Darkstar: The Interactive Movie Review

First off I want to thank Jeff Williams of Parallax Studios for sending me a copy of Darkstar for review. I have been delayed in getting this out because of my move to a new town and home, and I also wanted to play the game all the way through. In my opinion Darkstar is a little hard to review for me just because I don’t want to give away to much of the storyline, but here it goes. In Darkstar you start the game by being awoke from a deep cryo-statis sleep. You find out that you have been a sleep so long that you have a little amnesia, you even have forgotten your name, why your on this ship (The Westwick), your crew members and your mission. You find out you are Cpt. O’Neil and you are on the Westwick, which is on mission to Darkstar. The year is now 2499 and you and your crew have been asleep for 312yrs! This is really where the game begins and you now have to find out things about the crew, why the ship is currently in lock down and what happened to Earth and why are you going to Darkstar. As you progress through the game you will find these ‘bio-locks’ that you will need to unlock to access video clips of the back story as to why you are on the mission (these are like memories coming back slowly to Cpt. O’Neil), the bio-locks also used to unlock areas and ship functionality. You need to disable all of the bio-locks on the ship to get it out of lock down mode.

Checkout this trailer for Darkstar: (You can also see more in-depth developer and behind the scenes videos on Parallax’s youtube page)

If you are an older gamer (like me) you will definitely recognize the style of game play to be like these classics; 7th Guest, 11th Hour, Zork and Myst. That’s right all you need to play this game is a mouse to do point-n-click actions. What is Darkstar’s strength? The story in my opinion, Parallax Studios did a great job on the ship interiors and the video clips in the game to keep you going into the wee hours of the morning. The story is very well told and all of the video clips are in HD, did I mention there is over 20hrs worth of video in the game. One thing I liked about the game was the music score and some of the interesting puzzles and mini-games. Just make sure that you pay attention to what you have done in the game, read about and interacted with to progress through the game. The choices that you make in the game move the story along, just don’t make the wrong choice and you won’t find a interesting way to kill yourself.

Darkstar definitely keeps you enthralled with the game content and keeps you playing for some long sessions to see what happens next. And in playing Darkstar I remembered how much I enjoyed playing these FMV story/movie games from the past. And best of all this is a sci-fi game that actually has a good plot.

Pros:

  • No disc switching, everything installs to the hard-drive
  • HD video clips and audio was good.
  • The acting is decent and not too cheesy like some of the older FMV games
  • I personally liked the ship interiors

Cons:

  • You may run into some issues playing this on Win7 64bit OS, run in WinXp or Vista emulation mode and you might need a newer version of quicktime than what is supplied on the disk. You can also go here for more assistance if you run into problems with the game (http://www.darkstar.gs/support-home/)
  • Save game tool could have been more informative as to time/date or a screenshot of the save progress.
  • I would have liked to pilot something in the game instead of it being a video clip.
  • Not really a con but I found out about this game via Amazon doing a search, it is still only purchasable from their website or Amazon.com

For those that have never tried an interactive movie here is your chance, because Darkstar is actually one of the best of the FMV games I have played yet. here is a little tidbit I didn’t know about Darkstar development until I watched a few videos is that this movie/game had a development cycle of around 10yrs! For the dedication alone it deserves a look at. Just remember when playing to really look around and examine all areas of the ship and environment because I missed a few crucial small things that had me stumped for a little while in what to do next. Give us your feedback on Darkstar either here or in the forums.

The Wreckless Review

I got to sit down with The Wreckless over the Christmas holiday which was officially released a few weeks ago, and thought I would do a little write on my experiences with the game. The Wreckless is the first game release for indie developer Duct Tape Games, and have to say not a bad first start at the space combat genre. The missions are loosely tied together with some basic plot lines or least until mission 9 where I have left off at. You start off with the basic fighter (F-95) and go though two missions or so that help you grasp flying and targeting and then you are off to much harder missions. The Wreckless gets you into the action fairly quickly and soon you are trying to stop 15 torpedoes from hitting the Admiral’s ship, fighting ace pilots and keeping certain assets alive under overwhelming odds. I think some of the most difficult missions is where you have multiple objectives and certain ships need to survive. Makes you rethink your squad’s ship selections and plan of attack. I found myself a few times redoing missions until I figured out the best fighter/bomber combinations to bring with me and what to go after first.

