Mystery Science Theater 3000 (MST3K) fans (or MSTies for short) have been waiting a long time for this game, and I think I speak for all of them when I say it was well worth the wait. When J. Allen Williams first came up with the idea of creating a game, he called in his friends and started the decade-long labor of love that is DARKSTAR. It’s not just a game though, it’s an interactive movie, with your decisions leading to various outcomes, some continuing the story and others bringing you to a dead end (sometimes literally).
As Captain O’Neil, you’ve just awoken from a 312-year sleep that has robbed you of all of your memories, including your identity. You immediately discover a gruesome murder, a sleeping beauty and a missing shipmate. As you begin to explore your surroundings, you discover things about yourself, your crewmates and your mission. You also discover something has gone very, very wrong.
DARKSTAR is similar to the King’s Quest or Myst games in feel and style of play, and features high-quality graphics and textures. There is a mixture of interactive environments, exploration and puzzles, but it’s the video that really sets it apart from traditional adventure games of this style. Hours of video woven throughout turn it from a game into an interactive movie. One of the key parts of the story is a series of short, historical films that have been created for your mission, to be presented at your final destination. These films document the reason for your mission and stress the importance of your success. I can’t give much more information than that without providing spoilers, but I can say that the films are broken up into pieces and you can only access it as you unlock different parts of the game, typically by activating or restoring power to a part of the ship. Each of these, if you pay close attention, will provide hints and clues that will help you with the next step of your exploration.
At first, I found myself spending a lot of time exploring, but not accomplishing much. Then I realized I wasn’t looking hard enough. There are many hidden items, hidden clues and hidden panels. Once you find a few, you start to know where to look and will progress faster. Because there are so many variable outcomes of the game, based on where you explore and in what order, you may miss a large amount of the game without realizing it the first time around. I took a look at the All Revealed Guide (which is in PDF format) and realized that there are several videos I missed out on, especially relating to SIMON, the ship’s smarmy maintenance robot. I was having a bit of a problem with my video being choppy (more on that later) and at one key point, I missed out on an interaction with SIMON that affects his appearances throughout the game. The lesson I learned was that if the game seems to pause, don’t start clicking right away; give it a moment just in case it’s changing from a stationary scene to an animated one.
On that note, I should point out my video-related issues with the game. Here’s my specs:
- Windows XP Pro, Service Pack 3
- NVidia GeForce 8200 Motherboard with integrated graphics
- AMD Athlon 64×2 Dual Core 5000+ (2.6Ghz)
- 3.25 GB RAM (XPs limit)
When I first installed the game, I couldn’t play it. I would receive an error message during the splash screen that informed me that iShell had crashed. I tried visiting the website for help but, at the time, there wasn’t any information there or patches available to fix the issue. I spent a few days off doing some web searches and the best suggestion I found was to roll back Quicktime. I uninstalled Quicktime (I was running 7.6.8) and reinstalled 6.0, and then installed updates up to version 7.6.5. The game finally ran properly but still had a few hesitations when switching to a video or animated scene. I saved the game frequently and it helped relieve the stress of lost progress in case of game crashing. I did discover that Quicktime tries to automatically update to the newest version, so while you are playing the game, it may interfere with your iTunes account. Hopefully they will be able to patch this soon, as I did have to go through the process of rolling back Quicktime several times because I had other multimedia programs that required the latest version.
Other than the video issue, which I finally figured out, I had no problems with the game and truly enjoyed playing it. It took me a little longer than I thought it would, but part of that is because I took the time to zoom in on what I’d consider Easter Eggs in the game, such as the bookshelves and personal items in the crew’s cabins. While SIMON’s room is blatantly an homage to MST3K, as is SIMON himself, there are lots of other more subtle touches throughout the game, but if you have no previous knowledge of the MST3K universe, you won’t feel like you’re missing out on anything. Well, maybe you will a little bit, but hopefully that will just encourage you to learn more about the DARKSTAR folks and their previous and current projects.
There are great performances from the cast, including the final performance of Peter Graves as the narrator. DARKSTAR features Clive Robertson, Beez McKeever, Trace Beaulieu and Frank Conniff as the ship’s crew, and Joel Hodgson as the primary villain, though the cast includes nearly 40 performers in all.
In addition to the 13 hours of video, the soundtrack includes 38 compositions featuring several genres of music. Much of the music is ambient with a dark, brooding and ominous feel, but you’ll also find classical piano scores in a few “scenes”, and the battles and other action sequences are backed by high-power rock. As my cohort here at ÜberSciFiGeek said, “The soundtrack is great! It has a hint of heavy metal sound that gets the adrenaline pumping, without being distracting.”
For this review, we played the DARKSTAR Captain’s Box Special, which includes:
- DARKSTAR: The Interactive Movie for PC and Macintosh
- 2-disc Sountrack Album with 38 songs by Progressive Sound and MetalWorx
- PDF downloads of the All Revealed Guide and DARKSTAR Coffee Table Book
- Pre-printed (not hand-signed) Cast Glossy
- XL DARKSTAR T-Shirt
The All Revealed Guide definitely came in handy. While I tried playing most of the game without it, I did have to check through it a few times to see what I was doing wrong. It listed events out of the order in which I explored the ship, so I did get a few spoilers that I wasn’t looking for. Since it’s a PDF picture format, you can’t search for keywords, so be careful because you may see something you don’t want to know yet! If you stumble through DARKSTAR the first time around without the guide, check it out for your second round of gameplay to make sure you get to see all the cool death scenes and Easter Eggs you may have missed.
The DARKSTAR Coffee Table Book may be a PDF file, but it looks like one of those “The Art of…” movie books you see for Hollywood blockbusters. It’s a behind-the-scenes look at the creation of DARKSTAR and includes some beautiful images that I can imagine on high-gloss, archive quality paper. I think some of them should be available as prints, they are so impressive. In addition to images of the creation process, you’ll find information about the cast and crew and all the hard work that went into creating DARKSTAR. I think maybe they should make this available on Amazon or some other Print-on-Demand service. It’s really a gorgeous book and, as much as I love my computer, nothing beats holding a real book in your hands.
The Cast Glossy and T-Shirt are a nice bonus. The photos are high-quality photos printed on heavy card stock and the black t-shirt is made of 100% cotton, nice and thick — not the flimsy stuff you often find printed shirts made of. It’s sure to stand up to lots of wear and washing.
The only thing about DARKSTAR that needs improvement, as my cohort pointed out, is that the game is packaged in a large, bulky case with both discs on one side, resting directly on each other, instead of a 2-disc streamline case. While most games include printed material, and the larger case would be perfect for holding that stuff, everything is digital with this game so it takes up more space on your bookshelf than it really needs to and you have to be a bit more careful not to scratch a disc while removing one to get to the other.
Overall, DARKSTAR is a fun and funny game, and a fabulous addition to any adventure gamer or sci-fi geek’s collection. Unlike most games where, once you play it, you put it away, the film-like aspect, hours of footage, and multiple outcomes, death scenes and other scenarios ensure that you’ll most likely play this game several times and, rather than give it away, tell your friends to get their own copy.
Or order directly through the DARKSTAR: The Interactive Movie Official Store.
DARKSTAR: The Interactive Movie is distributed by Parallax Studio. For more information about DARKSTAR, please visit the DARKSTAR: The Interactive Movie Official Game Site. Parallax Studio may also be followed on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.