Has somebody airlifted a battalion of English teachers to Russia? It sure seems as though somebody at Moscow's Quazar Studios has been taking English lessons, because Dark Horizon is considerably less laughable than its 2007 predecessor, Tarr Chronicles. The first game in this series of spaceship shoot-'em-ups was chock-full of absurd metaphors, such as describing escaping enemies as fleeing "like puppies from a boiling cauldron." However, it's hard to give the game credit for cleaning up its grammar when the gameplay in this Wing Commander-style shooter with delusions of role-playing grandeur makes very few other improvements over last year's model. Mind-numbing dogfights, pitch-black visuals, and a general lack of direction in both storytelling and mission objectives make every hour spent with this game feel like a hundred.
The story is also still a big problem, even though the bizarre phrases and insane metaphors have been pruned back. The setting is still the far future, and the galaxy is still under assault by a matter-corrupting black cloud of something or other called the Mirk. Things aren't looking good for the survival of humanity, so you must help hold off this galactic scourge by signing on as a fighter pilot for the Mirk-influenced race of Guardians protecting the Vattar Ama'Dan space fortress. This tortured tale plays out in 20-plus solo missions (there are no multiplayer or skirmish modes of play). You fly a spaceship from either a cockpit view or a trailing-camera angle and use mouse and keyboard controls to blow up every Mirk-infected alien stupid enough to cross your path.
Dark visuals make it nearly impossible to tell where enemies are during frenzied battles, making collisions tough to avoid.
After spilling the above details in the opening cinematic, all attempts at coherent storytelling are pretty much abandoned. Both the in-game dialogue and the in-game encyclopedia available in your cabin between missions are peppered with unexplained concepts, such as the "psychomatrix," the "anti-being," and Mirk "spawn," which are just about impossible to follow. Your character never speaks, making the game even more distant and enigmatic. During dogfights, the story is developed solely through inscrutable conversations between your wingmen. The only thing that keeps your head from spinning is the fine work of the voice actors, who somehow manage to spout this gobbledygook without cracking up.
At least you can ignore this prattle and concentrate on what Dark Horizon is really all about: blasting stuff. The best part of the crazy storyline is that it has nothing to do with the gameplay a good 99 percent of the time. All of the generic space shoot-'em-up gameplay has been built around the good old Wing Commander formula, so you can tune out everything that your buddies are saying and simply lock on and attack enemies. Unfortunately, that's all you ever get to do. Every mission is loaded up with nonstop dogfights, so you whirl, twirl, and shoot through incessant waves of enemy assaults. It's all guaranteed to numb your brain in short order, as well as turn your mouse wrist into a throbbing mass of gristle because of the constant spinning and turning needed to stay on the tail of bad guys.