Anyone with a passion for space-based adventures and who played Oregon Trail in their youth would jump at the opportunity to put their hands on Into The Stars. Set in a distant future, this game puts you in the shoes of a space captain, as you try to save the human race. Your home world has been attacked by an alien race and your ship is one of the few remaining hopes for safety.
Into the Stars sounds like an interesting game until you play it for the first time. As soon as it starts running, it’s not hard to understand how this title is simplistic at its best, and tacky at its worst.
Starting a new game brings you to a screen where you are presented with a series of options you can choose from in order to customize your ship, pick your crew and manage your resources. While designed as a way to diversify gameplay by allowing players to customize their gaming experience, the menus just appear to be overly complicated, as walls of text are thrown on the screen with no tutorial nor guidance whatsoever.
The actual gameplay is based off a nice idea but lacks in execution. Similarly to Oregon Trail, your objective is to get from point A to point B as fast as possible while having to manage the small community in your ship. As the Ark-13’s commanding officer, your duties include navigation, combat, and resource management. You are also responsible for the well being of the civilians you’re hauling, as well as your crew. All of these can be controlled and managed from the Captain’s Chair on the ship’s deck. While navigation requires little to no effort on your part, and will mostly result in slow paced “dodge the big planets in front of you and move to the next sector” sessions, the other tasks feature a touch of micromanagement, which is just enough to render the game unattractive to causal players, due to the amount of attention required to manage the crew in order to keep the ship running and not enough to keep experienced simulation players entertained, as most issues can be resolved by simply accessing the crew panel and matching the problem with the person with the highest skill required to solve it. Last but not least, a series of random events will happen while travelling and will require your attention and your crew in order to be resolved. These events, which will generally negatively impact on the ship’s ability to travel, fight or will result in the loss of civilian life, provide a dynamic touch to the game but tend to happen too often, deviating attention from the main gameplay and watering down the sessions even more.
The game relies a lot on sitting around and hoping for the best
The whole game revolves around your crew statistics and how well they can perform certain duties. While you have to wonder how can a ship containing thousands of civilians only be manned by a crew of 6, considering the crew can suffer from permadeath, these will be all Into the Stars allows you to hire at the beginning of each session, making crew selection a vital part of the game. Picking the wrong combination of crew members results in the game being extremely punishing, as you simply won’t have the ability to solve some of the aforementioned issues or complete missions. Having only six individuals at your disposals, the half of which will be constantly unavailable as they are busy completing secondary missions, also means that you will often find yourself lacking the workforce to properly man your ship in the event of an attack or if a high priority event unfolds.
The game allows players to interact with the planets on their paths, but even this feature is executed poorly. Hitting the F button suddenly turns the ship’s engines off, as the vessel magically warps into a docking position. From here, you can choose whether to deploy a mining rig, a probe or an exploration vessel, gaining access to sub missions that can yield resources or special upgrades to be installed on the Ark. Sadly, none of these, besides mining and combat, require any kind of player interaction and are all based upon sitting around and hoping for success. Most missions simply rely on the selected crew’s statistics in order to determine the success rate, with each successful mission slightly increasing the person’s ability to complete specific tasks. Once the crew is selected and the mission begins, all players have to do is wait for the dices to roll and hope. While this type of gameplay would be suitable for casual titles, Into the Stars should feature more dynamic missions where you’re given the ability to actively control your crew by giving them orders or where you’re put in direct control of the spacecrafts and are able to decide how each mission unfolds.
Mining and combat further contribute to rendering Into the Stars a dull title, as you are forced to play mobile-like minigames in order to complete both activities. Mining requires players to drive a drill through a 2D resources field in order to collect as much as possible. Resources are contained in cubes that have to be broken in order to be harvested, but driving the drill into an empty cube or into one of the many barriers will destroy it and end the minigame. An alternative way to collect resources is launching a Mining Probe, which works exactly like any other mission the game has to offer. By investing a small amount of fuel and picking a crew member to act as the remote pilot, you can deploy a Probe which is sure to return to base with resources, provided the launch is successful. As this is a less stressful way to obtain precious consumables and does not feature the minigame mentioned above, you will generally find yourself preferring it to the use of the Mining Rig, especially if you lack the ability to keep the minigame up long enough to make each run worthwhile. Combat is the final nail on Into the Stars‘ coffin.
From time to time, the Ark might be attacked by an alien race known as the Skorn. If the Ark remains in a sector for too long, enemies will eventually appear and the attack screen will pop up. You then have to assign your crew – which, even though the ship is about to be blown to pieces, won’t be available if they were taking care of other issues on board- and fight. Fighting itself is reduced to rising the shields at the right time in order to deflect incoming attacks and mashing the laser and torpedoes buttons until every enemy is destroyed. Players can decide which subsystem the ship should target, although that seems to make little difference. Furthermore, albeit firing on huge stationary targets from a ship that is humanity’s most advanced technological achievement, shots have a chance to magically miss their target and disappear into deep space. All of the above make encounters one of the most challenging parts of the game and one that will result in death unless the ship is at full health.
Credit should be given where it’s due as Into the Stars contains some enjoyable fragments, even though they’re not enough to make up for the lack of gameplay and interaction. Among the many random events that will unfold on board, some are extremely funny and will result in a chuckle. The crew will sometime have to deal with serious issues such as alien diseases, leaks, and violence, but will also find themselves facing more humorous threats, such as groups of fuzzy raccoon that lure civilians in with their cuteness and then proceed to maul them. It would have been nice to see more of this quality writing in a properly developed backstory, but the title lack that or any sort of description of the enemies, allies or the current situation in the galaxy, which results in an even less enjoyable experience. The game also makes a good use of the Unreal 4 engine, resulting in a decent looking environment which could be compared to other space games such as the X series or Homeworld. It’s a pity that Into the Stars seems to be particularly hungry when it comes to resources and the framerate will tank even on modern machines.
Into the Stars is one of the many early access titles where developers tried to bite more than they could chew and ended up creating a mediocre experience that is mash-up of ideas that weren’t developed properly. The game has great potential, but the final product leaves much to the players’ imagination and is a disappointment.