Back in the eighties, most of us owned a ZX Spectrum or a Commodore 64. However, if your parents bought your computer, you probably ended up with a BBC Micro (or, God help you, an Oric). This meant that while the ZX versus 64 debate raged in the playground, as kids argued about which games were better, you’d get beaten up when you tried to explain how great BBC Basic and ‘procs’ were.
However, there was one notable perk for Beeb owners, and that was playing the original Elite. This classic space combat and trading game was an eighties masterpiece and a formula that is still copied today. Darkstar One isn’t ashamed of its Elite roots: the developers have even kept the same pilot rankings, as you start off “harmless” and move your way through to “notorious” and beyond when you rack up the kills.
If it’s originality you’re after, you’ll not find much of it here. However, you will find a damn solid and well executed space sim. Darkstar features the typical set-up: there’s a main set of storyline missions and host of side missions. It’s the player’s choice whether they want to be a trader or mercenary for the government, or a nefarious pirate or smuggler.
The driving force behind the game is to upgrade your ship with the credits you earn, and commendably there’s a considerable selection of various weapons and systems to bolt on, along with various technology tree upgrades for the craft itself. The latter are facilitated by artifacts that can be found in certain systems, and Darkstar does a good job of encouraging the player to explore its vast universe.
You might discover an artifact, or perhaps a pirate gang hiding out in an asteroid field whose leader drops a secret weapon when killed. There are also special missions which can only be found in distant systems, and trader types have to search far and wide for the most lucrative shipping routes. The trading system itself is simple and effective: there are no complex spreadsheets here and it’s all very easy to understand, but you have to do a little figuring out to discover the best runs.
The combat engine doesn’t let the side down, either. It’s fast-paced and arcade style, but with enough tactical considerations – like switching power from weapons to shields, or employing reverse thrusters and an agile flick to turn the tables on a tailing opponent – to keep things interesting.
Visually, all this is impressively depicted, with brightly coloured, organic, Babylon 5 style alien craft and gorgeous backdrops of nebulae, twin suns and enigmatic gas fields crackling with electricity. However, you won’t be able to run the high graphics settings unless you have a pretty powerful PC. Our reasonably capable rig chugged a little, and we were forced to compromise a touch with the detail sliders.
It’s possible to play Darkstar with either the joystick or the mouse, but mystifyingly, the invert mouse option doesn’t work, even with the latest patch applied. That’s a bug which could well annoy some players, but fortunately there really isn’t much else to get worked up about here. If you’re after a straightforward yet compelling free-form space combat trading game, hyperspace on over to Darkstar One’s universe without delay.