I thought I'd actually play something new instead of WoW. So I leeched the Darkstar One demo, knowing pretty much nothing about it other than Slim saying "It's more freelancer than Elite".
Well, actually, it's more Elite than it is freelancer. It's a complete and utter Elite rip-off. X was inspired by Elite but Egosoft Krauts took it way further than any concept of Elite and Frontier. By contrast, Darkstar, authored by Ascaron - another bunch of Krauts - had a design document that must surely have began:
Darkstar One will be the Elite that everyone wanted. It'll have a new graphics engine that looks nice and you'll be able to completely upgrade your ship! Also there will be a thrilling story about how your super duper infinitely upgradable ship was created by your murdered father and you must avenge his death! The story will be told with digital actors with a realistic cinematography angle. We'll also add a wise cracking companion since every sci-fi hero has a wisecracking companion. We'll sell millions!
I see where they are coming from. I don't think there's harm in ripping off Elite and making a game out of it any more than there is the legions of Doom and Command and Conquer rip-offs. And in fact as your basic Elite clone (lest you think I play up the clone aspect, the mysterious alien threat in this are called Thul) goes, this is competently done. Unlike X, this is a game you can steam into. It's basic, controlling the ship is easy. Getting from one system to another is extremely fast, dog fights are, well, about as silly as all space dog-fights are but competently done.
Where it all goes horribly wrong is when the developers sat down and went "hey guys, every game has a proper story now, we better add one!". Oh boy is this one bad. It features some of the most apallingly bad acting. The pace is just all wrong, your side kick just sort of barges in and takes over the computer console on your ship all in the space of a minute. Picking up alien artifacts to upgrade your ship, all of which are deeply and pointlessly located inside silly asteroids. It's bad, it's really really bad.
The random dialog you hear from ships nearby is bad also. Everything to do with voice acting, story telling, jesus even the name of the game sucks. Darkstar? Christ, give me a break. The crazy stuff is they surely must have looked at games in the genre from the altogether-too-linear-story-driven games like freespace through to the impenitrable X series - all of which do the story stuff pretty damn well. It's so bad in Darkstar One that actually I found myself just ignoring it and going around trying the Elite style stuff. Bit of trading (until some government mysteriously decided to confiscate my cargo for no apparent reason - it wasn't illegal or anything), some escort missions, some other space type missions and LOTS of dogfighting pirates.
I found myself actually kinda engaged with it as an Elite clone. What about the ship bolt-ons and all that kind of jazz? Well, at one point I slapped on mark 2 lasers or something and the enemy ships were dying instantly and it was ridiculously easy but then I must have just gotten onto the next level of bad guys and again my lasers were doing just as much damage as they did in the first place. Upgrading stuff seems kinda pointless because there's no real sense of trying to get to the next stage, to overcome a more difficult enemy.
The demo is pretty generous though and I got my ship about as good as you can but it was pretty much exactly like it was when I started it. Decent missiles cost twice as much as anything bounty you'll earn by killing a ship so I didn't see the point and just made sure I had the best lasers I could afford. There's a kind of special weapon/ability thing which is configurable - boost your shields, your weapon recharge rates, remove enemy shields etc. Kinda fair enough although why on earth this is called a plasma canon is utterly beyond me? How, exactly, does one recharge your weapons energy with a plasma canon? It's not even remotely believable.
And there's the rub really. You play this demo and you're going to see kinda everything this game has to offer. It's not a terrible game but it doesn't excel in any area either. It's more accessible than the X games but then it lacks any real depth there either. For a simple game, it doesn't have some engrossing linear story to suck you in either.
The bottom line is, it's just about worth playing the demo to check it out but I'd be damn surprised if anyone went and bought it after.
Let's be honest here. The only reason anyone is giving it the time of day is because Braben and his merry band of goons at Frontier developments are too busy making shit Roller Coast game and the occasional lame Wallace and Grommet license to get off their collective slothenly arses and make the next Frontier. It's just a shame that Ascaron are barely any more competent themselves. Surely someone will step up to the plate?