By today’s video game marketplace standards space is anything but the final frontier. As a matter of fact, it is quite a commonality to come across a space-based video game perhaps two out of six times while scrolling through any respective digital distribution marketplace – not trying to be exact here, but that ratio, I feel, is accurate enough based on personal experience. Nevertheless, there is absolutely a viable reason for this actuality. With consideration to the main outset of video games being to immerse the player in a unique fictional universe, what better universe could there possibly be than the infinitely expanding one all around us?

Into The Stars seems to be a game that has come out at just the right time. With titles such as Star Citizen and Elite: Dangerous very much a formidable factor, and with games such as No Man’s Sky and Eve: Valkyrie holding a looming presence in the minds of players, Into The Stars sets in taking a more thoughtful approach to the exploration of the cosmos. The first thing you see when booting up Into The Stars is an in-engine cutscene depicting a ship in turmoil, adrift in a vast ocean of stars. The voiceover of a male character unravels, speaking about a vessel seeking for resources, seeking for food, oxygen, but ultimately trying to find a way back home. Orchestral, dramatic music begins to play, and the whole thing is quite dramatic and pretty to look at. In fact, this game is pretty to look at as a whole. If any task justifies the usage of Unreal Engine 4 for making a game about space, it’s this one. You, the player, take on the role of this faceless male figure, the captain of the Ark 12. The Ark 12 is a vessel large enough to house a small city which the dependent population of the dying race of humans calls their temporary home. Aside from the lives of thousands of civilians, as the captain of the Ark 12, you are also given command over a small crew that accompanies you within the ship’s main hull.

In fact, your first task as a captain is that of compiling a crew of six. Based on a set of skills that incorporate: management, medical, strength, engineering, and command, picking a well-balanced crew seemed to serve me best. Where these individual skills will come to play is the gamut of conflict and strife that create the main crux of Into The Stars. These conflicts run from the mundane to the grand, all of which you interact with from the first-person perspective of the captain’s chair on the bridge. Regarding the more rudimentary tasks, these range from assigning the crew member with high management skills to deal with a public flasher that is causing a ruckus in the city -no lie here. The grander conflicts rest in semi-random battles with the main baddies of the game, The Skorn.

The Skorn are an alien race whose entire ecosystem rests on a single ship that travels throughout the galaxy like a renegade family of green gypsies. It is not uncommon to be warned via the Ark 12’s AI voice (which is very much female and very much British) that a Skorn battleship has traced their route. It is equally as uncommon for said ship to get close enough to spur a ship-to-ship battle. Monitoring battles are very reminiscent of another space simulation video game, Faster Than Light. Before each battle, you assign a crew member to each of the four battle stations. Of the four stations, there is the ship’s shield control, which is best handled by someone with high-ranked management skills. There are the ship’s dodge controls that are best handled by a member with quality medical skills (go figure). Then there are the two weapons stations: torpedos and lasers.

These two stations are best handled by those with good engineer skills. Like FTL, battles in Into The Stars revolve around the timing of your actions. This includes the time between shots you fire and those that the Skorn fire, and the timing of when to use your ship’s shields. As a bit of an added dimension, color-coordination also finds its way in as a factor. Each of the weapon stations, except for the dodge station, have a set of three colors (red, yellow, and blue) that correlate to the colors of both the Skorn shields and the beam charge color. Torpedos and lasers do not have a chance of hitting a Skorn if their color matches that of the Skorn shield. Inversely, you shield will not block a Skorn shot unless it matches a Skorn charge beam color. Of course, this sounds a little more intricate from the start, but after dying in my first battle, I was quick to realize how to carry out management in a battle to a point where I could succeed in my endeavour. Though this manner of learning could have been avoided if the game’s instructions were a little more visually intuitive than several sets of small-text paragraphs that spelled out the instructions.

Thankfully I came to understand what I should be doing in a battle because I got into a lot of them. In fact, after the first handful of battles, I was beginning to find the whole encounter system to be tedious more often than not. This may be very well because unlike Faster Than Light, encounters in Into The Stars are limited only to Skorn encounters, this way taking out the thrill of unpredictability that the former is so well known for. On an even broader spectrum level, perhaps my biggest critique with playing Into The Stars was this sense of repetition.

Even the main gameplay mechanic of planet exploration becomes quite repetitive after the first dozen planets or so. When coming to a new planet, you are given three options: send three crew members on an exploration of the planet, send a resource probe, or send a mining drill. Ultimately the outcome of each choice is very similar. They all will render at least some of the resources needed to sustain your ship and the life aboard it. Sure, each of those options does take up varying degrees of resources, but they are so similar in cost that the choice was never harder than it should have been. Sending the crew aboard the planet does render branching possibilities that allow for different resources rewards.

For instance, I had my crew look into a conflict between two rival, barbarian alien races. When my crew informed me that the two tribes were in the midst of arguments, I was tasked with three options: get my crew to try and preach peace, make my abuse their weapons and appearance to dictate that they were gods, or to choose one tribe and help them battle the other. I chose peace, but in the end the tribes had none of that, and my crew was sent back with nothing. If I had tried another alternative to that conflict, the possibility of getting alien ship parts to upgrade engine, lasers, etc could have taken place instead. Initially scenarios like these seem grand, but when you come across carbon copies of scenarios, repetition, again, begins to peek its ugly head around the corner.

It is a real shame though, because Into the Stars visually has everything going for it. If only the gameplay was awarded the variety the visuals received, then perhaps the game as a whole would have been a much more memorable experience.