Preview: Into The Stars

Channeling Battlestar GalacticaInto The Stars is a Humanity's Last Hope simulator that puts the player into the captain's chair of a large Ark ship that left Earth following a massive attack from an alien race called the Skorn. Filled with civilians, the Arks are manned by a scrappy and untested crew that are given the daunting task of guiding the ship to a new home. The game is highly reminiscent of (and advertised as) Oregon Trail because many trappings of the classic edutainment game have been repurposed, such as resource micromanagement, picking the best people for the job at hand, and responding to emergencies as they arise. While the threat of human extinction, loss of food and fuel are serious themes, Into The Stars sneaks in comedy relief via the situations that require attention. Although there are no cases of Space Dysentery (yet), expect to deal with problems like attacks from space raccoons and curing an outbreak of space diarrhea.

Before launching the Ark, the player chooses a crew, outfits the ship with different systems and utilities, and allocates base levels of essential resources. How you outfit the Ark has an effect on fuel and oxygen use (somewhat disproportionally, I might suggest), creating a journey fraught with tension as you move from planet to planet to resupply your stock and fuel planetary expeditions. Your view of the action is limited to the captain's chair, so all activity is presented through the ship's screens. Assignments can be completed or failed depending on the strength of the officers chosen before shipping out. Each officer has a role to play and selecting them is a matter of choosing the person that has the highest stat for the role. Sending the right people to do the job is essential to get the most out of the work. For every planet encountered, a landing crew can visit the planet surface and explore one of many mission critical areas. Mining drills collect resources resources via an uninspired drilling mini game and probe ships can perform the same mining duties without the player's input, though it returns with a lower yield.

You can mine a planet more than once but there are systems in place that don't allow you to dawdle for long. First, you'll never get a large surplus or resources for every dive which ensures that for the most part, launching missions can put you into a resource deficit. Second is the Skorn, whose patrols are designed to keep you moving forward. Stay in one area for too long and the ship's computer declares increasing threat levels. Spend too much time in one place and you risk the Skorn dropping by to unload a few lasers blasts. At least, that's the idea. During one playthrough, I ran out of fuel surprisingly early and waited for the Skorn to show up before quitting the game. I wanted to put a face to my enemy. Despite the sector threat level turning red, the enemy never showed up. In fact, the only thing killing my civilians was the ship's lack of oxygen. I waited for another five minutes for some action and it never came. Oh, well. The game is still in Early Access and there's work left to be done. A LOT of work, actually.

And therein lies the problem with Into The Stars. Despite the implications of a game being labeled as Early Access, I feel that Fugitive Games brought the game out far too soon. As of this writing, v0.02 is not too playable. It's functional and it doesn't crash, but technical problems and questional numbers make the experience anything more than tepid. Issues range from slow loading and missing/placeholder text to UI errors in extended play. It's a moderate step up from v0.01, in which the UI for the title screen wouldn't display at all and in its place was a strange conflict message about shutting down Adobe software (none of which were running on my computer at the time). The game lacks a tutorial or flavor text that helps the player to understand the game environment. A separate tutorial mode or even a guided playthrough of the early game would be a great way to push the player in the right direction. Until then, expect to feel like Fugitive has thrown you off a cliff without explaining how a parachute works. Givent he moderately substantial differences between v0.01 and v0.02, it'd be safe to assume that Into The Stars will be a very different experience by the time v1.00 rolls around. I desperately hope so because right now it's slow, obtuse, and kind of a headache.

Into the Stars is in a weird place right now. It's a cool idea that I think a lot of people wanting to unleash their inner Kirk (or Picard) would enjoy. On the one hand, paying for it right now only gives you a small, undercooked taste of the full product. Your money will help fuel the game's much needed conditioning but Fugitive should have put more time into the game before soliciting development funds through early access. Those craving for a space-based Oregon Trail should keep an eye out for Into The Stars, but belay any order to pull out that wallet.

Teen Services Librarian by day, Darkstation review editor by night. I've been playing video games since the days of the Commodore 64 and I have no interest in stopping now that I've made it this far.