Very few games nail the style of RTS that Civilisation does. This laissez-faire, rather simplified style where spreadsheet data is sacrificed for a simpler visual reaction to your actions and a robust UI. Naturally, Civilisation does this well, and as such has earned a solid reputation and multiple series iterations.
Enter Stars in Shadow, a game which has managed to combine the classic 4X style of gameplay and bring in the stylish RTS furnishings of Civilisation. While the game has a cartoon graphical style the gameplay and mechanics are on par with any top-notch RTS game and has captured my interest to an extent I will likely lose a lot of my valuable spare time to this.
The game plays out very similarly to Civilisation. You generate a random galaxy with a varying number of stars and planets surrounding them and pick from various races. Races range from humans to more strange species such as dinosaur or squid people. Your aim is to colonise the galaxy, protecting yourself and spreading your race out as far as possible by either peaceful or violent means.
And here is where the Civilisation feeling comes in. The game starts slow; you will colonise a planet and make sure it is stable and healthy before securing another system and moving forces there to colonise another planet. Your planets will also be researching, not only for facilities on the planet to help with its growth but also with improved technology to allow you to fare better in warfare and growth. You start slow but eventually build up and grow into a formidable force, all without Gandhi threatening you with nuclear winter. The combat is kept nice and simple, though. Your fleet is put against their fleet and you throw one ship of yours against theirs until there is a winner, or you can just press auto-battle and ignore all the nuances. You will make some mistakes; I sent half of my colony ships into an uncharted galaxy at the beginning of my first game and ended up butting heads with a rival species and losing half of my population instantly.
Though that’s the beauty of Stars in Shadow. The experience is simple and elegant. There is no unnecessary data, and everything is laid out on simple elegant menus to follow. This makes it easy to pick up and play as well as far too easy to pour a lot of time into. While it is not as risky to lose your life in this is Civilisation, where 6 pm starts have become 3:30 am finishes too many times to count, you will likely sink a good couple of hours per session in no problem.
Plus the game doesn’t really have any major hangups. It runs smoothly, there are no real gameplay omissions and it never feels like the game is at fault when something goes wrong. That isn’t to say there are some things which may put you off, the deviations from more common RTS games such as a large focus on the grand empire rather than individual planets and the dice-rolling nature of system generation, but this is a person-by-person preference. The difficulty also only seems to affect pirates as well, and some more tutorial may be helpful for players less accustomed to 4X games.
For me though Stars in Shadow does far more right than it does wrong. It doesn’t push the bar in any real way but takes well-established mechanics and ideas and gives them a new lease of life and a welcome reimagining. It has created a strategy game with a relatively low learning curve, allowing you to jump in and be engrossed for hours, earning themselves an 8 and likely many hours of my time.
Stars in Shadow was review on PC