The graphics are average but do work well with the action on the screen, the graphics has a cell shaded type art style to me. The action is challenging and Wreckless does have a bit of a Tie Fighter feel to it with the ship combat and the way combat looks on the screen. I also like the fact that you have a little bit of newton style physics in there which helps when taking on the bigger ships.

When you get killed you are automatically put into one of your squadrons drone ships. When you and all of your drone are destroyed or an objective has failed your mission is over. There is a mission briefing with a tactical screen to help you with your mission planning and the selection of the correct ship types to bring on the mission. The sound effects and music are average, I would have liked to have more battle and in-flight music options and more pilot comm chatter. The briefings and tutorial voice overs were good and not too cheesy like some previous games I have played in the past.

So down to what I liked and what needs some work, I will be using a Pros/Cons system to give possible purchasers of the game an idea of what to expect. My evaluation is going off of what I have observed and played so far (on mission 9 of 16), everyone’s opinions are different so I always tell people to play the game for yourself. This way you can be more informed and maybe even provide feedback to get the game fixed.

Pros:

  • Mission briefings are descriptive and voiced
  • The ability to research new ships as you advance through missions
  • No install, just extract and play (or least my copy was like that)
  • Fun combat, targeting was sometimes a bit off imo
  • I liked the visuals even though they were simplistic, it works. And the frame rates were really good while playing I avg. between 80-100fps
  • Your mission isn’t over until your whole squadron is dead or you fail an objective. You just move from drone to drone until you have exhausted your squadron of ships.
  • In simulator mode you can create various scenarios with ships and test your skills.

Cons/issues:

  • Would have liked to have equipment or hard point reseach as well as the ships
  • Needs better control scheme for drone control or let the player during the briefing screen set priorities for the drones.
  • No cockpit views
  • No native joystick support. But i’m sure you could program a joystick profile for the game
  • Cannot specifically target different sub-systems on larger ships like a cruiser/battleship
  • Experienced some issues with windows mode with drop-down controls on mission screen and movement issues when cursor is not in the active game window

Overall I am having a fun time playing The Wreckless and plan on playing it to the end. I am always a huge supporter of the indie scene and did I mention that this is available for Windows and Mac platforms. What I liked most about my experience with the game was the combat and how sometimes you can just get pummeled with lasers and be just floating debris in secs. The battles close up or at a distance with all of the lasers or weapon trails look nice and give a feel of desperation at times in the game to keep you on edge to complete the mission. The Wreckless is currently being sold for $9.99 on GamersGate and from their website.

So give The Wreckless a spin and if you like it support Duct Tape Games. You can discuss the game here or in the forums.

Here is one of the latest videos of The Wreckless in action.

Star Ruler Review

Iceberg Interactive has sent me a copy of new indie developer Blind Mind Studio’s first game Star Ruler (shipping version v1.1.0.0). Iceberg Interactive did a nice job with Star Ruler’s packaging with some great cover art and explanation of the game features on the back. Inside it comes of course with the game, a nicely written manual and a poster. I usually don’t play 4x style games that much personally, but I have to admit I found Star Ruler’s tutorial to be very helpful in that it was well scripted and went over all the controls, ship design and construction, combat, planet mechanics, research and diplomacy. So by the end of the tutorial I thought I was capable enough to start playing the game.

One thing that I did notice, was that there was no campaign/story mode in Star Ruler which was a bit of a let down for me, but it isn’t a deal breaker. Game setup has a series of controls in which you can adjust various game play options. Setting up your race is easy and you have some racial options to set if you choose to enhance or challenge your in-game experience. When I started playing Star Ruler I selected a galaxy with a 100+ systems and just thought that would take me forever to play so I picked a 25 system galaxy against 3 AI opponents and that game seemed a bit more manageable. Star Ruler’s galaxy is procedurally generated so you shouldn’t play the same setup twice unless you want to because there is a ‘seed’ value that you can insert and I take it that if you supply the same number that you could play the same level design over.

