So you think you can handle yourself in a crisis. Little first-aid kit tucked away in your closet next to the Virtual Boy and the Bowflex? When's the last time you were forced to pilot your damaged spaceship into a brutal crash landing on an unknown planet while flames filled your vision? That's not something that happens every day, you know. Almost every day, but not every day. But the good news is Red Herring Games is here with a brand new point-and-click adventure game to show you just how to take care of yourself. Luckily, Morningstar is as entertaining as it is informative.
Slip into the spacesuit of Powell, one of the only survivors of the fiery crash. He swims into consciousness to the sound of his captain's voice crackling over the radio and promptly comes face-to-face with the body of one of his crew members. Well, I'm no space-expert (spacepert?), but it seems to me that that is rarely a good sign.
Morningstar is played through Powell's field of vision; the display looks like the view from inside a helmet, and you nudge your cursor to the sides of the screen to look around. If you can interact with something, appropriate text pops up as you pass over it. Click to pick up items, which will show up in your inventory at the bottom of the screen. The Menu button in the upper right lets you adjust the options or save your progress — important to remember since the game doesn't auto-save for you like other adventure games.
While Morningstar does a good job of flooding you with items early on, it also, surprisingly, does an even better job of showing you what to do with them. For much of the game, Powell can communicate with his captain at any time by pressing the Radio button. Captain Novak may not be the most cheerful person in the world, but he'll give Powell information at any time about his current objective and nudge him towards where he should be headed. While the game does provide a Walkthrough button, making use of the surly Captain feels much more realistic.
The puzzles here are refreshingly logical, if mostly short and to the point. If Novak isn't available or you're just tired of him griping at you, you can usually figure things out for yourself without much trouble. Paying attention to your environment and listening to what Powell says when you examine your items is often all you need.
Analysis: In all respects, Morningstar is a remarkable game. One of the things I respect most about it is its ability to shift tones naturally. Powell and Novak spend a lot of time barking at one another, and it can often be amusing to listen to the power struggle between them. The game also has its tense moments, and really knows how to handle atmosphere. Even with the taciturn Novak available by radio, the game still does a great job of making you feel isolated and alone when it wants to.
I have no trouble believing Red Herring Games found a genie at one point and wished to make the most incredible opening movie ever made for a flash game, which in this case is a wish well spent. The animation and artwork in this game is just gorgeous. The voice acting, of which there is an astounding amount, is also very well done, but there is an option for you to turn it off if you don't like it, or if you just prefer to make your own space opera sound-effects. Krrrrrsshkt! Neeeeeeeown! Danger, Will Robinson!
Morningstar had me rapt right from the opening sequence and never let go. It's a fantastic example of what can be done with the genre, and serves as a reminder that just because a game is free and casual doesn't mean it can't be a powerhouse in production value, too. If Red Herring Games continues to produce games of this quality, they've got a great future ahead of them. But what they've done right now is pretty darn incredible, too.