(previously published on GamingPrecision.com with additional edits)

SHIELDS UP! FIRE EVERYTHING! The evil Skorn are chasing us and they take NO prisoners.

Much like a rogue standalone episode of Battlestar Galactica crossed with some twisted version of Star Trek, Into The Stars is a turn based strategy survival sim along the same lines as pixelated favorite FTL: Faster Than Light. Packed with slick visuals, light RPG elements, and a genuine sense of being a ship commander, this difficult sim looks to be an updated homage to the recent indie classic.

As an early access title that I was instantly drawn to, there are some intriguing elements to this game that do set it apart from FTL. First, the game is real time rather than turn based. If you sit around exploring your ship or your options or picking your nose, the threat level will progressively rise. Once that threat level hits red then an encounter with the Skorn is basically inevitable. Despite your seemingly modest technology that you can choose from at the beginning of the game, most times you will be overmatched. Even if you do win those early battles, you will probably take a lot of damage.

When it comes to the combat, you basically end up with your traditional real time (by use of timers or ‘charging’ weapons and shield) turn based combat. Assign your best crew member to shields, lasers, and missiles, and race to see who can the destroy the other. You basically watch until the Skorn show signs of charging their lasers or firing their slow torpedoes to raise your shields. The better your crew member’s skill, the longer the shield stays up. Same thing goes for your weapon systems. The better their skill, the less chance for them to miss the target. Still, this back and forth can seem a bit boring if not simplistic. A part of me wished there was a bit more involved in maybe dealing with on-board damage with other non-assigned crew members or something else that would provide more of a mini-game experience much like the mining did.

into-the-stars combat
Gaining victory in combat early on is difficult!

Second, Into The Stars doesn’t deal with onboard encounters like FTL does. You won’t spend time shifting officers from station to station or to deal with repairs and such. From my understanding, the only time you can repair your ship on this game is if you reach a station somewhere later on in the massive (and beautiful) map. Instead, as you fly from planet to planet, notifications of onboard issues pop up and you must assign an officer to deal with them. The higher their related skill, the faster they’ll deal with it. Still, these opportunities are interesting ways of increasing the skills of your crew so that they can manage the more critical tasks you’ll face.

Third, resources are consumed by virtually EVERY action. Since this is real time and you actually have survivors on your ship, you are constantly consuming resources each time you move the ship, launch a module, or send an away party to a planet. You must constantly manage and hunt planets for more resources to allow you to continue your journey. This makes the mining mini-game an important and at time enjoyable part of the game. You’re gonna need to fill up on resources on each planet you encounter for fear of getting stuck and having to face the Skorn.

IntoTheStars mining
(pic courtesy of gotgame.com)

Lastly, the ‘sector map’ currently isn’t randomly generated as FTL’s map is. You will see the same asteroid belt and blue planet dead ahead each time you fire up a new game in Into The Stars… for now. While this does take a bit away from the experience, the difficulty level is high enough that I’m certain it will take many multiple tries to progress deep into the far reaches of the map. We’ll see if developer Fugitive Games decides to change this up a bit.

So, the real question is, “What does this game need?”

Considering this game is still in Early Access on Steam, it’s hard to really spell out a ton of things. Of course, that is the purpose for developers providing the game early…so that the community can make suggestions.

As it stands as of late August, the Fugitive team is already looking to improve the detail of the Away missions. This is a great idea as the most interesting or action packed parts of the game are the mining and the combat (of course). I’ve a feeling this detail will come in the form of a text based adventure. In my mind, I would point towards great games like Star Rangers which provides difficult yet exciting decision based planetary missions for players that typically do most of their action on a 2d arcade kind of screen.

Star Rangers text missions
Star Rangers 2 had a good text based mission formula.

There are a few other things on there that sound good like the ability to recruit new crew members from the civilian population. This is definitely a great idea. I’d go even further though. There should be some sort of bonus or more regular reward for keeping your civilian population alive. Unfortunately, since the population is all on that ship rather than part of a fleet like in Battlestar Galactica, the story based possibilities are a tad bit limited. I’m certain time will drum up something good from the minds at Fugitive Games though.

An item about populating the area with more encounters is a good idea as well. There should be other roaming ships that provide non-lethal encounters as well. This will provide more opportunities for a great many things that could alter the difficulty scale a bit in whatever direction is desired too.

Into the Stars has a high standard to live up to, but its slick presentation and clever use of the mining mini-game provides an opportunity to stand apart from the rest.