Morningstar: Descent to Deadrock is the new and improved version of a flash/browser game, called Morningstar. I remember playing it back several years ago (this also being the time before I even had an Steam account) when I was extremely into point & click games. It is currently on the Steam store, going for about $10.50SGD, which honestly feels a bit pricey to me.
The game starts off in a dramatic fashion with the beginning cut-scene showing your spaceship spiraling out of control towards an alien planet, your captain critically injured and the ship’s engineer dead. You attempt to regain control over the ship’s descent but ultimately, you are knocked out and the ship has crashed on a desolate, desert alien planet.
Comparing this to what I could remember from the original browser game, the plot remains the same but the graphics and soundtrack definitely have improved. I can’t quite comment on the voice-acting since I cannot recall whether the browser version had voice-acting, I remember mostly either having the voice acting off or skipping through it in the browser version.
However, the retailed version is noticeably more polished. There are some new locations and puzzles which wasn’t seen in the browser version, which adds a bit of extra game-play time. The game is still short regardless of the addition of the new puzzles and locations. Especially if you played the browser version before this, since the solutions are the same till you get to the new content. It leads me to question whether having this as a retailed game title is appropriate. Ignoring that I bought this on the 2015 Halloween sale. It just feels having it selling for nearly $11SGD is a bit pricey, when it is nearly identical to the free browser game. That is just my opinion though, moving on!
You play as a man named Powell, one of the crew-members of the space vessel named Morningstar. It is unclear whether you are a trading ship or on a mission however, but it seems to be hinted that the vessel is part of the United Nations military somehow. Regardless of the origins of the vessel, your ship is pulled down by a mysterious gravitational anomaly that causes the ship to crash in the infamous planet known as Deadrock. The planet has earned such a reputation that even the UN itself, has declared the planet as off-limits due to many vessels having gone missing there. I guess it is the equivalent of the Bermuda Triangle, just in space.
With at least one engine fried, hull breaches and a heavily wounded captain; it is down to Powell to find a way to repair the ship and escape Deadrock before they join the statistics of vessels and crews whom perished on Deadrock.
Morningstar: Descent to Deadrock does not add anything new, instead it sticks with the familiar. Although the opening and ending cinematic was magnificently done, combined with the soundtrack makes it a joy to watch.
The game does have a very solid beginning with the cinematic, then it loses that pacing nearly immediately. When you finally gain control of Powell, the game is static and rather laid-back especially when you compare to the mood that the beginning cut-scene has set.
Since the game is point & click, you do not have a character you can control visibility or be able to look around. You are simply giving a still screen that you can click around on to interact with. On occasion you get some animations to watch, and they are always satisfying to watch. Especially towards the end when you escape the crater or even the spinning alien machine in the same site. It would be great to see the same amount of time spent on the animations and cut-scenes, be spent equally on the game itself as well.
The reason I say that last sentence is because when you look around Morningstar; it is all flat panels with shades of grey and blue. Going out into the desert of the alien planet is more understandable since it is called Deadrock for a reason. It does add a much-needed splash of color, and it is more interesting to traverse compared to the ship in my opinion. Although the aliens do not really feel like aliens since they look like Easter Island heads.
However, the alien complex makes up for this with its design and the new areas they added in. I still struggle on the alien word puzzle thing to open the two chambers for some reason.
The sound design for Morningstar is probably one of the strongest points of the game, if not the only thing. The minimalist approach works remarkably well for the game, with the mix of ambient sound and background music. The impact is pure atmospheric joy. I do enjoy the variation such as the African-esuqe feel to the alien complex’s synth-like sounds. It adds much-needed life into the still images that you interact with throughout the game.
The voice acting however, was a disappointment. I ended up skipping most through the spoken dialogue once I had read their lines. With two major voices for the main characters (Powell and Novak, the ship’s captain), they sounded remarkably flat. They sounded rather bored, which makes even their ‘humorous’ banter rather painful to listen through. I do not think anyone would sound monotone if they were in a high stress situation, especially in the desperation to find all the parts you needed to repair the ship and escape. Even Novak, who is critically injured does not sound like he is in pain. It makes the dialogue rather awkward to listen too at some points. Otherwise the voice acting is clear and easy to understand what they are saying, even if you were not reading the subtitles.
The game does take good advantage of how Powell spends the entire game in his space suit. It allows them to present the user interface as a heads-up display in his helmet. You see interactive points of interest as hot-spots which brighten up when you mouse over them, then fade away when you move the mouse away. Transition points normally have labelled arrows. It is sometimes hard to find those spots to interact, and possible to miss them over completely.
The interface is mostly composed of a column on the right side of your screen which deals with inventory, two buttons on the bottom which can bring the main menu up or radio Novak for a hint. Otherwise, Morningstar is your standard point and click game.
The puzzles themselves are entirely based on solving them with items in your inventory, such as repairing or building gadgets with the items you scavenged. Most of them are rather straight-forward, you may experience a little challenge when you need to decode alien symbols (like I do) but none of them are hard. The element of how believable the game is, was ruined by how Powell seems to be an engineering genius than a humble crew-member. It would been more believable if he had a gadget that could analyze the alien technology or something similar.
Another flaw is how the game takes for granted that you are going to be clicking and interacting with anything possible. Especially without any justification for some of your actions. A prime example of this is about a makeshift grave you encounter. Clicking on it prompts Powell to immediately suggest to dig it up. Nothing else to suggest there may be something interesting within the grave that may aid you later, when you could have just left the grave alone out of respect. You are just expected to find a shovel and dig it up.
There is a lot of unexplored potential within Morningstar, and unanswered questions. A prime question would be why was Morningstar so close to Deadrock, especially when it was considered off-limits by the UN in the first place. Or why Powell has such a intense dislike towards his captain, despite the fact they can work well together. I honestly do not even know what Powell does in the ship. I know there is Novak who is the captain, the dead ship engineer…so what is Powell’s role in the 3-man space vessel exactly? Is he the medical officer since there is a medic bay or is he the co-pilot?
I think the most frustrating aspect to this is that ‘Deadrock’ is not really dead at all. As there is at least two alien species you find, yet you cannot find more about them, because all the game focuses on is escaping the planet. You are not given the freedom to explore. It is a shame since I can easily imagine how a crashed spaceship leads to a story more compelling. Perhaps the last days of an advanced alien race on Deadrock whom are searching for a way to help their species to survive? Or perhaps a story about the military cruiser wreck you found, about the crew’s last moments. What about the mysterious alien corpse you found? There was nothing about the corpse but you find it in a rather advanced bunker….and it was stabbed to death. So many questions but no answers.
I still think $11SGD is a bit high for this game, especially how ‘light’ the game felt. The game feels like a remastered version of the free browser game with new (and amazingly done) cinematic cut-scenes. The voice-acting was far too bland which was disappointing, but the soundtrack was perfect to me. There are too many unanswered questions however, and I think that is my biggest disappointment of all. Otherwise, despite the faults it was a fairly decent game. However it could be finished in less than two hours. I think I took about one hour to finish the game, and that was even with me starting the game over again once when I thought I had messed a puzzle up. You would not be missing much if you chose to play the free browser version.