Given that elite is over 20 years old, it's becoming increasingly tiresome to have to resort to mentioning its name when a new spacefaring game conies out Yet in the case of Darkstar One we're duty bound to do so, for on reading through the manual for Ascaron's space title, the similarities are almost litigious.
You are a young buck starpilot, your father hides a murky past and expires before the game starts, and before you is a universe to explore with systems neatly categorised by their style of government. You can trade drugs, become a pirate, accept missions, raise cash and upgrade your ship with military lasers, missiles and even reach the heady heights of being called 'dangerous'. If I wasn't being so selective in my comparisons, you could almost call it spooky.
Tliankfully, seeing as the game occupies almost as many gigs as Elite did kilobytes, there's much more to DSO than it being a straight remake. Indeed, arriving as it does at the arcade end of the space game continuum, Darkstar One is clearly trying to be all things to all space gamers. Not only have comparisons been made with the scope of Elite, but also the storytelling of Wing Commander, the accessibility of Freelancer and the graphical exuberance of X3: Reunion. To space gamers like myself, starved of quality product, Darkstar One might seem like the second coming.
Sadly, while DSO's roots draw from a wealth of classic games, they don't draw deeply enough. You see, far from being a dynamic and open-ended game, you're compelled to stick to the storyline that threads neatly but predictably through the game. Each cluster of planets that opens up is almost a self-contained level, offering the exact same missions as before - and with a side-mission tliat is a kind of end-of-level battle that leads onto tackling the next cluster. After some tedious 'searching' inside asteroids to pick up containers to upgrade your ship, it's off to the next cluster, where pirates bring in more bounties and equipment is more expensive - but where nothing really changes.
Trading is relatively sophisticated with prices falling and rising as Al trading ships flit about. Busy systems are often clogged with ships trying to dock and undock with the system's sole trading station. This AI-sponsored bustle certainly gives the game some life, but not nearly enough. Each system is pretty much the same; one trading station, a navigable asteroid or two, maybe a research station (which you can't dock with) and, if you're really lucky, a space wreck (where pirate gangs hide out). Players who like to explore will find DSO's lack of variety, overt hand-holding and storyline restrictions will kill off any sense of wanderlust.
And that's pretty much DSO's biggest issue; that everything is signposted for you without any kind of thinking required. And even if you do decide to try out life on the other side of the law, or to engage in trade, the experience is often futile and almost always unprofitable. Far from being fun, piracy is merely a tool to shoot yourself in the foot, and why should you trade when you can acquire more cash quicker simply by selecting a ship nearby and offering to escort it to the next system?
It's just not what many hoped it would be - a spiritual successor to Freelancer. in fact DSO comes across as underdeveloped. Freelancer took five years to make and was still criticised for its short story. Ascaron have tried to make amends by going down the epic space opera route, but the day-glo aliens and am-dram voices, while campy and fun, are strung out over far too much an area, giving you too much time to second guess the outcome.
While DSO might not stand up to a second run-through - though it's tempting given the way the central ship, the titular DSO, can be upgraded - I still found myself doggedly trying to wring as much enjoyment from the game as possible, simply because the arrival of a space game is such a rare thing. Sticking to the story is the best path forward and if you do that, you won't feel too cheated. But going back to Freelancer, you realise how unevolved DSO really is. With regard to more recent competition, the X series' universe is much more dynamic and vibrant. DSO does story better, but very little else.
Processor: PC compatible,
OS: Windows 9x, Windows 2000 Windows XP, Vista, Win 7, Win 8, Win 10.
Game Features:Single game mode