Darkstar: review

  • Format:PC, Mac (version reviewed)
  • Unleashed:Out Now
  • Publisher:Lace Mamba Global
  • Developer:Parallax Studio
  • Players:1
  • Site:http://www.darkstar.gs/

Darkstar has been a labour of love for creator J. Allen Williams, who wrote, directed, produced and was lead animator on the production of the game over the course of ten years. The game fuses real actors performances into animated scenes created by renowned comic book artist Richard Corben, and is the latest attempt to create an interactive movie. So have the ten years in development been well spent, or is J. Allen Williams ten years too late with this sci-fi adventure?

Nice and simple puzzles are the name of the game

The story follows our character, Captain John O’Neil, as he finds himself waking up onboard his spaceship the Westwick after 312 lost years spent asleep in a cryo-chamber. He’s been in his slumber so long that he has amnesia, and can’t even recall his own name. He finds that his ship has been damaged and is set adrift around the orbit of an alien world. His partner is missing, the ship’s pilot is asleep in her cryo-chamber and the navigator has been murdered in his sleep and had his hand removed. We also find out that the Earth has been destroyed by an alien race from Mars, and the Captain and his friends are the last surviving members of the human race. It sounds like a waking nightmare and the same can be said of the game itself.

You navigate the ship with your mouse, looking around to try to find spots of interest, much like Myst. After you find something to interact with, like say levers or computer terminals, the story progresses with a short FMV sequence. The trouble is the ship is very cluttered and is extremely dark and muddy, which makes looking and moving around a nightmare. The design of the ship is very bad and it’s hard to see what’s what. The FMV sequences are blurry and poor quality, and the actors are poorly pasted into the computer generated backgrounds, with a bit too much of a feathering effect around them, making them look like ghostly Star Trek rejects. The acting is very patchy to say the least, which would have been fine if it was acted in a tongue in cheek manner, which would at least give the game some charm. Instead it just feels like a cheap TV series that was cancelled before the pilot show was even aired.

Bring back Kirk and Spock, all is forgiven!

Over forty actors have been used in the game, but none are what you could describe as household names. The game stars Clive Robertson as Captain John O’Neill. Robertson is best known for his role in the soap opera Sunset Beach. This game was also the last performance from the late great Peter Graves, who narrates the game, and who you may remember as the pilot in comedy Airplane!, as well as Men in Black II and the original TV series of Mission: Impossible. The other characters are made up of the whole cast of cult American TV show Mystery Science Theater 3000, and other bit part actors, who on this performance, you will probably never hear about again.

The gameplay involves clicking on places of interest, flicking switches or pushing buttons. The thing is you can click on a computer terminal and what you think is a button, but if you don’t get it spot on your character ends up stepping away from the panel, leaving you to try again. There is nothing to highlight that the button can be pushed, which is extremely frustrating, as you end up frantically clicking like a hyperactive eBayer making a desperate last bid. There were also times when you click on where you want the Captain to go, but he ends up going in completely the wrong direction. Sometimes you click on a place of interest, which you would think would describe the thing you’re looking at, but it ends up with O’Neill in mortal danger as he leaps to his doom. It’s these points which frustrate the most, as the control is taken totally away from the player, with no choice on your interactivity with the point of interest. You also have an inventory that you can look at to see what items you have, but the game automatically uses any items that you have in your possession when they are needed, which almost renders puzzles obsolete. This was obviously to push the plot forward and to ease any frustrations that players may encounter, as they are pushing the game as an interactive movie more than a game. There are a few simple puzzles that need solving like some anagrams for instance, but nothing that Dr Kawashima would consider as Brain Training.

Anyone got a torch?

The game feels like we have been transported back in time 10 years, rather than 300 years into the future, such is the archaic nature of the game. This is certainly no Mass Effect, with very limited puzzles, lots of aimless wandering as you look for bits of scenery to click, and a sense of bewilderment at what you need to do next as nothing is signposted to help you. Darkstar does have a decent atmosphere, and the creator has to be applauded for taking the time to see his vision through to completion, but if you fancy a sci-fi game we recommend you stick to Mass Effect or Deus Ex, or if you want to watch a sci-fi movie try Blade Runner or Star Wars. Unfortunately for J. Allen Williams, gaming has moved on a lot since this game was conceived, and what is on offer here is a poor interactive experience that is ten years too late for the majority of gamers.


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Written by Kevin M

I've been addicted to gaming since my parents bought an Atari console way back in the 70's. I progressed to the iconic Speccy, Amiga, and all the Playstation platforms. Having seen games evolve from single pixel bat and ball, to HD constructed environments, gaming has changed much from my early years. Having defeated the rock hard R-Type on the Speccy, the biggest challenge I've faced so far is putting up with the hordes of American teens spouting abuse in the current generation of consoles, noob indeed!

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