When you start the game you get one planet and you are supposed to grow your empire from there. So my planet construction began and I created some scout and colony ships sending them off to scout systems and colonize the other planets in my local system. One thing about planets is that you can focus every planets production output (ie: food, metal, electronics, goods, science, etc..). Depending on what you construct you can start to move resources from planet to planet. While doing all of this you should also be constructing your fleet because all of these assets need protection and it always helps to have some early warning about any races snooping around. During this process you are working with Star Ruler’s interface, which I think is very informative and easy to use and understand. In this style of game the interface is very important because you have a lot of things to keep track of and a helpful and easy interface is crucial I think to your success.

One thing you have to remember when you are playing Star Ruler is that it is a real-time strategy game and unless the game is paused the AI is moving and growing stronger so the longer you take looking at the star map, informational displays, designing ships and plotting routes the more the AI is gaining on you or surpassing you. One good thing is that there is a lot of automation in the game when it comes to planet management and other tasks to help you concentrate more on strategy and fleet building.

Here is a few Pros/Cons I have come up with after my game sessions with Star Ruler:

Pros:

  • All matches are procedurally generated so there is plenty of re-playability
  • Lots of AI options
  • The tutorial (in my opinion) was well done and does help a newb grasp the concept and controls fairly easily
  • Galaxy/System graphics were decent
  • Mod support
  • Ship loadout and blueprint system, almost another game in itself
  • Music score gave the game a good feeling and felt right when you were playing

Cons:

  • No story/campaign mode
  • When your zoomed in on the combat, the visual effects were not that great
  • I thought the research page was a little confusing at times
  • Would have liked to see more ship model types

I have had a fun time playing Star Ruler the past few days in which some of my missions ended in victory and others in bitter defeat and all the while I was learning something new or trying out new tactics. Unfortunately I didn’t have the time to play in any multi-player matches at all, but you can play in co-op, team and free for all matches with human players and AI players. Star Ruler is a definitely a game that can entertain you for many weeks to months because of the re-playability of the procedurally generated galaxy and the mods that are being produced by the community members.

Check out the trailer below:



Star Ruler has come a long way from the early demos I played back in 2010 and it is definitely great to see it surpass the v1.0 release. This is why indie developers like Blind Mind Studios are so great they put out roughly 25 different patches to get to the v1.0 release and you don’t see that type of support usually in the big name developers so hats off to you. On what I would grade my experiences with Star Ruler, I would give them a 79-80%. Only things that brought the ranking down for me was a lack of storyline (my preference really) and when you play the large galaxy games they seem (to me) overwhelming in scope and complexity. But the good thing for the hardcore fans of RTS 4x games is that this game is for you.

10 Min Space Strategy Review

The Goblin Lunatics have just released v1.0 of their game 10 Min Space Strategy (10mSS) which you can download for free from either Golbin Lunatics homepage or the SpaceSimCentral download area. I have played 10 Min Space Strategy for a few hours now and I have had different experiences where the game didn’t last 10mins, more like 4mins (and I got owned) and one that took about an hour to complete, which I eventually won.

When you start a new game, you pick between one of six races (Mechanized Menance, Silicantis, Tentacle, Insectoid, Amazon and Human) and each of these races has their own race specific abilities (Credo), six types to pick from. Then you have some trait points to use, the trait points are already distributed and you can take the defaults or customize your character even more. Once you do all that you are now ready to play a game, so just need to pick out how many opponents you want to face and the size of the hex map to play on. The game starts with a small area of the map visible to you and this changes as you explore/grow your empire. You can develop planets you own and use colony ships to colonize planets under your control or create a space station.

