If films and video games have taught us anything about space it's that it's dangerous, scary and home to evil things that want to kill us. It's also a very lonely place where you will have to rely on yourself because there's nobody else around who can help you. Morningstar: Descent to Deadrock follows that formula very closely and manages to pull it off with aplomb, while simultaneously not doing anything particularly new.
First and foremost, Morningstar is an adventure game and that means that you're going to be using your brain, not your pulse rifles and smart guns. Told from a first-person perspective, you may be forgiven for thinking that this is a Myst clone, but this game has a far more focused narrative and much clearer goals. Originally, Morningtar was released in 2009 as a free online Flash game but this new version has been rebuilt from the ground up. Yep, it's another remaster, which seem to be all the rage right now. The good news is that this game has benefited considerably from the upgrade with new high-definition graphics, reworked interface, full voice overs, a new soundtrack and an expanded story. The result is that this now feels like a very complete and polished game worthy of spending some money on.
Morningstar tells the story of Powell, whom you control. Powell is a crew member aboard the Morningstar, a small merchant spacecraft on a routine mission. As the game opens, the Morningstar is in trouble, out of control and crash landing on the desolate planet known as Deadrock. Why this has happened is one of the mysteries you need to solve. Powell survives the crash, but one other crew member is dead and the ships Captain, Novak, is seriously injured. It's up to you to try and repair the ship and get back home.
Morningstar immediately presents an atmospheric world for you to explore, effectively presenting the illusion that there is a lot of hidden detail while managing to keep you focused only on the things you need. The early portions of the game are set on board your downed spacecraft and the confined environment works as an excellent way to get accustomed to playing the game. The interface is as simple as you can get, showing you the world through Powell's eyes (and helmet display). Moving your mouse over the screen highlights objects you can look at, interact with or pick up and your inventory remains displayed at all times. This is, thankfully, not a "hidden object" game which makes finding items unnecessarily difficult, as the game regularly highlights objects clearly. You progress by finding useful objects and using them to complete your goals. At the start you need to assess the ship's damage and repair what you can with the items to hand, meaning you'll need to explore and find tools.
It's a pretty basic setup for any point-and-click adventure game and one that is most likely going to work best for players who want a good introduction to the genre. The puzzles manage to find a great balance in difficulty, staying quite simple for the most part and while you may find a few head scratchers rarely will you find yourself completely stuck. The game has an inbuilt hint system wherein you can radio your Captain, Novak, for advice. While the system fits very naturally, it also highlights the game's biggest issue; the dialogue and voice acting are of a pretty low standard. Powell delivers every line with the exact same inflection (and he has a lot of lines), while Novak's accent never quite settles on English, American, Russian or German. It's difficult to really like or sympathise with either of them.
Fortunately, Morningstar makes up for this in other areas. The story quickly becomes quite intriguing and creepy, and the rather lovely art creates a fantastic atmosphere. Most screens are static with some nicely executed animations happening when needed, which contribute a huge amount to the immersion. The sound effects and music mesh perfectly with the visuals presented. We do need to address the length of the game; we were able to complete it in a little over two hours. Given that this is an expanded version of a free Flash game, that figure feels acceptable, and whether you feel that the game is priced appropriately is down to personal preference. If you have no interest in the adventure genre, this game isn't likely to change that. If you've played the original free game and found yourself enjoying it, then this version is certainly going to impress you further and is worth checking out. If you're new to adventure games and want a gentle introduction that will leave a strong impression, Morningstar definitely should be among your first choices. And even if you're an adventure veteran then you should be able to find something here that will engage you and, like us, leave you hoping for a sequel.