EA SCOUT the last line of defense for buying on Steam's Early Access
by Johnathan Irwin
previewed on PC
Once More To The Final Frontier
Well, we're more than halfway through 2015, and the resurgence of space-based titles is still going very strong, much to the delight of many science fiction fans out there. It almost feels like we're getting a few new ones weekly, which does give us variety but doesn't necessarily mean that every apple in the bunch is a good one. When Into The Stars came my way, I was intrigued although not entirely sure what to expect. The game has only recently come into Early Access on Steam, so I'll stress now that the game (as well as my opinions) are subject to change over time. Strap in, and prepare for launch.
On The Brink Of Extinction
In Into The Stars, humanity finds itself the target of a brutal hive-mind race. For 10 years, Earth has endured systematic attacks twice a year from the Skorn who are intent on wiping them out for uncertain reasons. Earth cannot last much longer. The final hope rests in several ships called Arks that will set out across the galaxy for the closest planet that can sustain human life. Titus Nova, a distant dream, rests so far away and as the Captain of Ark 13 it is the player's goal to get some 10,000 surviving humans to safety.
When you first start up Into The Stars, it's up to you to pick your captain from a set of four different backgrounds: Military Officer, Entrepreneur, Scientist and Survivalist. Each of these specialize in a different set of skills that you may find more or less beneficial depending on your course of action. Given that there's a race of aliens trying to kill me, I opted for the prowess of the Military Officer. Whatever you pick for your captain will give your crew a boost to certain stats, so when the time comes to pick crew members you're encouraged to pick those who help pick up the slack in areas you are otherwise unprepared for.
In between picking your captain and crew however, you're tasked to select modules for your ship and then load up adequate resources to maintain them. There's not much to say about this part currently, it makes it pretty obvious that you want to pour the bulk of your resources into the modules that keep your ship moving and keep the population alive. The other bits, such as mining modules or shuttles, are just icing on the cake that will make your journey slightly more likely to be survivable. Once you've gotten everything set up, you're ready to embark on your journey for salvation.
There are two things you're going to notice immediately when you start playing; first, the game has a lot of visual appeal with a relaxed tone as you gaze into space. It's very easy on the eyes, though up close to certain objects there is a level of detail left to be desired. The second thing you'll notice, is that your Ark moves slowly. Actually, slow is being generous: it feels like you're moving at about the speed of an injured snail.
On one hand, this does make the map feel much larger than it probably is and it wouldn't bother me if the in-game time didn't go by so quickly. While your ship is moving at a snail’s pace, you can easily lose days before reaching even your first point of interest in the galaxy; a nearby planet. While you're crawling along, you'll be expected to deal with a myriad of different events that pop up in the ship’s log. These range from minor things like civil unrest to major things like an outbreak of illness. There really isn't a hands-on approach to handling them, however, as you pass it off to whoever among your crew seems best qualified to handle the situation. It feels like you are less of a captain, and more of a helmsman, with your main gameplay being centred around guiding the ship. I would like to see perhaps a more in-depth approach to this, maybe with chat boxes and the like giving me more choices than just throwing an NPC at the problem.
When you do make it to a point of interest such as a planet or a ship wreckage, it's where the game begins showing more of its potential. Planets tend to have a bit more variety with a few different events on the surface to pick from ranging from scavenging missions to interacting with the locals, and then something a bit more hands on; mining. The former two play out through menus, but mining actually allows you to take part in a mini game for resources where you dig down through clearly marked resource blocks without hitting danger zones that will end your excursion. While tedious, mining proves to be the best way to regain your resources that dwindle far too quickly otherwise.
If you find yourself in a battle with Skorn, combat plays out in a slow but real-time fashion where you have to colour coordinate your attacks to their shields and vice versa. Against multiple opponents, it can get a little intense, but in a one-on-one fight it feels too slow at the moment.
Now or Later?
The potential is there, even in this very early access state. With a few minor tweaks to the things I feel are either too fast, too slow or not hands-on enough, Into The Stars could become a more beautiful looking version of FTL. But for now, I would say watch at a distance and keep a careful eye on developer updates.
The game has potential, but we're not ready to jump in with both feet. If the game interests you, look, but don't touch - yet.