DarkStar One Hands-On - Space Combat and Adventure Fly Again on the PC

DarkStar One is a space combat and adventure game that's inspired by classics such as Wing Commander: Privateer--not that there's anything wrong with that.

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DarkStar One is a modern update on the old-school space combat and adventure game that used to be a staple on the PC a decade ago, with games such as Wing Commander: Privateer. And like in that game, DarkStar One lets you fly around the galaxy in a customizable spaceship, battling pirates and other foes while also buying and selling on the open market. We recently got our hands on a preview version of the game to check out what it's like to be a space-fighter jock in 2006.

You play as a young pilot named Kayron, one of the newest escort pilots in the galaxy. The game's name is taken from the fact that you inherit the DarkStar One from your late father. Already one of the most powerful fighters in known space, the DarkStar One is a vehicle with a mysterious past that only you can uncover over the course of the game's story, which involves some kind of mysterious menace to the galaxy.

Space trading and adventure get a graphical upgrade in DarkStar One.
Space trading and adventure get a graphical upgrade in DarkStar One.

In terms of gameplay, DarkStar One doesn't seem to do very much different or new with the established formulas of the genre, but since space games are few and far between nowadays, any kind of technological update is welcome. Your job is to fly around the galaxy, looking for missions and jobs to do, from delivering supplies to a distant sector to hunting down a band of pirates that have grown too brazen for their own good. The game features more than 300 systems to visit, as well as six races to interact with, so there is plenty to see and do in the galaxy of DarkStar One.

While most early space action games required a joystick, the good news is that DarkStar One doesn't, though it will support a joystick if you have one. Otherwise, the controls seem well adapted to the keyboard and mouse, and you'll use the traditional W, A, S, and D keys used for action games to help maneuver your ship, while you simply move the mouse to steer. If you played these kinds of games before, you'll feel right at home with the controls. The opening tutorial walks you through the basics, from getting used to flying by maneuvering through a series of rings (a space-game staple) to combat lessons by battling waves of pirates. Shooting someone down is as easy as maneuvering behind them and putting the cursor onto the lead indicator and then holding down the left mouse button to fire until they're dead. Your own ship relies on shields and armor, so you need to keep a close eye on the indicators and disengage if you're on the receiving end of too much fire. Still, you get the idea that combat is very much about the dogfight, and we must admit that the tight-turning battles reminded us of Wing Commander at times.

It's not all about combat in DarkStar One, though, as the game features an economy with supply and demand, which means there's always room for another trader willing to haul stuff from one station to another. There's a wide variety of goods in the game, and traders will want to pay attention to the best places to buy and sell certain items. Whether you battle or you trade, you'll need cash to upgrade your vessel with a variety of parts. One of the secrets of the DarkStar One is that it was designed by your father using alien technology, so the ship actually "transforms" over time by automatically incorporating new technology into its hull. You can get more powerful weapons, engines, shields, and more, all of which naturally make you a much more effective pilot. And you can also go on various quests where you must recover organic alien "parts" to really upgrade the ship.

Upgrade and repair your ship, get new missions, and trade while docked at a space station.
Upgrade and repair your ship, get new missions, and trade while docked at a space station.

Visually, DarkStar One is impressive thanks to a beautiful graphics engine. Space games in general always tend to look good, thanks to the fact that it's easy for the designers to create detailed spacecraft since they don't have to worry about rendering much else. Indeed, some of the ships in DarkStar One look almost organic in nature, while others are a bit more conventional in terms of spacecraft design, but they still look good. There are intricate lighting and particle effects that kick in throughout the game, particularly during combat, that help immerse you into the void, and, in general, it looks so good that you may yearn for a similar graphical treatment for some of your favorite space games from a decade ago. From what we've seen thus far, DarkStar One seems like it may very well be a faithful heir to games such as Privateer, so that's good news indeed for space fans starved for some action. The game is scheduled to ship later this summer.

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