documentation claims that you can do things. Personally, I saw no loot anywhere and even though I could access a Skills screen and could select some skills (which seemed more like weapons upgrades), I’m not sure it actually achieved anything.
In addition to the main storyline there are supposed to be random missions that you can pick up. I assume they have something to do with the red floating exclamation points you see floating in the space. I flew to some, collided with them, but no missions were forthcoming, so I cannot be certain.
Shooter, Plain and Simple
Despite the developers’ claim, Dawnstar is not a space sim, but a story-driven space shooter. You will definitely not feel like you are in an endless void travelling the vast distances between inhabited star systems. Your ship has a top speed and has to continue firing the thrusters to hold the said speed, making it seem as if you were travelling underwater rather than in space. Planets and stars are mere backdrops for the action and you can actually fly straight at a planet without getting destroyed if you go through the trouble of travelling to one. In fact, if you collide with an enemy craft, you will simply bounce off and if you get destroyed, you will respawn in a few seconds to try again.
At one point the main storyline ended for me rather abruptly and the game kept insisting that there would be a mission for me at the space station, but there simply was not one. When I shut the game down and restarted it and continued the game, the mission continued as it was meant to. The second time it happened a few missions later, nothing got me back into the story. The claim “mission at the galactic station” stayed on the screen even though I was docked at the said station and then re-docked several more times.
Only if You Like Shooters
Dawnstar does offers entertainment as a simple story-driven shooter with a comic book feel. If you do not expect more from it, you will not be disappointed. However, as the developers advertise it as a space sim, I feel it is my duty to reduce my overall score for the game – because it is not what it says it is. Also, the bugs and the inexplicable random missions that I never figured out how to start reduced my enjoyment. The bugs I am sure will be fixed in time and there might even be a manual to tell you how the game works at some point, so your experience might be slightly better than mine.
Overall, I would say that if you like shooters, you might just as well give it a spin. But if you like space sims, avoid it and wait for a better game.
Not really a space sim, no manual/tutorial to tell you how to do various stuff, annoying bugs.