Last week developer Fugitive Games launched its debut title called Into the Stars, a space simulator that draws inspiration from FTL while also adding a pinch of Oregon Trail into the mix for good measure. Admittedly, most people would find it hard to see the resemblance between this space sim and Oregon Trail given that the latter came out back in the 70’s, however, the fact that Into the Stars was inspired by FTL should give you a pretty clear indication in regards to what the developers were trying to achieve with this game. Whether or not Fugitive Games actually succeeded in its goal is up for debate but as far as debut titles go, Into the Stars is a decent enough effort by this small team even though it leaves a lot to be desired in certain departments.
The first thing that immediately catches the eye while playing Into the Stars are the visuals, which are arguably the best part of this title. The game was developed using the Unreal Engine 4 and therefore, looks just as pretty as one might expect. Unfortunately, the beautiful environments you’ll come across while travelling through space also make everything inside your ship look bland and monotonous by comparison. The clunky and repetitive animations of the crew, in particular, seem strikingly out of place for a game that looks so good on the outside, which is really a shame because it quickly becomes obvious that the developers put a lot of effort into creating an interesting space setting but settled for doing an average job when it comes to a number of other important aspects. Additionally, the game could have used some much-needed variety to prevent certain systems like combat and resource gathering from becoming so tedious.
By comparison, there’s actually plenty to do in space and the game’s constant sense of urgency makes it so that you won’t have time to check out all the points of interest in a single playthrough. This means you’ll have to choose carefully where you want to go because resources are always scarce and even a simple thing like finding enough fuel material to move from place to place can be difficult a lot of the time. Into the Stars puts you into the shoes of a ship captain that’s charged with transporting the remnants of humanity to a new home called Titus Nova after Earth was destroyed by a hostile alien race known as the Skorn. Getting to Titus Nova will be your main objective from the get-go, but since you’re almost constantly low on resources and always on the run from the Skorn, it turns out that reaching your new home can be quite tricky. What’s more, the trading ships you encounter once in a blue moon will charge you an arm and a leg in return for a few resources, so you truly can’t rely on anyone else to help you on your journey.
In a sense, Into the Stars feels more like a space survival game than anything else and that concept works well at times, however, the title falls short of its true potential for the most part due to multiple aspects that break immersion and make very little sense. For example, despite the fact that you are humanity’s last hope and are responsible for transporting ten thousand people (don’t even get me started to the bad base building component) to Titus Nova, your actual crew consists only of six people for some reason. There’s also very little decision making involved when picking the right person for the right job as there are only six stats and no special abilities. This lack of variety means that you will automatically assign the person with the highest stat for the corresponding job unless they are badly injured or otherwise unavailable. Outside of combat, your crew can also participate in special events aboard the ship and help with resource gathering, though there aren’t a whole lot of meaningful choices to be made here either. The arcadey mining minigame, in particular, seems very out of place in the context of the game while searching for items and modules on planets feels shallow and poorly executed.
As for the combat, the game wants to make you think that there’s some strategy involved but it mostly boils down to dexterity and timing, which is not necessarily a bad thing. Even though it suffers from the very same problems as the rest of the game, the combat feels a bit more engaging, mostly because you can be attacked by cloaked enemy ships at any time, so it’s wise to always be prepared for the worst. While the actual fighting isn’t too difficult, there’s quite a bit of tension in knowing that you can get ambushed at any time by multiple ships. Unfortunately, there are only a handful of enemy types to fight and they all pretty much do the same thing, which really strips away any strategic layer this component could have offered. Not to mention that you’re not actually fighting the enemy in space, but rather, have to rely on the bad interface and hidden dice rolls when attacking. I could also mention the absurdity of it all as your massive ark ship gets pulled over by a couple of much smaller enemy vessels just so you can have a fight instead of simply ramming through them, but some might call that nitpicking. There are reportedly also a number of technical issues that need to be addressed, ranging from random crashes to unresponsive camera controls, but I haven’t encountered too many of these problems myself so I can’t really comment on how bad these issues are.
At the end of the day, Into the Stars is a pretty looking game on the outside but the beauty is very much skin deep and its flaws become painfully obvious once you take a look beneath the surface. That said, it’s not all bad because exploring space is actually pretty fun and there’s some very good music by Mass Effect composer Jack Wall to accompany you in your journeys. Too bad the developers didn’t put a little more effort into the rest of the game as it could have been a lot better if only the gameplay didn’t feel so unnecessarily tedious. Perhaps Fugitive Games spent just a little too much time and money on the graphics and not enough on everything else, who knows. As it stands, Into the Stars feels very much like a retro arcade game with poor mechanics but with good visuals courtesy of Unreal Engine 4, which is a rather strange combination and the main reason for why it falls short of its true potential. But while I wouldn’t recommend it for everyone, the truth is that Into the Stars is a $20 release that could get a lot better in the future if the developers keep working on it, so it’s definitely not a lost cause and potentially worth a try if you’re a fan of titles like FTL.
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- Nice graphics enabled by Unreal Engine 4
- Constant lack of resources forces you to think carefully about your next destination
- Great soundtrack
- Bad user interface
- Core gameplay gets tedious very fast
- Lacks variety in most departments
- Poorly executed mechanics
- Some technical issues