DarkStar One: Broken Alliance Review
The flight simulation genre hasn't had a ton of standouts, and most of the memorable ones, even if you haven't played such games, have leaned heavily to the arcade style of one mission at a time. There have been many spacecraft simulators in the recent past, in which you pilot a ship all over the universe. However these games have had minimal success on computer platforms and the typical snotty-nosed Halo player, most likely has not played or heard of them. DarkStar One is trying to change that, by bringing a space sim experience to the consoles. When you have a niche game genre, when you're porting a keyboard control scheme to a console controller, and when you got a relatively unknown company, that usually spells disaster. Despite all that, DarkStar One is a shining example of bringing not only space flight simulation to the console, but almost anything typically thought of as only playable on a keyboard and mouse.
This game was originally released for the PC in 2006, by the German company Ascaron Entertainment. Yes, this game is almost half a decade old and is being ported to a console by a new publisher, the German company Kalypso Media (Americans can relate to them as the European distributor for the brilliant space RTS Sins of a Solar Empire). So with that history in mind, no one can look at this game as the next thing in gaming as it is essentially a re-release.
You will notice right away the poor presentation of the story. The voice work fits the dated graphics as you almost wish the cutscenes were replaced by dialogue boxes. Even putting the heavily "European" accents of all the characters aside, the voice work would even make the most naïve Star Wars fan roll their eyes. Then you move onto the actual script and you see the story just starts going and makes no attempt to separate itself from familiar plot devices of the "boy out to avenge his father's death" bit. And finally there is this strange cut-and-dry insertion of the cutscenes and dialogue. The examples are tiny cutscenes of a trade station for (I assume) showing up in a new area, though it didn't happen every time. And this one time I showed up in new cluster and there was some ship going after pirates, making a call for all pilots to help and they would get rewarded – sounded like a cool side quest. But when I got to the ship I didn't know where the enemies were, the ship kept doing a play-by-play of the "battle", and then the ship left telling everyone thanks for their help. I have no way of knowing what exactly I needed to do and what I missed. I was left to make my own interpretation, which was "you missed the boat on that one, tough."
This cut-and-dry nature of the game could be attributed to the fact that what may have been scroll-over-able icons on the PC are now just random icons with an unknown meaning on the 360. In a PC game there are constant text boxes and easily-accessible, stored information. I did not play this game on the PC so I don't know if maybe that experience was "holding the player's hand", but either way this game suffers from not doing a well enough job of explaining itself.
There is a brief tutorial to introduce you to the control scheme, but it should have gone a bit longer. One thing you pick up on is that the controls work on the Starfox level of fun. What you may not pick up on are the deeper mechanics of flight. Once you learn how to use the shoulder buttons properly, you will see how brilliantly the devs turned what must have been a fairly complex HUD into a nice wheel of options. And in a twist only possible from this kind of game, you probably won't fully understand what the face buttons are used for – I vaguely remember the someone mentioning the buttons, but a simple "refer to manual" would have done better. Three key controls are how the left trigger is used as your propulsion key in conjunction with the right stick; the ability to pick targets from a minimally cumbersome dropdown list; and that you can speed up time to automatically cover long distances. Despite this game not explaining the control setup well enough, you'll find a finely-tuned and fairly easy set of controls. It may take time to be familiar with them, but credit must be given for streamlining and allowing room for options in your piloting.