Into the Stars paired with Devil’s Canyon Full Boar Scotch

After all the backlash and vitriol from angry No Man’s Sky players, I was glad I hadn’t preordered it. However, my need for space exploration was still unsatisfied.  Fortunately, I remembered I had downloaded Into the Stars a month ago and I was instantly relieved. Into the Stars is an enjoyable space exploration game that combines the feel of the excellent FTL (click here if for some sad reason you’re unaware of FTL) with more focus on resource gathering.

Like FTL, Into the Stars is a rogue-like survival game. Once you die, you lose all your progress and must restart from the beginning. You are the last hope of the human race (a fairly standard cliché) and are tasked with transporting the last remains of the human race across the galaxy to find a new home. You face the dual challenge of navigating across the galaxy, fending off hostile ships, and gathering enough resources to keep everyone alive. This extra focus on keeping everyone alive heightens the player tension and immersion. As with rogue-like games, each playthrough will be a different experience. So below are my first two playthroughs.

Initially, you have the option of three different starting ships: Combat (bonus to weapons and shield), Balanced, and Long Haul (extra resources and storage). Commander SpaceDodd chose combat, because in FTL that’s the main way to gather resources. I took command of the ship and was given a brief tutorial on how to fly the ship and what resources I need to keep my passengers alive. Continuing forward I encountered my first planet! I orbited and was given several resource gathering opportunities. Each opportunity, if successful, yields different resources. Mining gathers nitrogen and oxygen, which keeps everybody breathing. Sending probes or sending a landing crew can earn you food or special items. Each crew member has skills that can help with resource gathering. For example, the crew member with the mining skill should be sent mining, while the member with people skills should lead the landing crew etc.

After accidentally getting several crew members killed (mining is dangerous and hostile aliens were hostile), Captain SpaceDodd left the planet and began the journey anew. The next fifteen minutes were spent mostly hopping from planet to planet and resource gathering. Suddenly on my radar, I noticed yellow circles around a nearby planet. I was promptly informed that it was an enemy patrol. Commander SpaceDodd never runs from a fight, so engaged the patrol, where I quickly realized Into the Stars combat is awful. All enemy systems are shielded and you can only penetrate the shield by firing a certain weapon at a certain time. This, combined with managing your own shield and avoiding incoming fire, made the combat feel like a chore.

Lesson learned and another two crew members dead, Commander SpaceDodd disembarked and continued on to find a new homeland. A minute in, the ship’s warning alarms went off. Apparently, my passengers need oxygen and were dropping like flies. I quickly looked around for a nearby planet, but saw only empty space. As I watched the human population numbers tick down, I picked a direction and prayed there was a planet. There was, but it was surrounded by enemies. The remaining crew member and I had no choice, but to engage. We died ingloriously.

Reincarnated Admiral SpaceDodd decided that combat was not his forte’. I chose the resource focused ship and only focused on planets and resource management. Best case scenario, I run into zero enemy patrols. This worked well for the first half hour, but like last time I ran out of planets. I sailed into the darkness trying to find a planet, but to no avail. Irritatingly enough, my radar kept showing planets, but I couldn’t find them in the game. I’d be in the exact spot that the radar indicated, but no planet. Running out of resources, I saw a round shape in the distance. I steered in that direction and hoped I had enough resources to make it. As I approached, I noticed the planet had a yellowish color, but I wasn’t concerned. Turns out it was a sun and Admiral SpaceDodd will be remembered as a dumber Christopher Columbus.

Into the Stars is very immersive, but has its flaws. The radar is necessary to survive, but it’s so hard to use. The combat isn’t much fun, which means resource grinding constitutes most of your time. Still, if you’re looking for a fun space exploration and surivival sim, for only 15 dollars, I recommend Into the Stars. I also recommend the Full Boar Scotch Ale, but with a warning. It is not for everybody. It’s dark, bitter, with hints of peat and caramel. The bitterness will be a turn off for those who are not fans of double ipas or black beer. I thoroughly enjoyed it and haven’t had a bitter beer like this in a while.

To the Moon paired with Well’s Waggle Dance Beer

As far as indie games go, To the Moon is one of the more notable. Well, to everyone else at least. I assumed the game was a JRPG thanks to its graphical style that screams ‘RPG maker’. With this game I wanted something that I assumed would be familiar to me, at least in terms of gameplay or themes. Instead I got a game that left me broken, betrayed and with a longing need for existential understanding.

To the Moon is an oddity of a game overall, mixing in all sorts of gameplay and story tropes from both adventure games and 16-bit RPGs. This is a mix of good and bad, as this gameplay ends up becoming slightly padded as it attempts to move you from dialogue to dialogue and progress the story. Despite this, it’s passable and contextual enough to prevent a break in immersion.

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The premise for this game is somewhat incredible, revolving around a dynamic scientific duo as they alter the memories of the nearly deceased so that they can feel content and at ease as they near their final breaths. With a plot such as this, there is very little way it can fail (well, out of the hands of AAA developers at least). To say it delivers is an absolute understatement, with my mouse and keyboard blazing through somewhat monotonous gameplay as I eagerly ploughed through the adventure. With games that emphasize emotion, the finale is usually the crux of the entire game, but every moment surrounding To the Moon had me chopping proverbial onions.

As far as soundtracks go, creator Kan Gao has composed one of the most beautiful and nostalgia driven scores I’ve heard in years. With the game themed around false memories, it is apt that I felt a similar emulated nostalgia as a result of the eclectic mix up of emotional piano melodies and synthetic instruments, many of which feel like something akin to Chrono Trigger or Secret of Mana.

1663-Wells Waggle dance

I picked up a few bottles of Well’s Waggle Dance beer to go with my playthrough of To the Moon. I’m a fan of English Pale Ales and was expecting a nice beverage with a new kick, this being honey in this instance. Quite suitable that I picked a beer with such a bitter sweet taste for such a bitter sweet game, although the game in focus teetered much more on the latter. Overall I was felt disappointed with this ale. It lacked crispness and its signature honey undertones were lost under a generic taste common amongst its ilk. The same can’t be said for To the Moon however, which takes a familiar style and morphs it to convey a poignant and memorable story.

~Joe Hetherington

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