Morningstar: Descent to Deadrock ReviewFebruary 26, 2015
The generation of gamers to which I belong seems to have missed out on the glory days of the point-and-click adventure genre, with outstanding titles like The Secret of Monkey Island, Full Throttle, and Grim Fandango well in the past, with little to carry on their legacy in the modern era of video games. However, a bit of rust on the category doesn’t stop Morningstar: Descent to Deadrock from trying its hardest to bring some of the old-school magic back, and to that end, I would call it a success. Sure, Morningstar may seem out of place with its lethargic pacing and lack of action in comparison to the thrill and excitement of titles like Call of Duty and Assassin’s Creed. Yet there is something charming about the methodical manner in which you explore and investigate during your time with the futuristic title.
Set almost entirely on the derelict, titular planet of Deadrock, Morningstar tells the tale of Powell, a space-cadet of sorts who has crash-landed on the aforementioned planet with the sassy Captain Novak and some other chap who dies too early on in the game to be worth a mention. The player guides Powell on his quest for survival by locating and interacting with objects and points of interest in the environment, and also by picking up and combining items in true MacGyver fashion to overcome obstacles and challenges. The path forward is usually clear, and when it is not, the player can choose to radio Novak for a bit of guidance. This is a blessing when things get a bit confusing, as there is no quest log or on-screen directive to guide you. On the other hand, Novak’s hints can also be a crutch, as he will essentially tell you how to solve every puzzle and mystery presented if you so desire.
Unsurprisingly, the presentation of Morningstar: Descent to Deadrock, which harkens back to past adventure glory, is simple and easy to understand, unencumbered by the weight of modern, overcomplicated menus and on-screen displays. There are no options for physics-based particle effects or ambient occlusion, and the only thing that stands between the player and the game is a minimal, unassuming start screen. Some may be a bit disappointed by the lack of even the most basic of options, such as multiple resolutions or a windowed mode, but I was pleasantly surprised and delighted by the game’s ability to keep its technical workings out of the way of my enjoyment.
Similarly, this refreshing simplicity carries over to the visual presentation of Morningstar. The environments are represented by what at first seem to be a series of still pictures, with elements to be clicked on by the player. However the game does a great job of reminding you that you are part of a 3D environment by including animated objects such as whirring fans, glowing ship instruments, and churning turbines. Furthermore, one of my favorite moments from Morningstar came when the picturesque environment suddenly came to life, as the first person perspective of Powell seamlessly transitioned from player-controlled gameplay to something of a cutscene. I was in a bit of awe as a lurching camera brought Powell’s movements to life in a way I had not previously seen while leading the hero from room to room.
Unfortunately, Morningstar presents a handful of shortcomings and annoyances that may frustrate prospective newbies to adventure games. The first and most glaringly obvious is a question of value that arises when you compare the game’s surprising brevity–a scant 98 minutes for my playthrough–with its price point, which at the time of writing this review is $9.99. Surely ten dollars isn’t going to break anyone’s bank, but for a game that only takes an hour and a half to complete, this may be a bit of a difficult sell for Phoenix Online Publishing among a sea of free-to-play gems. Of course, a seemingly high price can be offset by equally high replay value. Sadly, that isn’t the case with Morningstar. There are no branching story-arcs, no variable difficulty, and no hidden content unlocked after beating the game. As there isn’t even the most remote fear of immediate danger in Morningstar–you cannot die and there are no game over screens–there isn’t really any reason for a player of any skill level to sit down with the game and not see absolutely everything during an initial playthrough, further hampering replayability.
Another complaint I am sure some will have with Morningstar involves the mailed-in, hit-or-miss voice acting of the two protagonists. While Novak can bring some much-needed wit to the events of the game with his light-hearted banter, Powell is more or less a talking cardboard cutout, whose narrations are forced, inflectionless drones of dialogue that do nothing to bolster my affection for the character.
Regardless of these minor complaints, I’m happy that I took the time to explore Morningstar: Descent to Deadrock and the genre it represents. Without much to go on, I walked away from the game feeling that it did more than enough to serve as a gateway for players looking to explore other adventure titles like the ones mentioned above, which is a feat in and of itself. To be clear though, Morningstar also does enough to stand on its own, independent of those point-and-click classics, as nothing more and nothing less than a simple, fun game. And sometimes, that’s all that matters.