by Sergio Brinkhuis
previewed on PC
They have a thing for piracy...
German publisher and developer Ascaron is perhaps best known for the Patrician series and for the Sacred. The first being a strategy/trading sim, the second an Action/RPG that came out of nowhere and took the world by storm. At first glance their upcoming space shooter DarkStar One seems to have very little in common with their previous titles. Or has it? What if I tell you that Darkstar One offers action, RPG, trading and pirating elements? Perhaps they have more in common than you'd think. Let's have a closer look shall we?
The last galactic war is little more than a distant memory. For centuries the galaxy has known peace under the benevolent guidance of The Great Council that was formed just for that very purpose. It was not to last, however. The Thul, a normally quiet and isolated race, have been starting small skirmishes for some time now. Not knowing exactly where these attacks originate from, they are causing great unrest among the other races. Fingers are pointing in all directions and it is threatening the stability of the age old pacts.
The Great Council seems powerless and is slowly losing control. But can war still be averted? You are thrust in the role of a young pilot named Kayron Jarvis. Although Kayron has just learned that his father has been brutally murdered, there is little time for grief. With the death of his father, he also inherited his father's spacecraft, the Darkstar One, and he needs to get on with his life as well as business. But his business doesn't interfere with Kayron's vow to find those responsible for his father's death and he begins to uncover a plot that might turn out to be bigger than he can handle...
Deeper, much deeper
Got your attention? I thought so. But wait, it gets better. Next to the main plotline, there are two other stories that intertwine with the main story. On top of that, a large number of side quests will keep you busy for hours upon hours. There's always something to do and most of the time, it is totally up to you to decide what you do and when you want to do it. Darkstar One gives you almost total freedom to choose which actions to take while always making it possible to return to one of the main plotlines. Sometimes things that appeared to be sidequests, turn out to be part of the bigger story and that's a great way to fill the game with surprises.
You can try your hand at just about any imaginable trade for a spacefarer. From boring but profitable trading (okay, beating off a trio of pirates can hardly be called boring, but you know what I mean) to escort missions, bounty hunting and pirating, there is always something to do. However, Kayron's chosen path will come with either fame or notoriety. Depending on your course of action, you will find either pirates or the long arm of the law hunting you so you're always going to be both the hunter and the prey at the same time. It is possible to balance your actions so that your reputation stays neutral, but even then there will be enemies trying to find you.
Bigger, much bigger
Although... Finding things in DarkStar One can be a bit of a problem. Not because everything is so well hidden but because the game world is humongous! The galaxy is made up of over 300 planets and other destinations. There is a high level of uniqueness between these and although you may feel that things look similar every now and then, they're never quite the same. But it's not just the sheer amount of locations that will give you the sense of being part of a vast universe. Some of the ships and stations are veritable behemoths and most of the rest of the artwork also contributes to the 'grandness' of the game.
Speaking of which, the game's graphics are nothing to sneer at. Gone are the days that fighting 'battleships' was stretching your imagination as you engaged a grey box-shape with some blue stripes on it. The ships in Darkstar One have detail, lots of it, and the game will show it. The planets actually look like planets with surface features and living, breathing atmospheres. The cut-scenes are of terrific quality and will help drive the story straight into your imagination.