Dark Horizon PC
I’ve got this sad little ritual I perform whenever I’m supposed to be reviewing a game, and I’m getting the impression that it’s utter rubbish. Basically, I hop on to Metacritic and check that everyone else hates it too. I mean, if I think something is clearly shit then I’ll say so no matter what everyone else thinks, but if the other reviews are positive, then most of the time I’m willing to accept that I’ve not yet invested enough time in the game – lord knows I’ve defended enough games to the hilt on the grounds that people just don’t get it. So if I hate something and find that my pseudo-journalist peers all thought it was great, I’ll go back to it and try to fathom why.
Of course, this process is simplified when I find that nobody else really likes the game in question, either. And it’s simplified even further when I see that hardly anyone else has even bothered to review the game in the first place.
It’s not that Dark Horizon is a terrible game. It isn’t. It just feels a bit… pointless. As is often the way with space-based flight-sims, it’s difficult to find any reason to play Dark Horizon over Freespace 2, a game that’s still regarded by many as the last great milestone in its genre (if we’re discounting the excellent but free-roaming orientated X titles, and Freelancer), almost ten years after its release.
Dark Horizon opens up with a really nice black & white intro, albeit with an irritating voiceover where the actor responsible seems to be trying REALLY hard to lower the pitch of his voice. Because it makes things more epic. Obviously. Nonetheless, you quickly get the gist of the story – the universe is being swallowed up by some mysterious black entity known as the Mirk, and it’s up to you to hold it off. Sadly, the weight of the story is somewhat lessened by the fact that you already know you succeed in driving the Mirk away, because this game is set a few hundred years before The Chronicles of Tarr, and the voiceover guy keeps reminding you that everything you’re doing is already in the history books. There’s a couple of nice ideas floating around – all the pilots in the game are actually dying from Mirk infection, for example, and their dreams are recorded and analysed by their superiors, as the Mirk infection also turns them into psychic mediums. I think. It’s not exactly clear. But inbetween missions you get to read your dream logs; a cool idea which falls down somewhat when you see that they’re riddled with spelling errors. Lost Odyssey, this ain’t.
But what about the actual game, eh? It’s fairly standard space-shooter fare. You start a mission, some enemies fly in, you hit the ‘target nearest enemy’ key, pull up until the enemy slides into view, shoot him, target the next guy… and so on, with the occasional pause to let out a brief yawn. The missions do precious little to shake up this routine, although the game does innovate a little, in the form of the Shadow and Corter modes. You can control your ship’s temperature during flight, with lower temperatures making you much more difficult to target, and higher temperatures powering up your weapons, but killing your shields and turning your ship into a giant thermal beacon for your enemies’ targetting systems to latch onto. Tactical use of this ability is fun for a while, but the pattern it quickly falls into can be summarised in this BASIC program I’ve just written:
10 HEAT UP
20 IF SHIELDS < 25%, THEN COOL DOWN
30 GOTO 10
I haven’t typed it into my Commodore 64 yet, but it seems to work nicely in Dark Horizon.
Another nice addition is the game’s ship customisation. The period between each mission sees you scavenging parts to make new stuff for your ship, with energy and mass limits to make sure you don’t go completely nuts. Imagine the ship customisation in EVE Online, if it was massively dumbed-down, then attached to a much worse game, and you’re basically there.
Still, let’s talk aesthetics, before it looks like I’m just lashing this game for the sake of it. The music’s a bit toss, but hey – you’ve got eyes, look at the screens. Lovely, no? Some of the ship designs are pretty epic, and there’s more flashy particle effects than you can shake a Mirky stick at. But still, this does little to save the game from the bin of obscurity.
So, Dark Horizon isn’t a horrible game. It’s just not a very good one, either. While nothing about it is particularly offensive, it still absolutely fails to generate any interest in a genre that, in most people’s eyes, stagnated a long time ago. Pretty visuals are always nice, but when they’re shoved together with a confusing and poorly-told story and dull, dull, dull missions, they won’t hold your attention for long.
Take your money elsewhere, boys. This one’s a turkey.