Interstellaria is a tactical ship, fleet, and crew management game developed by Coldrice. The game challenges players to travel through the cosmos, explore the landscape and wildlife of different planets, and help their crew survive the perils of deep space travel. Players can communicate with different life forms, hire or find new members for their crew, and expand their fleet from one ship to as many as five, stocking each with a crew and the resources to keep each member fit and ready to fight.
Interstellaria focuses mainly on the ship and crew, requiring players to outfit their vessels with all of the necessary equipment, consoles, and weaponry needed to survive in space, and keep a crew happy. The ship requires static pieces of equipment that allow for navigation, tactical control, scanning, and engineering, each of which controls a vital part of the ship. Crew members must then man each individual component in order to draw power to it and help run the ship.
Navigation allows the ship to move during FTL and in battle, while tactical provides power to the equipped weapons. Scanning allows the ship to view its surroundings, cutting through nebulous clouds to find asteroids in the path of the ship. They also cut through the fog of war during ship to ship combat, providing players with an absolutely necessary view of enemy ship movements, and the trajectories of their weapons. Finally, Engineering provides consistent repairs even during the heat of battle. Each ship offers a different amount of energy, which can then be allocated to power the engines, weapons, and the different inner-ship consoles themselves. This power management gives players some adaptability in different situations, such as by allocating power to the engines for better speed, or finding a more balanced power scheme because of an unavoidable battle.
Ship combat likens to a submarine encounter, where the battle occurs on the minimap below the view of the actual ship. Space battles require quick thinking to move, using floating asteroids and other debris as cover from enemy bullets, as well as sending different members of the crew to stations where they are needed most. This may even include repairing a hull breach in the event of a nasty attack breaking through the ship’s shields.
In some instances, it may be more prudent to avoid taking any damage, and to simply escape once the FTL drive can run again. Otherwise, continuing the battle can lead to some nice rewards, as ships leave plenty of debris when destroyed, some of which can even offer items that the crew could use or sell for profit. Some care is needed after destroying ships however, as continued fire from anyone could easily destroy the floating debris and waste the opportunity. The battles themselves increase in complexity and require careful thought and planning when dealing with multiple enemies, or when handling more than one friendly ship.
Beyond ship management, players will need to manage their crew throughout the entirety of the game. In space and during FTL travel, the crew will need to man their stations, but will also need food, sleep, and entertainment in order to stay happy and focused on their tasks. These Sims-esque needs can be addressed with pieces of equipment similar to the navigation or tactics console. The only difference is that the crew member only needs to use the station for as long as it takes to feed, sleep, or just feel less bored. The better the equipment, the faster it will satisfy the crew, and the more energy it requires as a result.
These characters can also develop traits which can be beneficial or detrimental depending on how they are achieved. These traits can range from almost literally becoming a ninja and teleporting to the enemy’s location, to technical blindness from a serious injury. It offers the mostly silent characters a little bit of personality, and provides the players with some other tactics to keep in mind when setting up landing parties.
Landing on a planet changes the gameplay to focus on fighting monsters on the ground, exploration, and mining different sellable resources. This part of the game becomes a little tedious, and it is where I used the fast-forward key provided most often. Characters are selected and controlled by a mouse, commanding them to move to different locations or focus their attacks on different enemies. This can become frustrating as well, since enemies are typically always moving.
It’s easy to miss and accidentally command the team to stand right where the enemy is standing instead of firing at them from afar. The only time this is avoided is against larger boss monsters, but with their HP and strength, the tactics are more hit-and-run than anything else. To better prepare for these excursions into unknown danger, the characters can equip different pieces of equipment to protect their heads, legs, and torsos. They can also use different weapons, ranging from a knife to a riot shield, to a powerful shotgun.
The story for Interstellaria is more to set the mood than for any particular character, setting the timeline and the current state of humans and other extraterrestrial species. In essence, the game calls the initial character to action through Trade Co, a company for reckless adventurers — many of them human — seeking to explore the stars and make their fortune, even if it is at the risk of their lives. Human colonies have also been suffering from multiple mass abductions, including the initial character’s homeworld. As the player finishes missions for each leg of the journey, they explore more of space, reach different planets, and uncover more about the mystery behind the abductions. There are also a few side quests that come up, however they are mostly minor and sometimes only require a single decision after the ship reaches an anomaly.
Graphics are minimal in Interstellaria, with retro designs to render each character and slightly more detailed sprite art for the different ships. This allows Interstellaria to play smoothly, even with multiple monsters on a screen or during a harsh firefight in space between two fleets of ships. The soundtrack is varied, using FTL-like music for space travel/combat, and then upbeat house music for exploration. I was never bored with the soundtrack.
Interstellaria didn’t feel like it was nearing the end with the small amount of progress that I had made, and it took effort to get that far. The fleet management is also difficult to get into, at least at first because of the number of crew members, and equipment needed. I’m still feeling pulled towards the game, wanting to explore further and find other planets. There’s also some interesting options when it comes to setting up the fleet using different types of ships, allowing for a good amount of experimentation in combat, so long as the characters can afford it. Other than this, the game does not appear to have more replay value after completion, since none of the planets are procedurally generated. This becomes more evident as landing on a particular area of a planet can become routine and repetitive to mine for resources.
The game is fun, and initially very easy to play and get used to. However, fleet management and control can become complex with little warning, and requires careful planning and budgeting to succeed. Sadly, the tutorial isn’t currently fit to help guide new players through that process, or to suggest when might be a good time to increase the size of the fleet. I also wish I could say the planetary exploration was worth the effort needed, but it isn’t. Besides a number of sudden and at times challenging boss fights with larger than life creatures (a giant dinosaur, snake, or rock monster for example), the times spent on the surface of the planet are dull. Even so, they are absolutely necessary in order to earn consistent funds within the game, unless players prefer risking too many space battles. I personally preferred doing battle in space just because it was more interesting, but the rewards are random and could easily give back nothing at all. Planetary expeditions are the most stable way to get items for trade, and even money from some of the monsters.
The game at least shows a level of innovation with the various layers required to master it, from managing a crew to manning stations on a ship, addressing the needs of each crew member to making tactical movements and attacks on the battlefield, and so on. Players looking for a fast-paced experience will likely be frustrated with most of the game, but there is something here that is fun for tactical thinkers and patient gamers. The game’s content is also interesting, providing snippets of information for different races and planets.
Interstellaria is available for PC, Mac, and Linux for $9.99. In my opinion, it is worth playing for patient gamers looking for slow moving gameplay. Even so, the game is a better deal when it’s bought on sale. This is especially true given the low replay value, considering that each level is not procedurally generated and will need to be visited multiple times in order to gain as many resources as can be carried. For more from Coldrice, follow them on Twitter, or like their Facebook page.