There is various anomalies and debris fields that you can send ships to that will give you small benefits like population growth, research improvements and production speed. Once you have plotted all your moves and chose the research path (Environment, Industry, Propulsion, Empire and Warfare) you are developing you end your turn. The computer AI moves are very quick so your game can go by really quickly if you know what you are doing. If you look closely at the ‘Empire Details’ page it will show you some special research traits that you can strive to attain to help with your conquest.

Pros/Cons of 10 Min Space Strategy:

Pros:

  • There is actually more depth to the game than what I expected with race/research traits
  • Adjustable map and planet density controls
  • Music sets the right mood
  • AI is competitive
  • Tooltips were descriptive to make understanding the games menus/items much easier

Cons:

  • Same graphic models for all of the ships. Only thing that changed was the color. Since there is different races it would have been nice to have each race have their own style of ships.
  • Would have liked to see a more animated background
  • I noticed a few times only on the larger maps and using all the race slots for the game that it can get into a endless condition. I had the game going on auto-pilot for 30+ mins and 2000+ turns later and the game was a deadlock. Think there needs to have some logic that will call a winner or make the game a draw after so many turns.
  • This is only a small issue. But the divide forces screen could have been more informative in which side to place resources to move to a given destination.

Conclusion:
Overall 10 Min Space Strategy is a nice 4x style game that can give you many hours of fun. With everything randomized you have a lot of replayability. I am hard pressed to really find any big flaws with this game. It is fast loading, AI is good, gameplay is challenging and the game never crashed once. Yeah the graphics could be a bit better and maybe add some more music tracks but overall its a job well done Goblin Lunatics. I hope the developer does decide to expand on to this game and if they do I would like to see some of the following:

  • Maybe short 1-3 mission campaign modes with short storylines
  • Team play 2vs2, 3vs3 and 4vs4
  • LAN or Multiplayer functionality
  • Ability to mod some of the game assets like graphics, backgrounds and music
  • Since this game is free on the PC, you guys need to make some money so convert this to work on mobile platforms it is almost perfect for that platform.

I would give 10 Min Space Strategy a score of 85 out out 100 just because of how easy the game is to grasp and the features you do have available to you in this quick/easy game. Make sure you give this game a try and let us know what you think and make sure you do let the developers know what you think of it as well so maybe we can see more development on 10min Space Strategy game in the future.

Checkout this in-game trailer of the game:

Shattered Origins: Guardians of Unity Review

Finally sat down with Elder Games latest game release, Shattered Origins: Guardians of Destiny. The general story behind Shattered Origins is that humankind has devastated Earth’s resources and now humanity is trying to branch out into space to find more resources to sustain life. A company called ‘Guardians’ emerged as the sole entity that could provide the populous with the resources needed to sustain life on Earth. The ‘Guardians’ wanted unite humanity, which seemed to work for a short while until its leaders started to become to controlling. The populous started to defect and revolt against the support and protection of the Guardians. The defectors were labeled as ‘Pirates’, the Guardians and the Pirates have now been fighting for hundreds of years and Shattered Origins takes place during this time period.

Here is some info on Shattered Origins

Developer: Elder Games
Publisher: Rawen Group
Platform: Windows (XP and above)
Version tested: v1.02

I’m going to skip right to the game mechanics and gameplay. No sense in covering the tutorial, because it does what it says and teaches you the basics of the game. You start the game in ‘Guardian Prime Sector’ and you have a few small engagements and quests to do. But here is where you do some crystal mining to equip your cruiser and small missions to build some experience for yourself and your squadron of ships. I personally liked the concept of being able to pause the action to switch to any ship under your command. And you can also use this pause action to gain access to the cruisers construction and research abilities. On the guardian cruiser you can send out mining drones, use crystals gathered to purchase ships, do tech upgrades and build additions (hanger and research areas) and defenses (turret) for your cruiser.

Shattered Origins has a strategy element to this space combat game where you can build/customize your squadron of ships. As the game progresses your wingmen will level, you then get three attribute points to distribute between three areas (weapons, repair and reflexes). This is where the strategy component comes into play because you now have to take your type of ship (ie: light, medium, heavy fighters), assigned weapons or components and your attribute points and build a squadron of wingmen that can survive in combat.

