Darkstar – Review

A review of Darkstar I wrote for the website www.square-go.com

he line between movies and games is a line that has been blurring for a long time. As the quality of games increased, that dream of a game that looks like a movie has been attempted again and again. But what if there is a third path? Why not make an interactive movie, as demonstrated by Darkstar?

Well, because they weren’t that good.

A history lesson: Once Upon a Time, video games came on cartridges and were limited to nice looking sprites and pixels and everyone was happy. Then, from the dark woods called “Multimedia” came something called a CD-ROM. This had loads more storage space than cartridges! In fact, it could hold full movies! We didn’t need sprites anymore, we could film actors on blue screens and put them in any environment and then movies and games will co-exist in peaceful harmony forever!

Yeah. Not quite.

The problem is that these interactive movies were only partly interactive and as games weren’t that interesting. Some were decent and when they morphed into adventure games like Myst then they sold well, but this ended up being an avenue of games quickly marginalised once the 3D consoles took over things.

Darkstar is a game firmly from this breed. Set in the future, you play a character who awakes from 300 years on hyper-sleep on a ship drifting through space with no memory of who you are, why you’re on a ship or anything else.

This is an interesting beginning but is hampered by actually playing the game as it feels like it was made 20 years ago. Moving around the ship involves pre-rendered animated sequences, you can look all around you but cannot walk wherever you need to, which feels limiting and just plain wrong considering how much video games have evolved.

However, kicking this game in the teeth somehow feels wrong as well. It was made pretty much by one guy over the course of ten years so, on, that basis, it is quite an achievement. It also stars the cast of Mystery Science Theatre 3000 so there’s that as well for fans of the show.

What it all comes down to is this: the game is not fun to play. But then, it’s not intended to be a game in the strictest sense, it’s supposed to be this immersive movie with real actors and a story to lose yourself in. Which is a fair enough aim, but when everything seems designed to stop you from being immersed, when everything annoys and grates, then it doesn’t matter.

This is a relic, a game where the only explanation for it’s existence is that it fell through some kind of wormhole from the mid-nineties and has landed in our year. It’s a game that ignores all the progress that video games have made and strides it’s own lonely path.

Some people may find something in this but most people will try it for a few minutes and then realise that we do really have things better these days.

Two stars out of five

Originally published February 6th 2012

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