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Into the Stars – PC

Into the Stars – PC

into the stars box artPlatform: PC

Developer: Fugitive Games

Publisher: Iceberg Interactive

Release Date: March 4, 2016

Genre: Simulation/Management, Indie, Sci-Fi, Survival

ESRB Rating: E

Nerd Rating: 5 out of 10

Reviewed by: Variand

Shows like Star Trek: Voyager and Battlestar Galactica make us wonder what it’s like to command a star ship lost in unknown space searching for home, but in most cases, they spent most of their time following the crew. They never showed the daily monotony of sitting in the captain’s chair watching space dust fly by. Luckily indie developer Fugitive Games has stepped in to show us the fun of reading reports and ordering your crew on seemingly benign missions that result in their horrible, and usually derpy, deaths.

Into the Stars glues the player’s ass to the captain’s seat and doesn’t let you leave outside of zooming in to see your Management screens or zooming out to see the whole ship. You can’t even free-look in your permanent armchair. After playing this game, I fully understand why every single captain in Star Trek disregarded their science/security/first officer’s complaints about wantonly going off on away missions.

Permanently glue of Cap'n Tight Pants

Permanently glued view of Cap’n Tight Pants

Space Exploration = Boring

While exploring the stars sounds enticing, let’s face it – there is little to do between the scant few adventures to be had. Paraphrasing the infamous quote: “Roddenberry created warp to get to the action during the commercial break.” Into the Stars at least does a decent job of placing the planets, stars, ships, and a few other anomalies close enough to be within feasible reach while still remaining just outside a comfort zone. But it will still take some time to get between planets and during this time, you’ll do little else besides handle the city management and various events that pop from it.

Sim-City in Space?

Have fun building only 4 classes of building, in only 6 spaces.

Have fun building only 4 classes of building, in only 6 spaces.

No, not really. There is “City Management” where you can spend your resources to try to make the only survivors of humanity healthier, orderly, prolific, and a little happier. You know, because being on the run from a horrible, human-hating race of aliens that are hell-bent on destroying humanity is the perfect reason for a star ship captain to install zero-G ping pong tables.  In game terms, all this does is limit the amount of events that break up the boredom of flying through space from planet to planet.  There’s little real effect if you ignore this portion of the game completely, and almost no positive for micromanaging it either.  The population growth is actually worse as it increases drain on resources.

The Real Game

There's no way to know how a mission will go until you do it.

There’s no way to know how a mission will go until you do it.

The real gameplay of Into the Stars takes place when reaching a planet. This is where you can refill your resources and send your crew out to die – or maybe get some more ship upgrades or items, but more often then not, to die. All those episodes of Star Trek: Voyager really prepared me for this. The only difference between Into the Stars and Star Trek: Voyager is where Captain Janeway would try trading with friendly aliens for resources and sending only the show main-stay characters instead of red-shirts, Into the Stars basically has you strip mining the planet and sending your crew to die. And oh, yes, they will die. I lost a crew member with the highest command on the first away mission!

The strip mining comes in two flavors: a safe “send a probe” option that nets a random, generally small, number of resources and sending a giant space drill drives through the planets crust. Can you imagine being a denizen of a planet minding your own business when a giant space drill drops in from space and bores a huge wiggly hole in the ground? But in reality, it’s just an excuse to have a weird minigame that reminds me of rail shooter style of Dig Dug.

Avoid the red while collecting as many resources as possible.

Avoid the red while collecting as many resources as possible.

The Space Pace

Into the Stars is easy to beat in an afternoon, but expect a serious sitting to do it (and that wasn’t just a Stuck-in-the-captain’s-chair pun either). The game paces itself just a bit too long to be a casual play, but fairly short to really feel like a worthwhile long-time investment. My first game took me about 3 hours, my second took me a little longer as I spent more time exploring. My fourth game took me only about an hour. Once you know where you’re going, it’s fairly simple to just bum-rush from start to finish. This comes in handy while the evil alien race is hot on your tail.

Space Battles

Simplistic battles only serve to keep you moving

Simplistic battles only serve to keep you moving

This is probably the part that reminds me the most of a Star Trek show. Ships perfectly aligned in a translation and rotation taking pot-shots at one another. The whole vibe had a weird FTL battle mixed with early 2D JRPG battle systems, sadly while this might sound intriguing, the whole thing just feels shamefully simple offering little challenge. The same aim for weapons then hull strategy works for every enemy I encountered without fail and often without taking any damage.

Unspoken Narrative

There is really no story or true narrative to speak of here. Sure there is a basic premise of trying to outrun the evil human-hating aliens, but that seems to be more a gameplay driving element than any kind of real story. There’s no reason as to why they aliens hate us; only that they attacked us a lot (every 6 months) and they got all other 12 Arks before yours. (Really makes flying through the same space that the other arks went through a GREAT decision, right?) Not all games need a story, and narratives can be given through gameplay, but Into the Stars is painfully lax on both.

Technical Issues even Geordi couldn’t fix

While the overall design has some harsh smudges, the real issue with Into the Stars is that it suffers with is its stability.  This game crashes more often than my pilots! And with the inability to save mid-game without exiting completely, there’s little you can do but continually start over when the game will inevitably get stuck or frozen. I had the game crash or get stuck in “autopiloting” mode multiple times while just trying to get screenshots.  Unfortunately, it does not appear as if we’ll be seeing any updates or fixes since the studio seems to have closed shop.  Their website no longer exists, and the studio has not posted anything on their facebook or twitter since last year.

It’s only the Bugs and Design

Pretty visuals and sound can only take you so far.

Pretty visuals and sound can only take you so far.

This game still got a middling rank even though the above review has not been all that praising. That’s because even with the rather troublesome design choices, disappointing half-baked features, and the annoying crashes, the game was still fairly enjoyable. It was less cumbersome than most space sim/traders go, and yet not too shallow to be a passable casual game. The imagery and effects were pleasant and effective, and the sound quite immersive. The music in general was great for the mood setting as it was composed by Jack Wall of Mass Effect fame. The (presumably) computer voice is effective at relaying information without beating the player over the head with it.

The game currently retails for $20 on steam, which feels about right for this game if maybe a tad bit high.  For those that need space game that isn’t all about being a fighter ace, a intergalactic trade baron, or saving the galaxy from reapers, Into the Stars might make a decent purchase if you’ve already grown bored of the myriad other games in the Space Sim genre. Though you’re likely better just playing FTL again.

Written by Variand

Variand

Agree or Disagree with something? Want to request a review a specific game? Just want to troll? Leave a comment, Twitter @Variand, or email me at Variand@NerdBacon.com. Or feel free to find and frag me on Xbox Live (GT: Rukhan), PSN (Variand), or Steam(Variand99).

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