Do you feel that FTL goes by too quickly? Do you wish it was a more drawn-out experience with minigames, twitch-based JRPG combat, full-blown 3D graphics in wide-open space with a z-axis and no easy way to look around? Do you long for crewmembers who are entries on a spreadsheet? Do you crave a DIY economy at the onset of every game? Do you harbor a secret desire that a city builder would stowaway in the cargo hold and occasionally peek out to badger you? Do you want your progress to vanish without a trace after every game?
If so, Into the Stars is the game for you!
After the jump, into the airlock
There’s nothing inherently wrong with making an FTL clone. In fact, as someone who was only mildly delighted with FTL, I wish more people would do it. I wish more people would iterate on Subset Games’ wildly successful formula so I could find a version I really like. But an FTL clone needs to realize that there are very specific design reasons for why FTL plays like it plays. It’s built to move quickly from decision to decision, from transaction to transaction, from battle to battle. It’s a game based on pace, persistence, and charm. Into the Stars has none of those things.
Here’s how Into the Stars plays out: Creep…creep…creep…FIGHTFIGHTFIGHTFIGHT…creep…creep…creeeeepcreep…FIGHTFIGHTFIGHTFIGHT…creep It’s an insufferably slow slog through a molasses vacuum with either no camera movement at all or a wonky camera movement that feels like it’s tethered by rubberband to random points in space. Where is that enemy ship so I can run away from it? Toggle away from the fixed point of view and then, boing, boing, boing. Oh, never mind, I’ll just fight it.
The fast-paced nerve-wracking combat is actually the best part of Into the Stars. I’m pressing buttons, toggling deflector settings, designating targets, targeting systems, and generally juggling systems just like an actual starship captain. I’m a bona fide bridge commander, with my crew’s skill determining the cooldown timer on the all the stuff I need to do. Dammit, man, faster with the evasive maneuvers! There’s a torpedo coming right at us and our shields are down! It’s as engaging as everything else is tedious.
Because boy is everything else tedious. The molasses travel through open space seems to exist for no other reason than to force you to consume resources. Oxygen, food, fuel. Into the Star is the gameplay of FTL with the survival urgency of Don’t Starve. Going planetside is often a multiple choice question with no clear deliniation between the different choices. Might as well throw a dart at a board. Mining is a nifty little minigame about piloting a drill down down down through pockets of valuable resources.
You also have to manage the needs of a thousand or so colonists riding in the back of your ship. Your score (which is going to vanish without a trace as soon as the game is over) depends largely on how many colonists reach the other side of the map. So you spend resources building them a little city with healthcare, entertainment, police stations, and so on. Occasionally dispatch your crewmembers to fix computers, squash crime, dance a little jig, and other snippets of busywork that affect your colonists’ health and happiness. What’s a little SimCity in the back seat while you wait on the next battle?
Most of this isn’t actually a bad idea. A little Startopia, a little Bridge Commander, a little Don’t Starve, a lot of FTL. But it’s all so awkwardly strung together, so charmless, so spreadsheety, so plodding, so dry. This is an odd thing to say about a game set in a frictionless vacuum, but Into the Stars really needs more velocity and more atmosphere.