by Ewan Wilson
reviewed on PC
The Morningstar is the name of the spaceship you have crash landed. Deadrock is the barren planet you are now stranded on. Your ship’s hull has been badly perforated; its life systems are leaking, the engine is damaged and the captain is injured. It’s down to you to get the Morningstar up and running again, but this will involve a salvage run that will take you out into the hostile wastes of Deadrock. What’s more, not everything on the “dead” world is as it seems.
Morningstar: Descent to Deadrock was originally browser-based shareware. This is the spruced-up re-release, in higher-resolution and with new voiceovers. Morningstar’s browser-based origin shows. Its CGI cutscenes are textured sparingly and the animations in each panel are limited. That said, the lighting and ambient sounds are enough to hold up an eerie atmosphere of being “lost in space”, even if the spartan visuals are reminiscent of Myst and Riven from the 90’s. The game takes place entirely in first person, although this doesn’t have too large of an impact as movement between scenes is done through fade ins and outs. Unfortunately, you never quite feel like you are occupying a body or peering through the visor of your spacesuit.
Not a puzzle wrapped in an enigma
Unlike Cyan’s classics, Morningstar: Descent to Deadrock is much less enigmatic. It leans more heavily on its atmosphere and story, which flows at a consistent pace. I didn’t find myself stuck for any considerable period of time. Puzzles involve “mousing” over points of interest in the individual scenes (there’s not really any pixel-hunting). You pick up the items in reach, combine them with others and then use them to progress. At any point in the adventure you can radio the Morningstar’s immobilised captain, who will throw you a fairly straightforward hint. This makes things a little easy, particularly for those who are impatient, but it’s hard to criticise the design decision. We live in a period where solutions are abundant, and all Morningstar’s hint system does is cut out the middle man (Google).
Morningstar is a short adventure – it takes about two hours to complete, provided you don’t get stuck for ages. Some of the puzzles towards the end of the game are slightly more obtuse, and forced me to whip out the ol’ pen and pad. Other than that it was pretty smooth sailing. It is an adventure that respects your time. If you can manage to avoid the hint-system, you may find things more challenging, although overall the puzzles and item-combinations felt fairly logical and self-explanatory.
The inescapable well of convention
For those who have played the browser-based version, the new scenes and improved visuals probably won’t be enough to make Morningstar worth revisiting, but for those who know nothing about it, the short sci-fi thriller may be worth a look in. At its core is a journey of discovery. Repairing your ship and getting off Deadrock runs parallel to uncovering the planet’s central mystery. Morningstar: Descent to Deadrock isn’t anything new of course. It’s familiar sci-fi tropes alongside well-worn point-and-click puzzling. Convention can of course still be appealing, it is just a pity this adventure doesn’t have much of an identity to set it apart.
Sci-fi atmosphere, never frustrating, good logic to the puzzles and item combinations.
Spartan visuals, doesn’t make much use of the first-person perspective, very formulaic and never manages to overcome existing conventions.