The combat is somewhat unique in that you can pilot every ship under your command. You do this by pausing the action (right mouse button) and then select which ship you want to jump into. I used this feature a lot personally, to level my wingman during battle and to try to save wounded pilots by jumping into their ships and taking over. I did this because most times I could level my ships quicker and I think I am better than the AI.

Something I should mention as well as that there is some mini-games in Shattered Origins that surprised me when i ran into them and these mini-games can be quite challenging, especially the ‘Freeway’ clone from back in the Atari 2600 days. There was also a tower defense style game that you will run into which didn’t seem to have much difficulty to it to me. Heck a little more refinement and the tower defense style game could be a standalone game.

Shattered Origins Pros/Cons

Pros:

  • Graphics and Sound – Personally I liked the feel of this game. The music was decent and was not annoying, the voice acting was good and better than most of the recent titles to come out. The graphics are not setting new benchmarks for visual quality, but Shattered Origins should be able to be ran on most systems without issue. The game seemed to have a dull color palette and not he over coloring that seems to happen in most space games today.
  • Ship movements and controls – I really liked the ship switching concept of the game and this game you the opportunity to try different ships and weapon and system layouts.The mouse/keyboard controls seemed real responsive and easy to learn and use. For all of the newton physics fans out there, Shattered Origins doesn’t fully support this and flight is almost like Freelancer.
  • Achievements and un-lockable skirmishes – During the campaign or skirmish mode you will unlock some new skirmish maps and achievements.
  • AI – The wingmen in your squad are not just cannon fodder, they actually respond quite well in combat. It would have been great if there was more wingmen command functions.

Cons:

  • Campaign is to short, it took me about 18hrs to complete the campaign. Just as I was getting some of the higher upgrades and higher level wingmen (lvl9+) the game is done and a little ‘to be continued’ message.
  • Need to have a larger sector map, currently there is only 8 sectors you can visit. And the sectors that you can visit are empty. There should be at the least some stations (faction based) in some of the sectors and some civilian and merchant traffic to make the sectors seem alive.
  • Not many side missions. I think I only performed 10 or so the whole time I played and I tried to complete every mission. I noticed that when i left the sector with the trader that my trader missions were removed and I couldn’t get them back. Not sure if that is a bug or not?
  • Didn’t have the ability to sell ships or remove/exchange certain mounted equipment. So if you assigned the hull enhancement that would make you take less ramming damage, but then you wanted the shield enhancement you were out of luck.
  • I would have liked to have the ability to mouse-over my wingman and get a experience status. Because I could have used this to help level my wingmen by jumping into ships to kill pirates.

Conclusion

Shattered Origins is a bit short on campaign length for my liking, I would liked to have at least 25-30hr campaign. The story flowed well and it kept me playing the game. The AI is pretty good and you may have some frustrating moments on the harder difficulty and in skirmishes. I very much liked the leveling of wingmen (remember the same type of concept in Space Force II) and the tech tree that can be used to research both ship and cruiser items. At times you did spend some time waiting for resources to build up and you had nothing to do but sit around. That was really the only boring part of the game for me and could be easily remedied with a patch to create side missions or let you actually mine asteroids as well. So what would I grade Shattered Origins? I would rate the game a 82/100. My main issues were the short campaign and needed more in-game content (ie: missions and sectors to explore). Not sure what the future holds for Shattered Origins and whether the sequel is coming in a patch or a release? But with a few fixes and tweaks to gameplay Elder Games can make Shattered Origins shine.

I will be keeping my eye on Shattered Origins to see what gets fixed and about any sequel that may be coming? For now I would recommend trying the demo.

Also checkout the Shattered Origins trailer below:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mJ42Wgxk5DY

Thanks Lord Crusare and the rest of Elder Games for giving SpaceSimCentral the opportunity to review your game and you can comment on Shattered Origins here.