Darkspace Review

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Graphics: 8.0
Sound : 8.0
Gameplay : 8.0
Multiplayer : N/A
Overall : 8.0
Review by Andreas Misund Berntsen
Online gaming comes in every flavor. Not everyone loves the overdone online RPG genre as much as some do, and may turn towards alternative games. There have been made some good games that deal with real-time strategy in space, but not many are meant to only be played online. In DarkSpace you play in a universe, divided by an intergalactic war that started in 2215. Humanity’s support is split into two factions, but their war was interrupted when they made contact with a strange alien race named K’Luth.

The manual does a good job of describing the three factions, so I’ll simply quote it:

UGTO:

Established in 2024 after the colonization of Mars, The UGTO is the conglomeration of the Old World United Nations and various other socio-political organizations of Earth. The “goal” of the UGTO is to unite humanity under one allegiance of progress and prosperity, although some elements do not see their intentions as being pure and noble. The UGTO spreads across seven systems, has colonies on 12 planetary bodies, and supports a massive collection of outposts and orbiting space stations. It also exerts its power over a number of “independent” planets.

With the advent of interstellar travel, humans first sought out their nearest neighbor, the Centauri system, and it was here that the harsh nature of the galaxy revealed itself for the first time. Within the Centauri system there was only one planetary body that was barely environmentally stable enough for humans to visit, Centauri 1-2365. This barren moon was the only planet within the system that was not super-dense and therefore possessed a surface gravity just too high for humans (or human manufactured devices) to endure. Centauri 1-2365 was found to possess trace amounts of metals (about the same quantity as Earth) and so resource extraction development was undertaken. From the Centauri system it was a relatively short hop to the Barnard system where the nature of the galaxy was further confirmed. It turned out that the vast majority of planetary bodies were too hostile for development of any kind, although the Barnard system did have three planetoids that could be developed for resource extraction, and one of these had unheard of amounts of heavy metal present.

It was not until the Wolf system was explored that a planet capable of supporting human life was found. Unfortunately for the first colonists, the contaminants in the atmosphere weren’t discovered until later. Now Ocotat boasts the largest population of any non-Sol system planet ever colonized, thanks to strictly enforced medical policies.

ICC:

The ICC was established first as the Free Trade League (est. 2094), and then after a series of violent uprisings and political coups against the UGTO, The Free Trade League splintered from the United Worlds to form the ICC in 2125. The ICC is currently the strongest opposition against the United Worlds to form the ICC in 2125. The ICC is currently the strongest opposition against the United Worlds, and is the primary force that hinders the UGTO from gaining majority control of the known universe and the worlds that lie within it. The confederation’s resources, technology, and infrastructure are a fraction of that of the United Worlds, but strong patriotic ideals, resourcefulness and clandestine networks keep the ICC intact, for now.

K’Luth

On August 3, 0645 MST, a UGTO Expeditionary Fleet encountered a force of unknown origin while chartering a new quadrant in the outer reaches of the Surius B system and contact was lost shortly thereafter. Concerned families and opposing organizations demanded immediate answers, which the UGTO Department of Defense responded to by stating that a space anomaly, most likely a black hole, was responsible. Since the “Sirius incident”, unidentified spacecraft have been recorded and documented around human worlds and outposts.

The UGTO position on the existence of the K’Luth, or any other extra-terrestrial presence for that matter, is officially denied on all fronts. On the other hand, certain parties of the ICC claim to have made “contact” with this mysterious race of aliens. It is rumored that the ICC has acquired technology from the K’Luth, which has put some members of the UGTO council in a state of concern, but the majority of the council believes it’s just a propaganda ploy instituted by confederate forces to send the Unites Worlds into panic. Realizing that the utilization of “new alien technology” could tip the balance of power within the astro-political power structure, the UGTO is conducting a full investigation on the matter.

The K’Luth are rumored to be from somewhere beyond the Sirius system.”


