Stars in Shadow Review
Stars in Shadow has exited Early Access and is on sale for 25% off right now. (~$18) This 4X-MOO2 Like-Spaceship Dictator game is the newest in a rather crowded playing field of space games. One bummer about Early Access is the ratio good to bad is pretty low, so how does Stars in Shadow compare?
Right off the bat we might as well lay it out. Stars in Shadow is basically a MOO clone like most other MOO clones. If you’re looking for something that puts an entirely new spin on the space 4X genre, keep looking. But if you want a decently laid out game that trods a well worn path, then check it out. If you were in love with MOO2 and think every other MOO game is a bastard, then you’re in for a treat!
The layout of the game is well done and simple. There’s not a dozen menus to dig through nor is there a sophisticated financial review system. You’ve got the basics. Food. Minerals. Factories. Research points. There’s no groundbreaking design going on here, but it’s simple and works well.
The first time I played the game I thought it was an iOS port, but after playing awhile I realized that we’ve just gotten used to that style of layout and design. There’s a few spots that could use some polish, notably the planetary report, but I never got bogged down nor desired more information. This isn’t EUIV style of detail.
For lore it follows down a well trod path. The universe was once big and filled with mean people, cue a big war, the fall, and we have the stuff of Milton. It’s Paradise Lost in space, and we’re part of the rebirth. Now this isn’t bad. We enjoy the myth and legend that comes from familiar tropes. But it’d been nice to see the fantastic.
Speaking of fantastic, it needs more fantastic. Where’s the ring worlds? The derelict Death Stars? The hidden dusty dreadnaughts drifting through space? If anything space feels kind of bland and vanilla. For an indie I’d have expected a bit more.
The research path is fairly standard. You can take a Star Trek random technology generator and do about as well as the game does. Again, not bad, but I didn’t feel like I was breaking any new ground here.
Now none of this is neccessarily bad. From what I can gather from the Greenlight page this game has set out to do pretty much what we see here. It’s an homage to MOO2. And at that it does a pretty damn good job. It looks nice. It’s got tasteful art and aliens.
But it’s kind of like cotton candy (not Supergrain). It tastes good, but after awhile you’re left wanting something more substantial. It is nice for a little diversion, a quick romp into a space opera, a jaunt into the realms of EE Smith or Heinlein. But it’s not Asimov or Clarke. This isn’t the Culture. It’s not an existential delve into the human psyche. (C’mon Stellaris, I know it’s coming)
Space combat is entertaining the first few times. If you’ve done it right you really don’t need to do it yourself other than to watch a new weapon for the first time. Ground combat is even more simplistic. Bombard. Invade. Rinse. Repeat.
Again, not bad, just not groundbreaking. It ties in well with the ship design screen. The ship design actually has interesting choices that aren’t just biggest baddest weapons. You can make a support ship that specializes in intercepting enemy missiles, or one that is especially good at boarding and landing marines. This was one area that I was pleasantly surprised by. I honestly expected a prettified layout with a bunch of dumb choices.
It’s kind of nice to actually have a use for those smaller ships from early on in the game.
The AI doesn’t seem overly aggressive though it’ll be interesting to see how it behaves once the star systems fill up. Hopefully it’s not a “dog pile on the player” sort. It’s interesting to be a minor player in a game sometimes. Which in this game there isn’t much beyond be annihilated or survive. No vassalization or anything like from the Uplift series.
All in all it’s a decent little game and of surprisingly decent quality. (Browse the Steam Greenlight sometime for a true shitshow) The financial side seems a bit off and it lacks a certain scifi flare. The AI has made some dumb decisions (fleet of a dozen exploration ships for empire defense). Don’t expect anything new, and you won’t be disappointed. But what it sets out to do it does well.