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Long read: The beauty and drama of video games and their clouds

"It's a little bit hard to work out without knowing the altitude of that dragon..."

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DarkStar One: Broken Alliance


There's a little bit of my heart invested in DarkStar One. First time around, when it was released on PC in 2006, I'd just acquired a new computer, and DarkStar was one of the games I bought to test its mettle.

I wasn't disappointed. With all those swirly nebulae and pew-pew lasers, DarkStar filled a hitherto unidentified gap in my gaming life by introducing me, in a hugely belated fashion, to the space trading / exploration genre. I spent hours wandering around its clusters and galaxies, playing the Han Solo card by picking on lumbering freighters and dodging the intergalactic sweeney.

Kalypso has made a good decision in ending the genre's long absence from consoles, and producing a fairly light-weight take on what can be a bewilderingly complex style of game. The team has been very gentle with its conversion, too - limiting the overhaul to the introduction of crisp, 1080p graphics and a pad-friendly control system.

Piloting the DarkStar One is Kayron Jarvis, who's less of a turnip farmer and more of a racy space-buck than his name suggests. He inherited the ship from his assassinated father, and, incredibly, plans to use it to scour the galaxy for the killers and exert some justice.

To be honest, that doesn't really matter. In fact - given the execrable quality of the delivery of much of the voiceover, the narrative progression is sometimes best ignored. What's important is that there's soon to be a fully-fledged, open-ended and non-linear space exploration and combat game heading to 360, and that it seems to work very nicely.

When you first take control of the DarkStar One you'll be forgiven for doubting the incredible qualities which Kayron's beneficiary seems so keen to bestow upon it. It starts off as a pretty sluggish and unwieldy beast, with a weapon which amounts to little more than a strong torch and the hull-strength of a wet Wotsit. What makes it so special, however, is its ability to be upgraded, along a number different paths, by picking up alien artefacts - and the adaptability to various different roles this offers you.

For example, there's the option to turn bounty hunter - loading up on turrets and bow lasers before shooting off to search for pirate hide-outs and gangs of reprobates. Eliminating these will not only earn you credits and occasional goodies, it'll also shape your reputation among the stars, influencing how the galactic community responds to your actions and affecting the rewards they'll offer. If you're a proven bounty-hunter then you'll be offered tougher jobs and bigger rewards, but pirates and other ne'erdowells will seek you out more actively.

At the other extreme is the pacifistic freightering, picking up trade goods from systems which produce them and taking them to places which don't for a profit. Sound a bit dull? Why not spice it up by finding a freighter and scanning it to find out what it's carrying and where to. Obviously there's a demand for cargo where it's heading, so why not blow the freighter up yourself, stealing the goods and delivering them once the prices rocket in response to increased demand? Even better, sign up as a merchant escort for the freighter at a space-station to make sure your target is completely helpless when you turn the guns on them.