Into The Stars
At times it can be mighty difficult to explain a game within a few words. Sure, you have titles like the recently released Mad Max where the name is enough. At other times you simply use the genre to describe the product. But that often leaves something to be desired. The reader will get a mental image of the title, but any in-depth knowledge is hidden behind a simplified classification that acts more like a catchphrase than an acceptable description. Yet, Into the Stars makes it easy for me. Take FTL, the rogue-like budget title from a few years ago and combine it with Star Trek Voyager. There you have it - Into the Stars.
The similarities are uncanny and it seems like that really was the whole design pitch. It sounds simple and is, in some sense, excessively simple. But on the other hand, simple ideas often create great concepts. Into the Stars would qualify as one of these. The concept is great and the core game has what you want from a FTL-Voyager clone. Constantly racing the clock, you find yourself in situations where decisions have to be made on the spot, with little time to weigh your options beyond the traditional lesser evil. FTL in itself borrowed this from the more fast paced moments in Battlestar Galactica and it translates well into the game. On the other hand, FTL had a great variety of events. Into the Stars is somewhat lacking in this regard. Early access is a double edged sword.
It's the super-perforator!
A nice little addition to the game is crew management. It is neither in-depth nor is it platonic, but a balance between a number crunching statistical nightmare and an oversimplified ‘click to solve problem’ design. Admittedly, I prefer a game that goes the full on in one direction and sticks with it over one that washes away complexity or simple gameplay into a weird mix between the two that is too easy for some; or too complex for others. A catch all equation simply does not exist and often times I found myself wishing for something more, moments in which a quick glance at my crews’ statistic and a simple click of the bottom did not end up in a fire and forget solution.
It probably also doesn’t do the game justice that the only real challenge is your resource management and the constant threat of being overtaken by your arch nemesis. The game becomes little more than a cat and mouse game. With proper depth to it, this could bode well, but that depth is ultimately lacking at least so far. Violent encounters are little more than you standard rock paper scissors, albeit on multiple levels with defence and offence having to be constantly set according to your enemies configuration. It’s really a bit too simple and the difficulty comes from player incompetence to work colours on a basic level rather than a challenging opponent with a few aces up his sleeve.
How about we just blow it up?
It doesn’t help either that random events are clearly designed to place you into a precarious situation with vital officers lacking for tasks that need to be addressed immediately. Let’s be honest, how many times have games tried to ramp up their difficulty by such an artificial ‘beware, you might need this guy soon’ situation. Done well, it can add some important flavour to each and every action you do, but Into the Stars gives you a good amount of officers that somehow all substitute each other in some way. Having sent your best pilot somewhere over the moon does not mean that suddenly your chances to succeed in a random event demanding piloting skills drop significantly. On the contrary, chances are two or even three other officers on your bridge are pretty much as proficient in the specific task as your main Top Gun. Scrounging for resources is probably the real difficulty in the game, depending on how you manage your affairs. Overall, I found myself deliberately slowing the game down, taking the chances of being attacked by my pursuers in order to stock up on resources that sometimes come in great abundance and then suddenly are really scarce. That’s were a challenge of sorts comes to the forefront, but it is one that, once you learn how to economies diminishes rapidly.
I might sound a bit negative here and that doesn’t do the game justice. There might be a few great additions coming to the game soon, but then again there might not be. Preview or no preview, Early Access or not, the developers saw fit to place this game on the market and charge money for it during the on-going development. So far it is shallow and borrows too much from its inspirational sources than adding some spice itself. It needs more flesh, more moments that truly engage your managerial and economising skills. You either go arcade, or you go hard mode. Don’t catch all.