Hitting Steam Early Access a little earlier this month, Into the Stars is an indie strategy/sim where you control a starship that is Earth’s last hope of survival. An alien species called the Skorn have attacked Earth, and after 6 months of constant fighting, have nearly wiped out the human race. With no response after numerous colony ships were sent out in search of a new planet for the survivors to repopulate, the leaders of the few remaining on Earth decide to send one last ship, the Ark 13, out on the same mission with the knowledge that if they fail, there will be no one left.
If you’ve ever wanted to lead a desperate mission through space while being chased by dangerous aliens and exploring space along the way, than this game is for you. At the very start, you’ll get to customize you and your crew in terms of portrait and name while also choosing all the components of your ship. Pay close attention, as the build of your ship and the stats of your crew will have great effect on whether you’re successful in your mission or not, or at least surviving the beginning. After you’ve started your adventure, you’re free to start heading in any direction you wish. You’ll have to manage not only your resources, but mining and combat as well. Let me warn you now, this game is pretty hard. If you’re good at micro-managing and have a good sense for strategy and planning it will help you a lot.
Unfortunately, for those who are not, the game is not very helpful in telling you what you need to do or how to do it. To be fair, the designers have admitted this, and have written a quick-start guide that gives you a bit of a tutorial on getting you started as well as a few advanced tips as well until they’ve fully fleshed out an in-game tutorial. Combat is fairly straightforward, but is still pretty hard when you start encountering your enemies in greater numbers, or when your civilians are dying at a steady rate because you couldn’t manage your resources. I played through the game twice, both times failing. The first time it was due to running out of food for my civilians because I decided to explore everything that I saw.
The second was due to getting overwhelmed by the Skorn after I stopped too long to gather the resources I mishandled in the first playthrough, though I was within a few sectors of my destination. Speaking of everything to explore, while the galaxy is pretty big with several sectors to visit, there isn’t always a whole lot in those sectors, which while it gives a good feeling of how space as we know it currently is, that’s not what I would expect from space populated with humans, but aliens as well. This will presumably change as the game advances out of its alpha stage.
Graphically, this game is pretty impressive. Outside of the Mass Effect series and some Star Wars games, space has never looked so pretty to me. Planets are fittingly large and varied in their appearance, from barren and lifeless, to beautiful and mysterious. You can even pass close to stars glowing brightly and smoldering as flames race across the surface, or even grand blue ones that give off a cool look, but are just as hot. Your ship’s appearance, though not customizable, looks the part of a colony ship; it’s big, compartmented, and blinks with active lights running across the frame as well as having some pretty nice thruster effects in the engines. The only downside is when inside your ship, as the visuals there look somewhat dated from the captain’s chair, as textures aren’t as sharp and some of the movements of the crew can be jerky at times.
Music sounds good though I rarely notice the change between tracks except during combat. Sound effects are crisp, if a bit stereotypical. They’re all in the right place though, as blasters sound like blasters and missiles sound like missiles. I’ve heard it said that many a sci-fi game would be better if you didn’t hear any sound effects from things outside the ship, as it wouldn’t make sense in space, but that argument doesn’t hold water with me as space games would be pretty dull if you rarely heard anything. Fortunately, this game doesn’t disappoint me with that and goes with the trope.
To finish, this game feels like it has huge potential and fortunately it’s only just in Alpha and Early Access, so there’s plenty of room to grow. Great visuals, decent music and sound, both simple and complex combat, and difficult content are strong pluses for me. The game could use some definite improvements, including updated interior graphics as well as in-game tutorials, more information on what things do, and the filling of space sectors with more stuff and interesting things top among them. Into the Stars is available now on Steam Early Access for $19.99.