DarkSpace is a persistent "offworld" epic that shifts many conventions of online role-playing games into science-fiction territory.
Massively multiplayer online gaming has moved to outer space. DarkSpace, which was developed by small Texas-based developer PaleStar, is a persistent "offworld" epic that shifts many conventions of online role-playing games into science-fiction territory. The gameplay is fresh, innovative to a certain degree, and a real eye-opener for those who have grown tired of the swords and sorcery settings of EverQuest and its ilk. It is the perfect game for the jaded online game junkie who wants to trade in elves for aliens and that snazzy suit of magical plate mail for a starship.
Or at least it might be in a few months. Like so many massively multiplayer games that have been released in the past year, DarkSpace is unfinished. Despite a six-month beta-testing phase before the game went live on December 21 of last year, there are still a few noteworthy problems. Servers go down on occasion, resulting in data being reset and player progress being lost. Massive updates are a regular occurrence. The initial 35MB download (DarkSpace is only available as a free download at the official Web site) has already been augmented by at least another 20MB of data, indicating that PaleStar is cobbling things together as it goes, while still charging you $9.99 per month. At the same time, however, the company is demonstrating a desire to work out the kinks, and it's doing a lot more than just stomping bugs. Each major update has included some significant additions to gameplay, such as new units, rules, and other miscellaneous features, and there's much more on the drawing board. DarkSpace might not be a sci-fi gamer's dream yet, but it clearly has a lot of promise and bears close watching.
And it certainly isn't lacking in strong points now. PaleStar is putting great effort into developing a universe that's as compelling as those seen in TV space operas like the Star Trek shows and Babylon 5. To this end, the developer has created a complete future history. You begin play in the year 2140 as a member of one of three competing factions. The human United Galactic Trade Organization (UGTO) is the dominant power, having been established as sort of a one-world government over a century earlier, while its chief rival, the Interstellar Cultural Confederation (ICC), is fighting to establish an independent regime far from Earth. Adding to the intrigue is the K'Luth, an alien race targeting all humanity. There is a lot more to the narrative than these basics, of course. The complete story is well put together and intricately detailed, the sort of thing that inspires fan fiction.
This attention to detail is mirrored in the presentation quality of the background universe. Nearly every scene could have been clipped from a big-budget movie. Planets and moons rotate in front of their suns, causing halos and corona effects so striking that one of the major pleasures is rotating the camera to gaze at the scenery. The backdrop starfield and nebulae lend depth to this setting and provide an atmosphere of loneliness that one presumes to be the sole constant in the vacuum of space. Sparse audio accentuates this effect. There is no musical score, and you can only hear engines, weaponry firing, and the odd bit of radio chatter by zooming in close on a specific ship.
You get a chance to participate in the ongoing conflict by taking the helm of a starship. After choosing a power to align yourself with, you enter play as a lowly midshipman and choose a vessel to command. As is the norm in massively multiplayer games, you begin on the bottom rung of a very long ladder. Choices are limited to relatively impotent scouts, transports, and engineers in the beginning. There is a little room for variety in regard to what specific type of each class you'll pilot--for example, UGTO midshipmen get to pick from anti-sensor, bomber, and long-range variations of scout ships--so by and large you all start from the same lowly position. Ship types are roughly the same no matter which faction you represent. The UGTO and ICC vessels are even similar in appearance, sharing a standard cylindrical sci-fi design. K'Luth ships look completely different, more like living organisms than mechanical vessels. All craft are beautifully rendered, right down to damage effects that show up in combat.
Career advancement is determined by rank and the number of badges acquired. Promotions up through 12 levels of rank are governed by prestige points earned for such acts as destroying enemies and conquering planets and taken away for such acts as getting destroyed and colliding with planets. Also, according to the manual, prestige levels may be altered according to issues of "game balance" at any time.