To say that things are not going well would be an understatement. Your crew is injured, your ship is damaged, and – to make matters worse – the colonists that you are carrying are slowly starving and suffocating to death because your last resource expedition was less than fruitful. Meanwhile, the Skorn menace is still on your tail, doggedly pursuing the last remnants of humanity, never giving up on their quest to eradicate our species from the galaxy.
You are humanity’s last hope.
Fugitive Games’ Into the Stars is a roguelike space sim with, if the reader will forgive the antiquated reference, a strong dose of The Oregon Trail thrown in for good measure. Humanity has been driven to the brink of extinction by relentless attacks of an alien race known as the Skorn who seem to hate us because… Reasons. Whatever the cause of the Skorn’s scorn (sorry, couldn’t help that), your mission is to take the captain’s chair of the Ark 13, the last human colony ship, and search for a new homeland and a fresh start for humanity.
In many ways, the game plays out like its predecessor in the space roguelike sub-genre, Faster Than Light (FTL). You take command of a ship, assign your crew to various tasks, try to stay one step ahead of the bad guys, and blow them to smithereens when they inevitably catch up with you. But the similarities end there. For one thing the audio and visual presentation in Into the Stars is top notch. The graphics are stunningly rendered in 3D and the music is a nice mix of ambient Hearts of Space-style tracks with more blood-pumping action oriented pieces when the action heats up.
Into the Stars has a lot more for an intrepid starship captain to manage than FTL, as well. Starting the game throws the player into a fairly extensive customization and setup process. You will need to choose your crew members to perform various functions. Crew members have various skills that can be leveled up during the course of the game. All the old standbys are present and accounted for here. If you’re not clear on what those are, any episode of Star Trek should bring you up to (warp) speed. Someone with a decent engineering score will help keep the ship patched up during the journey, while a decent medical score will be required to do the same for the crew (and colonists). Fortunately, crew members are versatile and are more than just one trick ponies. Yet, some will definitely be better at a given task than others.
You’ll also have to keep a close eye on your resources and colonists if you hope to reach the end of the game. The Ark 13 relies on various resources to keep going: biomatter for food, various minerals for away missions, and oxygen for, well, breathing. Choosing your starting loadout for resources is an important part of the game setup phase. Fugitive Games has cleverly designed the system in such a way that you cannot carry everything that you would like (or need). Choices must be made. Do you carry lots of food and not too many minerals, hoping to gather more on the journey? Or do you bring lots of minerals to fuel away missions where you can gather food and oxygen? These choices are tough and definitely determine what your priorities will be when you start the expedition.
Once the game launches, you take the captain’s chair. And I do mean that literally. Most of the game is played in a first person perspective from the bridge of the Ark 13. From there you can send your crew on resource gathering missions or other duties, direct combat, check on the colonists you’re babysitting, and even pilot the ship. At any time you can duck into a third person view of your star ship as you maneuver through space. It is gorgeous to look at. You can pilot the ship just as well from the cockpit view, but most of the other actions you need to take in the game will have you back in the captain’s chair pretty quickly.
As you encounter planets you can send out shuttles for away missions and mining probes for minerals. Both missions require crew members to man (or woman) them and both kinds of missions have a chance of success or, for the crew members involved, death. These missions can uncover various resources that your ship, crew, and colonists desperately need.
The player ordinarily has no control over what happens on an away mission with the exception of mining, which involves an arcade style mini-game. You take remote control of the mining probe and guide it through the planet in question picking up minerals along the way. The underground area is laid out in a grid and you move from square to square as the screen scrolls down. You try to pick up resources and avoid red squares (although it’s not really clear what these represent – solid rock, perhaps?) on the grid. Hit a red square and the mission is over. As odd as it is to find the equivalent of an Atari 2600 game in the middle of Into the Stars, it does have the advantage of providing at least some control over which resources you pick up during the mining process.
You can make multiple mining runs or away missions on the same planet, but the Skorn ships will eventually catch up with you. When they do, combat begins. Unfortunately, combat just isn’t Into the Stars’ best feature. It is a semi-turn based affair that primarily involves attempting to match your shield frequency to that of the enemy’s weapons and doing the same when you get a chance to fire back. In game terms, this boils down to matching the color of the enemy’s weapon to a shield button on the combat control panel. Personally, I found combat to be virtually impossible until I figured out the system, at which point it became almost trivial, even when I was facing three Skorn ships simultaneously.
Combat is not the focus of Into the Stars and to focus on it too much is to miss the point of the game, itself. But while the combat isn’t great, it can have very real effects on the course of the game. Your ship can be damaged and your crew members can be injured – both will need repair and that always comes with a cost. Resources will need to be spent and crucial crew members will be unavailable at critical times, which requires flexibility and creativity to survive.
Into the Stars is really all about tension. The game runs in (mostly) real time which keeps up the pace. It can be paused at any time with the press of a button so you can issue orders, but it is common to be dealing with multiple crises at the same time. You are always short on some resource or other and are constantly looking for mining/gathering locations. Meanwhile, the Skorn ships are always out there searching for you and the longer you linger in one place, the more likely it is that they will catch up. Your colonists will start to die off when you are low on food and oxygen. Your crew members can be injured and even killed. Into the Stars is all about using scarce resources to make a last ditch journey across an unknown and hostile environment where all the odds are against you and multiple things can (and will) go wrong at once.
Into the Stars is an indie game, and can be rough around the edges at times, but the core experience is strong. The game will keep you on the edge of your seat as your resources are consumed and the dogs are nipping at your heels. The randomly generated nature of the game means that each attempt at the journey will be different, which adds some replay value to the experience in true roguelike fashion. That’s good because, unless you are the bizarre love child of Captains James T. Kirk and John Sheridan, you’re going to need multiple runs through the game to make it to the end.
TL;DR: If ship/crew management and exploration in a roguelike space setting where the odds are against you and the clock is always ticking sound like fun, then Into the Stars is the game for you. There is a lot going on under the hood in the way the various systems interact and it’s a real diamond in the rough if you’re looking for edge-of-your-seat gameplay where your decisions really matter.
You might like this game if:
- Micromanaging a starship and its crew sounds like fun to you
- You like roguelikes and perma-death gameplay
- Dealing with a crisis or three at the same time is appealing
You might NOT like this game if:
- You’re looking for a relaxing game or a turn-based experience
- Combat is your favorite part of strategy games
- You need or like detailed tutorials (there aren’t any)
Micah played 15+ hours of Into the Stars on a desktop PC with a FX-8320 CPU, 16 GB of RAM, and nVidia GTX 970 graphics card.