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Gaming Evolution
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Gaming Evolution
Gaming Evolution
Published By: Paradox Interactive
Developed By: Paradox Interactive
Genre: Action Simulation
Players: 1
Rated: E10 (Everyone 10 and Up)
Release Date: September 23, 2008
Screenshots: Link
Amazon: Buy Now!
Witten By: Christian H.

March 6, 2009 - There's certainly no denying the popularity of space combat games amongst the PC gamer crowd. Wing Commander, as well as X-Wing and its sequel, TIE Fighter, etched out a standard for the genre ages ago and many similar games have followed in their wake. The space combat sim is as much a staple of the platform as the Dungeons and Dragons-based RPG, the RTS, and the MMO. Even though the genre has fallen into a bit of niche in the 21st century, it still appeals to a devoted following, such as in eastern Europe where such classic PC genres still maintain a certain level of dominance. Dark Horizon attempts to carry on this platform legacy but unfortunately falters thanks to poor pacing, monotonous missions, and too strong of an emphasis on a story that never manages to truly sell itself.

For a game about outer-space dog-fights, the amount of plot in Dark Horizon is extremely dense. Granted, much of the backstory (or indeed, all of it) is left up for the player to explore on his own through the extensive in-game documentation. None of it is truly necessary to enjoy the raw gameplay or follow the immediate narrative. As you might expect, Dark Horizon is set in the far future, when humanity has colonized the far reaches of space. Humanity and the galaxy in general, are being overtaken by a mysterious dark energy called “Mirk” (think of it as the Venom Symbiote from Spiderman, except huge and floating around in space). The Mirk is very difficult to fight, and seemingly impossible to completely defeat. The solution is to fight fire with fire, so to speak, by “infecting” humans with a certain amount of the Mirk energy--not enough to completely corrupt them, but enough to give them the strength and knowledge to fight back. These special few are called Guardians; they exist at the edge of the Mirk and devote their lives to its containment. The player takes on the role of one of these Guardians, engaging in dogfights with the Mirk ships in an effort to keep it at bay.

The universe that developer Quazar Studios has created is fairly unique and the writers should at least be commended on their attention to detail. However, the amount of detail is a bit staggering for a shooter, and should be more suited to an RPG. This becomes a problem mostly in the form of the constant stream of chatter from your squad mates. These guys just have an opinion about every subject under the sun and they share it with you through every second of gameplay. Since you never really know when they're just chatting or actually saying something relevant to the plot without paying attention, this can be very distracting. It's hard to concentrate on the lasers, missiles, mines, and other spaceships flying towards you when you're also trying to listen to the ramblings of your buddies. This is especially true if you're like me and feel compelled to follow subtitles, too.

One of Dark Horizon's most touted features is customization. The player's ship can be customized or built from scratch between missions. This player's ship is assembled from various parts, including hull, engine, weapons, etc. and construction is constrained by limits on mass and energy usage. To its credit, the customization is fairly deep, with numerous options and possibilities to create a ship perfectly suited to you. I could argue that it's too deep, but I'm sure there are players out there who could really get into it. For those who can't, however, this feature can be a frustration. For them, there is an “auto-config” option for ship customization. Unfortunately, it's very limited and, I'm sorry to say, broken. The game gives three options for automatic customization: fighter, assault fighter, and bomber. The fighter is the speedy but lightly armored ship, the bomber is the slower heavy-hitter, and the assault fighter is supposed to be the middle-ground. The limitations for the auto-config feature don't match the level of customization that the game encourages, but in the end, that's negligible. Those three archetypes get the job done. A real problem, however, is when the auto-config feature creates an impossible ship. Quite often, the game would make a ship that exceeded limits on mass and/or energy, making it unusable. This always resulted in me having to customize a ship anyway—one that I could use—which negates the whole purpose of the auto-config in the first place.

Of course, a space combat sim isn't much without dogfighting and there's no shortage of dogfighting in Dark Horizon. If that's all you came for, then maybe you're in for a treat, because that's literally all you'll be doing. Mission objectives come in two varieties: “go here” and “kill this,” and for the “go here” variety you can expect to be interrupted often by enemies and receive new “kill this” objectives as they appear. Dogfighting becomes mind-numbingly tedious very quickly. The enemy AI isn't too bright and every fight essentially boils down to the same strategy: shoot, pass each other, turn around, repeat. That is assuming your opponent doesn't simply fly right into you, which they seem to see as a perfectly viable strategy. Actually, I probably suffered more damage from collisions than actual enemy fire. Ultimately, dogfighting wears out its welcome quickly, which is a significant issue considering that it's the main focus of the game.

Quazar does try to spice things up a bit with the heating and cooling system. Your ship will heat up as you fire up your thrusters and use weapons and can also be manually cooled or heated. If the ship gets “too” hot, it enters “corter mode.” In corter mode, your shields gradually decrease until empty, leaving your hull open to damage, but your attacks become extremely powerful. On the other hand, cooling your ship puts it into “shadow mode.” In “shadow mode” your thrusters can't function at full speed but you're invisible to enemies (even while shooting). The dynamic between the two modes and the need to observe your temperature manages to add a bit of strategy to the gameplay. It's unfortunate that the core gameplay rarely necessitates this strategy (at least not on the lower and mid difficulties), but at the least, the temperature mechanic is a unique concept.

Dark Horizon features some clever and unique concepts that peek their heads up here and there. It is, however, confused. It seems to think much more of itself than it is; it assumes that the player cares more than he should; and it doesn't know if it wants to be a shoot 'em up, a sim, a sort of RPG, or what. It loses itself so much in its aspirations that it forgets what's supposed to be fun about the genre: dogfights. Consequently, the core gameplay winds up being the weakest point. Dark Horizon eventually begins to feel like a chore: predictable, routine, and never challenging without being frustrating.


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