Into the Stars Review (PC)
When a player ventures into a rogue-like pilgrimage game, there are certainly things to be expected. The game should deliver an experience that provides a player with the tools to plan a successful journey tailored to their favored playstyles while providing them with a mass of random obstacles bent on stretching their every resource and leaving aforementioned success in critical jeopardy. Randomness is the name of the game and success or failure can be luck of the draw just as much as careful resource management. Into the Stars is the type of game that will push you on those very grounds and once you’re in it, the journey is great the first few times. Unfortunately, some glaring bugs and technical issues take luck of the draw to a level that quickly sucks the fun out of the experience.
Into the Stars comes from indie developer Fugitive Games in the studio’s maiden voyage. In the distant future, humanity has been targeted by a malevolent alien race known as the Skorn who attack and ravage Earth continually until it must be abandoned in search of a new habitable planet, known as Titus Nova. Giant spacefaring vessels called Arks have been dispatched with the remnants of humanity in hopes of reaching the distant planet, but all have been lost. You are tasked with directing the 13th and last of the Arks along with a personally selected crew to guide the remnants of humanity to their salvation. The journey works out to something similar to Oregon Trail or FTL but it works to bring its own flavor to this formula in interesting ways.
When starting the game, you select a build for your Ark. There are three standard builds supplied for newcomers. One is focused towards pulling and storing the most planetary resources per stop to allow for long journeys, another provides the best weaponry systems and perks to fend off enemy attacks, and a final option balances storage and weaponry along with a bonus towards all skill checks. In addition, you can custom select your perks, weapons, systems and storage compartments for whatever suits you best. It allows for some level of customization, but custom builds definitely feel sink or swim once in the field. In this way, the quick-start builds to ease you into the game while experimentation feels fun, yet dangerous.
After the Ark of your choice is geared up, you select a crew to run it. In each new start, the list is populated with candidates featuring six randomized stats: mining, engineering, command, piloting, medical, and toughness. While toughness is simply their likelihood to survive damage from Skorn attacks or failed missions, the other five stats are heavily worth considering when filling the roles and needs of any and all situations you’ll come across. While the options are various, this area actually offers less customization than you’d think as you’ll find very quickly that not having at least one crew member specialized in each particular area is a death sentence for your journey. That said, with some luck on the crew member randomization, you can find more than a few that will fit multiple roles well.
Once you’ve finalized all your preparations, it’s time to venture into the wild yonder. To its benefit, Into the Stars does a great job of quickly introducing the player to its core concepts. There’s an immediate planet full of resources right in front of you at the start of your journey which is prime ground for shuttle exploration and mining. Shuttle exploration takes three of your crew members to the planet’s surface where you’ll pick between three situations and then take on a choice. Choosing poorly often results in crew member injury or death while success offers rewards such as new modules for your ship and items to repair or boost individual parts. The crew members you take affect your odds as you fill pilot, commander, and medical roles for your away team directly based upon their skill level. That said, a failure can be a catastrophic game ender right there as it’s nearly impossible to maintain early in the game if you lose three of your six-person crew to a bad luck. Once again, the game does a fairly good job of presenting you with risk vs. reward factors here, but there is a slight lack of variety. It doesn’t feel long, especially on separate playthroughs, before the situations seem to repeat a little too often.
Mining is a more straightforward affair that comes in two forms. Everything you do runs on resources, from simply propelling your ship through space to your life support and food systems. Getting resources to keep it all running comes mainly from mining. You can either remotely probe a planet with a single pilot chance roll or take a mining rig down with a pilot and miner assigned. Mining rigs start a mini-game where you must guide a mining drill left and right as it descends through the planet, collecting labeled pockets of resources along the way within a certain time limit. There are red squares that damage your drill and honeycombed squares that outright destroy it. Getting the most out of each mining rig drop requires some skillful dodging, but the collision detection on the red squares feels a bit off at times. This combined with the randomization of soil patterns sometimes makes a bountiful dig impossible, leading to the frustration of losing time to an area. And time is everything in this game.
You’ll learn quickly that the more time you spend in an area isn’t just a drain on your resources. The Skorn are actively chasing you and if you stick around a quadrant too long, the alert level of the area increases, raising the possibility of being attacked. In addition, Skorn patrols are sometimes randomly combing a sector and if you fail to dodge or eliminate them, they raise the threat level of an area. If you stay around too long, combat becomes more likely and more dangerous.
Combat in the game is another mixture of skill checks and player control. You assign up to four crew members to a fight: a commander in charge of deflection shields, two engineers in charge of lasers and torpedoes, and a medical officer that accounts for an evade function. There are three colored frequencies of shields and weapons. Weapons will be deflected by a matching shield frequency while doing damage to a different frequency. The player must change shield frequencies to stay defended against similar enemy attacks while making sure to offset weapon frequencies to break through enemy defenses. On one enemy it’s fairly easy, but on up to three enemies running all different frequencies, it can be a nightmare game of active paper-rock-scissors. With that in mind, jumping quadrant to quadrant quickly is paramount to avoiding more difficult battles and adds a sense of urgency to the game as you attempt to balance resource gathering with your sprint for Titus Nova.
It’s good that there’s urgency in Into the Stars because there isn’t much variety to it. You’ll spend most of the game mining, running, and fighting through the same situations over and over again. This is further exemplified by the fact that the galaxy appears to be static across multiple playthroughs, meaning all planets and landmarks appear to always be in the same spaces. The galaxy is huge and there’s a lot to explore, but when you’re doing the same thing over and over again, it can quickly lose its novelty.
That’s not the worst part though. We ran into a pretty rough bug while we were playing this game. Loading screens in Into the Stars sometimes hung, prompting quitting out of the game to unfreeze it. In the most harmless of scenarios, this simply led to restarting the game after a save, but in the worst of circumstance, we got stuck in a loading screen just as we reached our end goal of Titus Nova. Restarting the game here killed our save for that journey and robbed us of a victory, and in a journey full of tense moments where we spent hours fighting through the roughest of patches to get there, that was more than a little embittering.
Into the Stars, despite some lack of variety, isn’t boring. Even for being a bit repetitive, it provides urgency, difficulty, relief and frustration in-game that runs pretty flawlessly. There’s joy to be had in sending home a final shot on Skorn adversaries, succeeding in critical away scenario, and putting Titus Nova into your sights as you push for the final stretch. That said, the aforementioned technical difficulty hinders the experience in a way that heavily hurts the experience, especially when that bug means that assured victory can literally be snatched out of your hands. Into the Stars has some great ideas, but the Skorn aren’t the only bugs that need to be smashed into oblivion here.
This review is based on a download of Into the Stars provided by the publisher for PC.