Well, now we have that out of the way. After having chosen a faction (which all have specific technology, abilities etc) to support you start off as a basic ensign, commanding a basic ship, with little responsibility. What’s great is that as you work you earn prestige points, which when at a certain level, lets you command better ships, have more responsibility in battle, and will earn you more respect amongst your team members. Teamplay is absolutely essential in this game, because each ship has its advantages and disadvantages, so even the larger ships need support from the smaller ones. Sometimes the smaller ones can’t do much good in terms of firepower, but they make up by being able to repair. Other times a simple supply-ship can be crucial, because running out of fuel in a distant place isn’t a whole lot of fun. All of the ships can also be customized to some extent, so buying components and such is no problem.

The main categories of ships available are: scouts (advanced sensors), engineers (can build turrets on planets etc), supply ships (carries fuel and can repair ships), transporters (brings troops to capture planets), frigates (fast attack ships), destroyers (protects the big guns), cruisers (perfect combination of firepower and speed), dreadnoughts (the ultimate weapons platform. Launches fighters or bombards planets). You also have different types inside these categories, and more will be provided in the future by Palestar.

The purpose of the three factions is to dominate the galaxy. Dominating is done by conquest of enemy planets, and you can at any time see how many planets the three factions have on the lobby / chat part of the game. Right now people are discussing alliances, in a downright serious way, because people actually take this game seriously. DarkSpace isn’t like your average MMORPG, because here you actually can’t make it on your own, things have repercussions, and YOU can affect things. However, there are a few snags. Actually mastering the gameplay takes practice, and the initial learning curve can be somewhat steep. DarkSpace does include a tutorial, but there is no verbal narration, and it can sometimes be confusing to know what you’ve done wrong when you’re following the instructions and nothing’s happening. I do also feel that the developers could’ve done a better job at introducing the factions in a more “real” way, for instance like in Anarchy Online. To me it’s important to feel like you’re really a part of something right from the start, and that’s a department which could’ve been improved in DarkSpace. Luckily there are plenty of friendly people who like to help out rookies, so questions are likely to be answered quickly. The second snag is that there simply aren’t as many players to show what it really can do. DarkSpace is best when a lot of people are playing at once, but I would assume more and more people will sign up as the game gets more known, and people dare to try something new.

Palestar, who developed DarkSpace, used a proprietary 3d engine called Medusa, which supports features like dynamic lighting, particle effects, and some other neat things that basically looks good. The engine renders the planets, ships and effects nicely, but especially the beams and explosions could’ve been a bit more “snazzy”. A nice graphical feature is that you can zoom very far up and down. All of the ships in the game have jump abilities, so you can cover a whole lot of space in a short period of time if needed, and in the navigation screen you can very easily zoom in and out. In the normal view you can also zoom far in and out, and when closest in you can really gaze at the very nicely modeled spaceships. The alien faction’s ships look very organic and something that would fit perfectly in a science-fiction series. The two human factions’ ships also look good, with specific texturing styles to easily separate the two.

Even though all of the objects and such are rendered in 3d the actual game works in a 2d plane, because that way it’s easier to make strategies and such.

One of the things I associate with space games is symphony music. Many modern space games’ musical score derives in some way from 2001: A Space Odyssey or Star Wars. DarkSpace’s musical score however, seems to borrow most from Star Wars, but it’s done in a reasonably good way so that it doesn’t really feel like you’re in a universe created by George Lucas. Like in most games I wish there could’ve been more tracks, because dramatic tunes tend to get annoying after a couple of hours. Palestar will be providing new content on a regular basis, so maybe in a future patch more tracks will be added as well. The sound effects are mostly good, and after you have some experience you can identify what’s being shot at you only by listening. The sound effects aren’t obscenely exciting, but when you have five destroyers after you, firing at you like mad, and you have to wait another ten seconds for the jump to engage, I can assure you the adrenaline will flow.

Conclusion:

DarkSpace is the kind of game that’s awesome for some people, yet not incredibly fun for other people. It may take a while to get fully acquainted with DarkSpace, but once you get past the initial learning curve you’ll most likely find a very addictive game, where every part of the team is there for a reason, and with capabilities that can be important in the heat of battle, even when more seasoned gamers are playing. Palestar will be providing patches, high-speed servers, new ships and technology as more people sign up, so an addict should never be bored. This really is the closest to a perfect online space-strategy game I’ve seen so far, but prepare to spend a fair amount of time getting to know everything until you really see this game shine.