Genre: Point-and-Click Adventure
Recently, a memory emerged in my mind of a Flash game I played in high school. I remembered crashing on a lost planet and uncovering a sun-blazed, isolated landscape. Unfortunately, for a Flash game, it was too lengthy to complete in class; but the recent memory made me curious as what to the title had been. After receiving Morningstar: Descent to Deadrock, I was entirely shocked to realize it's an HD remake of that previously forgotten, recently remembered game.
The premise is simplistic and rather familiar territory, but it works well for a straightforward first-person adventure game. Having mysteriously crashed on a unknown planet, your ship’s engine has been destroyed and your captain (the only other survivor) is incapacitated at the ship’s controls. It's your mission to venture across the planet and find a way to repair your vessel in order leave the mysterious alien world.
Given that Morningstar was originally a Flash game, the locations are sparse and much of the game takes place across a limited number of screens. This doesn’t mean the game is inordinately short, as it uses a fair amount of back-and-forth fetch-questing to stretch out the experience to a worthwhile length. Fortunately, although the challenges are primarily item-fetching backtracking, all of the puzzles are coherent, logical and contextual within the game’s moody setting. This keeps the puzzles compelling and consistent within the game's rich and engaging atmosphere.
However, the immense graphical overhaul from the Flash version, with its scratchily-drawn 2D styling, to smooth, pre-rendered backgrounds can create a desire for a more robust play experience. In full-screen resolution, the sense of scale is much more expansive than in the original adventure. But the intensive upgrade (which includes gorgeous CG cutscenes) overshadows the game's otherwise routine core gameplay system, which would be more expected in an online game than a full-fledged adventure game.
While most of the updates are favorable, one unneeded addition is the implementation of new voice acting, which I wanted to turn off thoughout the playthrough; but I held out to see if it would ever improve. I’ve heard some exceptionally harsh criticism targeted at voice acting in adventure games through the years, most of which I've felt is debatable. Morningstar, however, hands-down instills the most spiritless voice acting I’ve ever encountered to an unintentionally laughable extent. I was actually unsure that I wasn't just hearing automated text-to-speech recording until I realized the voice acting is honestly that uninspired. If anything takes away from the compelling nature of Morningstar, it's certainly the voice acting; especially considering that the story itself offers plenty opportunities for true emotion.
The gameplay is slightly more streamlined with its addition of revealing hotspots with square overlays when moving your cursor across the screen. This feels enormously smooth from an aesthetic and contextual standpoint, as though your suit and helmet visor are able to recognize and categorize necessary environmental observances via augmented-reality technology, à la Metroid Prime or the proclaimed future of real-life Google Glass. Fortunately, this eliminates hotspot-hunting and the need to spend excessive time exploring every corner of the eerily lifeless scenery, and allows the player to focus on logical puzzle-solving. This adds to the feeling of immersion as a space engineer on a crucial mission.
The logical and realistic puzzle design is one of Morningstar’s strongest qualities. I was able to feel sufficiently immersed in the story and the haunting scenery to search sensibly for things such as a flare with which to light a darkened canyon, or concentrate on decoding an alien language by memorizing patterns from a star map and plugging them into a console. With strong musical ambiance and an almost 90’s-esque visual style of pre-rendered scenery, Morningstar comes across fairly frequently as a strong mood piece of logical science fiction that isn’t encroached on by outlandish puzzle design.
Although the strong atmosphere, crystal-clear spooky scenery, and engaging puzzle design is enormously engaging, the story itself is slightly underdeveloped. Utilmately, the game only took me three hours to complete, and I didn’t feel that all of the questions were answered by the game’s conclusion. The planet itself was still a large mystery that I knew nearly nothing about, and no new characters were introduced besides the ones introduced at the very beginning. Strangely enough, the ending is unexpectedly over-the-top, packing in a large amount of action and humor that isn’t present in the rest of the title. Needless to say, although this makes the ending fairly satisfying, it doesn't exactly feel consistent with the rest of the game.
Although Morningstar is an exceptional upgrade to an eerily haunting Flash title and makes for a worthwhile mood piece in which to sink a couple hours, it feels more like a tech-demo introduction for the developer's future titles. Despite a few drawbacks, such as awful voice acting and a lack of elaborate locales and story development, its achieved atmosphere makes its short playthrough fairly compelling, although its rich visual updates leaves more gameplay evolution desired.
+ Great atmosphere
+ Smooth updated visuals
+ Logical, cohesive puzzles
+ Great CG cutscenes
- Horrendous voice-acting
- Limited locations
- No strong gameplay updates
- Poor story development