Review: Dark Horizon

darkhorizon_esrb_2d_highrez.jpgThere have been many games based in space in the past few years that have spanned various genres from turn-based games to action-RPG’s to RTS and simulations. However, arcade-style space shooters seem to have faded to a role as an added part of a larger game instead of being featured on their own. Dark Horizon seeks to fill that void, featuring Wing Commander style gameplay in a story about saving the universe from an invading force called the Mirko. So how does the game do? Is it a worthy successor to the Wing Commander legacy?

In a word – no.

Perhaps it would be easier if the game was terrible; that way I could eviscerate it and have a grand time. But instead I am saddened by the fact that the game is mediocre in nearly every way, impressed in how unimpressive it is, and overwhelmed at how underwhelming it is in so many ways. As a reviewer, it is the toughest thing to review an average game: I can lavish praise for hours on great games, and spend thousands of words frothing at the mouth berating an awful excuse of a game, but it only takes three letters to say ‘meh’.

The only excitement in reviewing a game like this is deciding if it manages to merit a ‘Try It’. In case you didn’t guess, this one doesn’t.

From the very beginning the game fails to engage the player: the story is simplistic and riddled with cliches and does little to make you anticipate the coming events. Indeed, all I thought was “I hope the gameplay is good to help me past the story”. That is not really fair, because the presentation of that story is very well done. The introduction is presented in black and white, and you learn about the world and the situation in the universe and how you are on of a handful of heroes destined to save the world from destruction … or die trying.

Technically the game has some very good and very bad elements. On the good side, the graphics are well done, especially in the near-field viewport. The developers did a very nice job of providing all of the needed information without cluttering up the screen. The other ships look fairly generic in design, but the graphics are fairly good for them as well. The game also does a good job of imparting a solid sense of scope, speed and scale to the environment as you battle your way through the twenty-two missions. The audio …

The core gameplay works well enough – the controls are responsive and make sense, the targeting interface is excellent at fast target switching, speed adjustments, and other things that facilitate making it through the long missions alive. There are plenty of enemies to fight off during missions, so not having to also battle the controls is definitely appreciated.

One very interesting gameplay feature is what I call the ‘tradeoff system’. You can fly undetected through space – but you need to travel very slowly and your weapons become much less effective; should you want speed and firepower you give off loads of heat, making you an easy target – and you lose your shields. Unfortunately in practice it is hard to effectively balance these priorities, and the abysmal crawl speed of stealth travel makes it agonizing. You pretty much end up going as fast as possible and using the high-damage weapon mode until you get heavily damaged, at which point you linp off in stealth mode to repair. Fortunately your enemies are not very smart, so if you can manuever around them you will always win – their combat tactics are similar to FPS enemies from the 90’s: they run at you firing recklessly. Sadly your allies are not much smarter, but they are an even match for the enemy: this means that you can count on them to obey some simple commands but get themselves killed while you aren’t looking.

Another promising feature is the upgradeability of your ship. As you progress through battles you gather up parts that allow you to upgrade parts of your ship to help you succeed in future battles. It is a nice element that provides some strategic elements as well since you cannot use every possible upgrade with every other ship part. This is the singular feature that got me through the game – there is a vast array of combinations, each of which produces a different effect in combat and maneuverability.

Unfortunately the AI of your allies and enemies isn’t the worst thing about this game: that distinction goes to the stability and robustness of the game. I started talking about the audio but stopped before because it is such a mixed bag: the voice acting is not bad when you get to hear it. The audio performance is very buggy, with drop-outs and stutters and other glitches occurring frequently. The overall game is no better. I am generally that annoying person on a game forum who says “this game never crashed for me”. I keep my gaming system clean and separate from other stuff, allowing me better control over performance and stability. Sadly this game crashed like no other in recent memory.

Ultimately the weight of the problems – crashing, glitchy audio, lousy AI – bring the game down. But even if the technical problems weren’t there it would be hard to recommend the game for a single reason: it is not very fun. The story isn’t very interesting, the gameplay works but during longer missions you find yourself just wishing they’d end, and overall it is easy to tear yourself away for almost any reason. My advice – don’t even bother starting.

SkipIt.jpg

Pros:
+ Looks decent
+ Good controls
+ Budget Price

Cons:
– Crashes galore
– Audio glitches
– Boring story
– Uninteresting gameplay

Game Info:
Platform: PC CD-ROM
Publisher: Paradox Interactive
Developer: Quazar Studio
Release Date: 9/23/08
Genre: Space Action/Simulation
ESRB Rating: E10+
Players: 1

About the Author

I have loved technology for as long as I can remember - and have been a computer gamer since the PDP-10! Mobile Technology has played a major role in my life - I have used an electronic companion since the HP95LX more than 20 years ago, and have been a 'Laptop First' person since my Compaq LTE Lite 3/20 and Powerbook 170 back in 1991! As an avid gamer and gadget-junkie I was constantly asked for my opinions on new technology, which led to writing small blurbs ... and eventually becoming a reviewer many years ago. My family is my biggest priority in life, and they alternate between loving and tolerating my gaming and gadget hobbies ... but ultimately benefits from the addition of technology to our lives!