Stars in Shadow
Ashdar Games/Iceberg Interactive
I’m a pretty big science fiction nerd. So much so that I use the proper terminology for the genre, Science Fiction, not the more cutesy term, Sci Fi, which is carelessly bandied about by the masses (yes, that indeed sounded pretty darn snobby). As far as multi-billion dollar gaming industry is concerned, we’re just now beginning to see an uptick in science fiction games. This is particularly true with space flight and exploration games (Elite: Dangerous, Interstellar Rift), space survival games (Empyrion – Galactic Survival, Osiris: New Dawn), and the space strategy 4X market.
Of course, if you’re a connoisseur of the science fiction-based 4X, you’ve already heard about some of the more major recent releases, such as the stellar Stellaris, as well as Galactic Civilizations III. Pretty much every science fiction 4X title can trace its roots back to the original Master of Orion series. Unfortunately, the recent updated Master of Orion was a rather lackluster remake of Master of Orion II (the best game in the original series), leaving science fiction geeks such as myself hungry to fill the void. Indeed, the newer Master of Orion was similar in disappointment to No Man’s Sky, so much hype, and not much in the way of delivery.
Fortunately, upstart indie game developer Ashdar Games teamed up with established gaming publisher Iceberg Interactive, to deliver the goods. But have they fully? Let’s look at their offering, Stars in Shadow, a little more closely, shall we?
Stars in Shadow, like most science fiction 4X strategy titles, begins by letting you choose one of a myriad of races. While many others games of its ilk give players the options of designing their own custom race, Stars in Shadow plays it pretty straight forward by only allowing you to pick from amongst seven pre-generated ones. This was a little disconcerting, but not a huge deal, since all of the races presented were fleshed out relatively well, and were very different from one another.
I usually like to choose the most humanoid race in these types of games (I mean, how can I identify with a multi-tentacled space sponge?). Interestingly, in a departure from the standard norm, humans within Stars in Shadow are a scurrilous band of space gypsies. No really—they begin each game floating around in the vacuum lacking a home planet like the other races. Although they do at least start with an extra colony ship (and a scout of course), it’s a little rough for them in the opening stages of your typical game since they first need to locate a suitable planet for colonization.
For instance, my first Stars in Shadow game consisted of me scouting planets out with my meager gaggle of human space gypsy ships, only to run into a rather belligerent band of space harpies. As I was seemingly infringing on their territory, they commenced to spraying me with a seemingly endless torrent of space-vomit. This encounter ended with me losing everything save for a single colony ship, which from then on had to fend for itself in a hostile universe. Poor thing.
Like the classic Master of Orion games of antiquity, Stars in Shadow is mainly centered around turn-based planet colonization and fleet management. You go out, discover new planets with environments favorable to your race, plop down a colony, and develop it to its fullest potential. That means that you have to build farms, mines, markets, and research labs, for food; building resources; capital; and new technologies, respectively. And that’s about it. There were no building options for population control, waste disposal, environmental management, or anything more in-depth, which was a little bit of a letdown.
From there, it becomes a balancing act—do you invest more of your resources into technology or field a larger but technologically mediocre fleet? Do you expand like a bunch of horny tribbles, or hold back and develop your planets more fully before doing so? Herein lies what makes space civilization building games so fun. You, as master and commander of your chosen people (or space blobs), can chart their destiny based on the choices that you make.
For instance, once my pesky humans had gained a considerable navy, they (or rather I) chose to attack my closest neighbor, a race of arrogant space lizards called the Ashdar Colonials. I’d thought the smaller fleet would be easy to dispatch, and then their planets would be ripe for the pickins’ Well, it just so tuned out that although my fleet was indeed almost twice the size as theirs, they had focused much more on their navy’s technological advancements. What that meant was me quickly watching almost my entire fleet get obliterated, and turned into interstellar space dust. The turn based combat is such a blast though, that I had a lot of fun even in losing.
Stars in Shadow also features a fairly standard and straight forward diplomacy system. However, they throw a nice little wrinkle into the equation by allowing players to accrue influence points. You can gain influence by such things as lending aid to other civilizations, or can lose it by starting impromptu wars. Influence points can come in handy at certain junctures throughout the game, however, so learning to stockpile them can be to a player’s great advantage.
Stars in Shadow comes with some really cool stock ship designs that more or less accentuate the race that they’re based upon. There’s also (thankfully) a custom ship building system, that lets you design and outfit ships as you see fit. One of the most fun parts of the game (for me at least) was figuring out what components I wanted to mix and match in order to make some truly formidable ships. Or, designing ships that were specifically tailored to countering an attacking fleet’s weapon and defensive capabilities.
Overall, I found Stars in Shadow to be a worthy tribute to the classic Master of Orion games of times past. The developers nailed the overall vibe that those originals had, while offering enough original flair and style on its own to stand out on its own. Although I wished it would have come with multiplayer capabilities (its only single player, at least at this stage), Stars in Shadow had enough of that “just one more turn” goodness to keep me playing it for some time to come.
Stars in Shadow offers some excellent visuals that suit its science fiction theme. However, you have to have an equally fast gaming PC or gaming laptop in order to play it at a decent framerate. So, you may just want to invest in a decent gaming rig:
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