Into the Stars by Fugitive Games is a space simulation survival game that draws from multiple sources and produces a flawed but intriguing experience.
Stop me if you’ve heard this before: Humanity is on its last legs, the final remnants of our species is on the run across the galaxy and only you can lead them to safety through all sorts of dangers both out there and on your own ship. Into the Stars is a new title by Fugitive games, in which you assume the role of said captain. It wears its influences pretty clearly on its sleeve, so let’s just get those out of the way.
The nearest comparable experience to Into the Stars is FTL, which operates on the similar premise of being pursued by an overwhelming alien force while plotting a path for the ship you command. Beyond that surface level however, that’s about the point where the similarities end, as Into the Stars focuses less on combat (although it’s definitely part of the experience) and more on resource acquisition and day-to-day management. It also takes a much slower, methodical approach with most of your time spent managing a wide variety of situations, from the trivial to the dire, that are affecting the overall well-being of your crew. These can range from infestations of furry creatures to all-out riots among civilians. The game makes it easy to deal with these situations, as it straight up tells you what skills are required (i.e. Command, Engineering, Piloting, etc.) to deal with them, so it’s as simple as assigning an appropriate crew member to fix things.
The most common and important interactions you have in this game is with the many planets you come across. When you enter orbit, you can send a shuttle to explore the surface, send a probe to extract resources, and operate a manned drill to extract lots of resources. The first part of this involves assigning appropriate crew members to their roles. It’s pretty much a numbers game here and to its credit the game doesn’t try to mess with you here. What I mean by this is that if a role calls for someone with a high skill level of Engineering, things will work out if you assign someone with an appropriate skill. Only once did an away mission fail miserably, and that was because I intentionally assigned inappropriate people to specific roles.
With the Shuttle missions, you are given a choice of which site to explore and then given a choice of how to react to what you encounter. These situations do have fail states, which can result in crew members getting injured and the loss of resources. The probe mission gives you a random amount of resources, and the manned drill leads to a mini game in which you control the bit and navigate to accrue resources, while at the same time avoiding blocks that can damage you. None of these interludes are particularly thrilling but are easy enough to handle and, provided you do them the right way, result in your ship and crew being in better shape while leaving the program than when you arrived.
Where Into the Stars really shines is that it’s a management/leadership simulator. It truly captures what it means to be a captain. There’s an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation in which Captain Picard explains his role as (I’m paraphrasing), “Having to make 100 decisions every day, and each one could cause people to die.” The real fun in Into the Stars is in exploring your command style and learning a bit about what kind of person you are when things start to go wrong. About halfway through my journey, my ship got very low on resources and I had to decide whether to sell some of my civilians into slavery to an alien race in order to gain needed resources. It was an incredibly powerful moment, and one that made me pause to really think about how I would proceed; as the person responsible for the safety of our species, should I sacrifice a few for the benefit of the many? Also, if I were capable of that, then what other compromises would I be willing to make, and where is the line? Video games very rarely confront players with these types of tough questions, and I applaud Fugitive Games for making it part of their game.
In spite of the fact that Into the Stars is a game that’s basically all about its systems, a lot of work has been put into its presentation, and for the most part, it is effective. On one hand, the visual style is only there to put a shiny veneer on the core of the game, but it does at least give you something striking to look at while you’re slowly making your way from one planet to another.
Considering how many things you need to be keeping track of, the user interface of Into the Stars is not bad at all. As mentioned above, skill breakdowns make it easy to ensure you are assigning proper characters to proper actions, and the game gives you a plenty of updates and feedback about what’s happening on your ship. Additionally, there is a tutorial which can easily be turned on and off that gives helpful information about all the systems in place. What almost kills all this effort however is that the text (and there’s a lot of it) within this game is so small that’s it’s nearly impossible to read. Looking at the settings, it’s seems that the optimal way of running this game is at a much higher resolution than certainly I’m using. Now, that’s fine if you’re operating at something like 2560 x 1600, but if you’re not then I hope you have a magnifying glass handy.
Into the Stars is not a long game – you can beat it in just a few hours – but it is a slow-paced one, and that isn’t going to appeal to everyone. If you’re willing to lean into its fiction however, there is definitely some fun to be had with this game. It is robust enough to allow for all types of players; from iron-fisted tyrants to silver-tongued diplomats, there is a path through the galaxy for you. While Into the Stars doesn’t have the same degree of accessibility or fast pacing of something like FTL, it makes up for it in its scope and depth of its systems. For the player willing to put in the time to learn, it’s worth checking out just to see what kind of a leader you really are.