Press » Igromania (RUSSIA) Review by Krill Voloshin


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Note: this review was translated verbatim with online translation software. We make no claims as to the accuracy of the translation.

At the beginning of the 80’s in the Soviet Union we had the original cartoon “About the Tortoise” with an odd plot. For the duration of the story, the heroine undertook the attempts to escape, but each time she was thwarted by adverse and changing and unusual weather. In the finale she finds herself with an umbrella in winter escaping the tortoise as a result of the absurd confluence of circumstances via the umbrella used as a sail, chased by the Tortoise in overshoes on the snowdrifts.

The situation is similar with the game DARKSTAR The Interactive Movie, this new, interactive cinema which took ten years to produce. 13.5 hours of live video footage with the participation of more than forty professional actors — unique of any game produced by any developer other than perhaps David Milch (Heavy Rain). After the demise of such interactive films, perhaps it is possible they have successfully returned with the release of DARKSTAR.

Back into the past.

The heyday of this genre was during the 80’s and 90’s of the previous century, so why did developers suddenly decide to return to such a dated style in the creation of this video game? Absolutely no one was making such a game when Parallax Studio began the design and production process of DARKSTAR in the year 2000.

Originally, Parallax Studio produced a fantastic short film in the late 90’s that would be the seed of DARKSTAR intended as a set of station break bumpers for the Sci-Fi Channel. J. Allen Williams, owner of Parallax, examined the potential of adapting the idea into the gaming industry and contracted with Tribal Media to assist with programming. As a result of ten years of production, the short film became the space opera DARKSTAR The Interactive Movie, occupying 13.5 Gb on the hard drive and taking about 25 hours of time to fully navigate.

In the Back-Story movie, inhabitants of planet Earth in the year 2118 decide to export their entire nuclear weapon arsenal far into space aboard unmanned freighters which eventually collide with an asteroid, and as a result forms an anomaly later dubbed DARKSTAR. The black hole is a place in space and time forever frozen in the year 2118.

Life goes on back on Earth as their government deports all criminals to a prison colony on Mars, where there eventually occurs a violent uprising. And on the eve of the decisive battle with the Martian rebels, terrestrial leaders understand that their only hope is to send a communication into the past — warning their ancestors in the year 2118 by sending a starship through the heart of DARKSTAR into the past. The principal hero of game is Captain John O’Neil played by actor Clive Robertson, a star from the popular 90’s youth oriented television series Sunset Beach.

The Captain soon finds that many things have gone wrong with the mission as he wakes up aboard the Westwick in a cryogenic chamber where he has spent the last 312 years — a dangerously long period of time — the Captain cannot remember anything previous that time because of the lengthy duration of his sleep session. It is later explained that several other ships were also sent to the anomaly, and the Westwick was attacked and boarded at some point. An unknown nemesis is using O’Neil for their own purposes. In the process of exploring the ship, O’Neil gradually learns new facts about himself, his mission, and discovers what has happened to his crew — all in order to, in the final analysis, reach the ear 2118 and hopefully avoid apocalypse.

Freedom to interactive space!

But first he must revive the de-energized ship. Long wanderings on the corridors of the enormous space vessel await us as it is now necessary to open multiple doors, search for codes and keys to unlock them, and to locate and activate various systems and control panels. All this exploration and game-play is executed in the form of traditional point and click, panoramic games, utilizing various futuristic devices.

But game-play is not limited to the study of corridors and rooms. O’Neil also must survive the attacks of terrible monsters, emergencies that can wreck the ship, landing on the unknown alien planet, deadly mysteries inside an extraterrestrial sacrificial temple, an encounter with a Martian rebel, numerous confrontations within the ship, and the final journey through DARKSTAR. In all, nearly 30 death sequences await O’Neil, and whether or not he will survive depends on us (the player).

There are no complex controls or devices to manage — your mouse and keyboard are all you need as DARKSTAR does not use elements of a simulator or game engine. We view live video scored with progressive rock music similar to RUSH, periodically solve puzzles, explore the world, and most importantly, make decisions on which depends the life of the Captain will determine the outcome of the mission/story.

In an interview with J. Allen Williams (Writer/Director/Producer), he states that the game will be generally nonlinear with several death-endings. Depending on how you approach the task at hand, it is possible to solve the mystery in whatever sequence you like, and there is no singularly correct scenario of the mission whatsoever. “You yourselves decide whether or not to kill or be killed, and to proceed onward. There are moral choices, and a complex dilemma in the finale where you are faced with three choices of what to do” says the head of Parallax Studio.

There are many different interactions with the crew-members, which all relate to the resolution of the plot. Aboard the Westwick you will meet a speaking droid named Simon, and the beautiful pilot Page Palmer who also awakens from cryogenic sleep. So from here we are free to solve the mystery and build relationships with characters we encounter. “For example, in many situations the hero can receive help from Simon, but if you offend him or fail to encounter him in the first place, he won’t help you and you’ll be on your own”, explains Williams. In this sense, DARKSTAR is similar to some of the best of RPG games like Mass Effect and Knights of the Old Republic.

It seems hardly possible that the game can recoup it’s costs due to the huge scale of the production, this is obviously more of an example of a rash devotion to dream than the model of a well thought out business project. Also, Williams invited into his project people with whom he dreamed to work with such as the band RUSH (whose music sadly was removed due to a conflict with Universal Studios), and legendary comic artist Rich Corben who is noted for works for the periodical Heavy Metal and also for DC and Marvel comics.

It’s a bit of a pity that the developers of DARKSTAR suffer the same fate as their storyline—stuck in the past while more modern-paced video in the games seem a more successful solution with less risk. Clive Robertson’s performance is fashionable, and the attitude and perseverance by Parallax Studio is worthy of respect. Despite the fact it’s taken so long, Parallax Studio released DARKSTAR between July and December of 2010. Publishers offer the game as a download and as a complete 13.5 Gb version in a 2 Dual-layer DVD box so that science fiction fans can get out their credit cards, make vacant some space on their hard drives, and purchase DARKSTAR.

Worth the wait? DARKSTAR is unique in its offering of film in an interactive setting where you help live-action actors solve riddles, relate to each other and make important decisions to resolve an epic, sci-fi conflict..

Grade: 7 out of 10 GOOD Game.