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The worst fleet admiral ever

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Douglas Adam’s offers this description of the size of the universe:

“Area: Infinite. Infinite: Bigger than the biggest thing ever and then some. Much bigger than that, in fact, really amazingly immense, a totally stunning size, real ‘wow, that’s big,’ time. Infinity is so big that, by comparison, bigness itself looks really titchy. Gigantic multiplied by colossal multiplied by staggeringly huge is the sort of concept we’re trying to get across here.”

The metaverse, home of the MMORPG (Massive Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game) Dark Space, is similarly large. According to recent figures, it would take the fastest ship exactly 3 months, 3 days, 11 hours, and 40 minutes to travel from one end of the metaverse to the other. For those who think the world of Ultima Online is huge, think again.

Dark Space is an incredibly large-scale strategy game in which you take command of different ships to further the goals of your chosen group. From capturing planets to scouting enemy territory, Dark Space offers an incredible variety of ways to spend weeks of your life. It is a refreshing change from the standard fantasy setting of many of today’s MMORGs. At a time when the online gaming market is saturated with Everquest knockoffs, it’s nice to see a different, although not entirely original idea come onto the gaming scene.

The story of Dark Space plays out on a fittingly massive scale. Far in the future, humanity has split into two warring factions, the United Galactic Trade Organization (UGTO) and the Interstellar Cultural Confederation (ICC). Further confounding matters is the K’Luth, an alien race intent on the destruction of all mankind. You enlist with one of these groups at the start of the game, beginning an incredibly long journey up the Dark Space social ladder. You start as a lowly ensign, only able to pilot the most primitive ships. By completing missions and earning prestige, you gain ranks and awards that allow you to take charge of the bigger, more fun galactic toys. At the top of the ladder is the rank of Fleet Admiral, a lofty goal that can take many months to achieve.

I managed to get this rank, and the accompanying control of obscenely powerful and expensive ships, in a little over two hours. As a member of the press, I was granted a full-access account allowing me to explore aspects of Dark Space usually experienced by a select few. I spent days meandering around the metaverse causing random ruckus under the appropriate screen name of “Wint! The worst fleet admiral ever.” Among other things, I’m renowned as the guy who managed to accidentally smash the most fearsome space vehicle, a hive mother ship, into a moon. Even after hours of playing I still felt as if I had only scratched the surface of what this game has to offer.

Dark Space began beta testing in May of 2001, and went to Pay to Play ($10 a month) in December of that year. Since it’s release, Dark Space has been freely available as a 35 MB download. Everything that comprises the game, from the planetary textures to the sprites, are included in the 35 MB download. Each month the game is updated, but varies only slightly in size from the initial download. A retail version of the game was released a month ago, with a free one-month subscription and an initial rank bonus.

Even after such a long existence, the game still suffers from major flaws. For example, the three races are terribly unbalanced in favor of the K’Luth whose technology greatly surpasses that of the other two races. Also, there are tons of small glitches throughout the game that have gone unchanged for quite some time. All these and more are supposedly going to be fixed in the next patch, but since it’s release date was scheduled for last November, players have little reason to expect it any time soon.

One very outstanding element of the game is the players themselves. Never before in my gaming career have I been in such a welcoming and friendly gaming atmosphere. They were always willing to give me a loan or teach me tactics. This may have just been brown nosing on the part of players considering they knew I was a reviewer, but I think not. Numerous other players have commented to me that they really love the quality of their fellow players. The community is governed by the Rules of Conduct (RoC) which prohibits negative or inappropriate behavior. The RoC is enforced by volunteer administrators, and definitely achieves its aim of contributing to a less negative gaming experience. There may be no swearing, but there sure it a whole lot of killing.

This game may be 2 years old, but it’s still worth your time. It has been continually updated since its origin, and the community is populated by players dedicated to making sure the game lives on. If it continues to deliver the intense team-based strategy gaming I had the pleasure of experiencing, it certainly will.

Reviewer’s Scoring Details

Gameplay: 9
The essence of Dark Space lies in its team-based combat, which is executed almost flawlessly. The gaming world is huge, the people are kind, and the price is hard to beat.

Graphics: 9
I have no idea how so many textures and artwork could possibly be contained in a 35 MB download. The planets look very realistic, and the game shows a great attention to detail.

Sound: 6
Although the very sparse sound effects and complete absence of background music help add to the loneliness of space, it can get boring at times. Hopefully the new patch will include a much-needed improvement in this department. There is, however, a Dark Space radio station run by dedicated fans [VA]Tech Raines and his trusty sidekick [PB]tragicx.

Difficulty: 7
Dark Space has a staggeringly steep learning curve. From my experience, it seems it would take about a month of dedicated gaming to be able to survive in the metaverse for any length of time. This may help prevent veteran players from losing interest, but new pilots are in for a very difficult time.

Concept: 8
While the space-based battle idea is nothing new, blending it with a massive online gaming is. Its continued existence after 2 years is proof of the solid idea behind it.

Multi Player: N/A
Since multiplayer is the only available mode of play, the game play rating applies.

Value: 9
If you’re interested in multiplayer large-scale strategy, there’s no better bang for your buck. The initial download is free, and then it’s only $10 a month after that.

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