Map Review of uss-darkstar-co-op

by dunkelschwamm | December 29, 2021 | 4117 characters

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USS Darkstar is a classic Half-Life mod made by Neil Manke and Black Widow Games, famous for the They Hunger horror conversion. Instead of pulpy horror cliches, USS Darkstar harps on sci-fi tropes, while forging a very unique identity of its own. At times it reminds me a bit of System Shock, at other times it reminds me a bit of Star Trek: TNG.

This conversion to Sven Co-op is brilliantly executed. Balancing is in proper check, everything works correctly (aside from occasional vehicle issues- which, to be fair, are apparent in any Sven map), map transitions are handled tastefully and with signposted transitions- just, everything worked and was playable in a fun and easy manner.

USS Darkstar is an extensive conversion spanning over 15 maps, so have some time set aside for completing it. Adding to its length are some occasional bits where progression isn't easily found, such as ladders nestled off to the sides of support beams leading to the next area, or terribly hard to spot vents. Sometimes there are elevators which require long waits and have inconsistent controls, making their functionality ambiguous compared to nearby nonfunctional-for-flavor elevators. Additionally, some of the maps are a bit mazey in layout even when we know where we're going, and it can be easy to get turned around.

Regardless, as long as forward momentum is being made this map is filled to the gills with action. The folks responsible for porting this mod to Sven did us the service of balancing ammo and keeping enemies at a reasonable amount of health, making battles satisfying and full of tiny victories. It's always a rare and wonderful feeling when a Sven map doesn't make you feel like you're starved for ammo. Thankfully maps don't extend too long before they're over, so checkpoints are neither implemented nor necessary.

One of Darkstar's greatest assets is its spectacle. I would wager that everything Half-Life does to make an underground government lab cool is one-upped by some of the tricks Darkstar does to make the space station believable and interesting. Intimately lit window-side cafes, massive electrical generators, tram rides through the vacuum of space, giant escape capsules, an alien zoo flooded and run amok- Darkstar is full of interesting setpieces and visuals to match.

Another aspect that is infinitely admirable about Darkstar's approach to mapping is its interactability. Soda machines can be used for health, machines in labs can be turned on to disastrous results, furniture can be broken, lights can be turned on and off. The ship's giant guns can even be used at one point. On top of that, there's a lot of detail put into the maps to make everything feel very lived in, with aspects of day-to-day life onboard taken into account with environmental touches. One aspect in particular I enjoyed is the story of Gravy Trader, a game which the crew of the Darkstar seem to be fond of, turning up throughout the campaign.

The Darkstar creates believable and enthralling environments, fills them with fantastic combat, lets you get maybe a little too lost in them, and creates a compelling adventure throughout. There's not much story to speak of aside from environmental storytelling, but sometimes that's all you need.

If you run an action server that runs longer campaigns I'd recommend throwing this into the mix for sure. If you're looking to dominate a sci-fi campaign with a friend, I could think of fewer finer mapsets for the job.


  • Beautiful locales
  • Fun combat
  • Good ammo balancing
  • Interactive environments
  • Environmental storytelling
  • Good length that never stops delivering new things until the end


  • Sometimes get lost in the levels
  • Some gimmicks associated with individual levels are interesting ideas that didn't turn out all that fun in execution
Score: 9.6 / 10
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